History of Gila Bend
The Early Years
Named for the big bend in the Gila River, Gila Bend figures prominently in the early history of the southwest. Located on an historic route of travel, for centuries Gila Bend has has been a place for weary travelers to stop and rest. The small town of approximately 1,900 people is in the southwestern portion of Maricopa County, 70 miles southwest of Phoenix.
A large Hohokam settlement once thrived here and remnants of their platform mound and canal system remain. Those that stopped to rest and regroup in Gila Bend include famous guides Father Kino, Juan Bautista de Anza, Kit Carson and Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, the son of Lewis and Clark Expedition guide, Sacagawea. Well-known groups of travelers that stopped and rested include the Mormon Battalion and numerous 49'ers on their way to the California gold fields. The Butterfield Overland Stage had a timed stop in Gila Bend. Known as the Gila Station, the stop was built in 1858, burned down by marauding Apache and rebuilt. The Oatman family tragedy occurred near Gila Bend. Of the family of nine, one survived the massacre, one died in captivity and one, Olive Oatman, was ransomed from the Mohave's with whom she had lived in captivity for many years.
More Recent Years
When the railroad laid its tracks in 1879, the town moved four miles southwest to its present location to take advantage of the economic opportunity. Portions of the 1879 Wagon Road and 1920's unpaved 'highway' from Yuma to Phoenix are still visible today. Travelers in the 1920's and 1930's enjoyed rare ice cold drinks and fresh ice cream when stopping at the Stout Hotel in Gila Bend, which had its own ice generating plant.
Recently celebrating its 50th anniversary of incorporation, Gila Bend is memorialized in song, Los Lobos' The Road to Gila Bend; in film, The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing starring Burt Reynolds and Sara Miles; and more recently was in the international spotlight when Prince Harry of England's royal family called Gila Bend home for a month while training at the local Gila Bend Air Force Auxilliary Field.
Today, Gila Bend, a small rural community, continues to be a transportation hub and a community that looks to the future. It is home to the Gatlin Site, a National Historic Landmark, the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, and a gateway to the Sonoran Desert National Monument.
Fast becoming known as the solar capitol of the nation due to the use of cutting edge processes that have gained world-wide recognition, Gila Bend has received accolades from the U.S. Department of Energy and the White House. Utility-scale solar power is just one of Gila Bend's industries. It is also home to the nation's second largest natural gas power plant, a $1.2 billion installation, a $50 million paper mill, and more recently added Calgon Carbon, a global leader in making water and air safer and cleaner to industry. In the past few years, Gila Bend has seen more than $28 million spent on infrastructure, the addition of a the Gila Bend Resource Center, and the runway at the municipal airport resurfaced. Gila Bend has been setting its sights on establishing a national and international energy transmission corridor. Gila Bend, Crossroads of the Southwest!