by Blake Herzog
Maricopa’s Amtrak station at 19427 N. John Wayne Parkway has been the closest stop to Phoenix for the past 27 years but receives little notice for its status. An earlier station on the same site created a major buzz when it opened 116 years ago.
According to documents at the Maricopa Historical Society, “The year was 1887 and the citizens of the Salt River Valley (Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa and Kyrene) had one thing in common … they all were excited about the arrival of the railroad! The Maricopa & Phoenix Railroad from Maricopa would be at their door soon and open up unlimited opportunities for industry and growth for the entire country.”
On July 4, a large crowd in Phoenix greeted the first inbound steam engine on the line, which connected to the Southern Pacific Railroad in Maricopa, along with a parade, brass band, picnics and fireworks. Speakers hailed the prosperity the rail was certain to bring.
Then the train backtracked all 35 miles to the brand-new, two-story station in Maricopa. The village (1900 population: 160) could finally proclaim its status as a railroad junction, having moved its base 3 miles east from Maricopaville, a boomtown that quickly went bust after another planned junction was changed.
The area around this station developed, including the construction of a hotel just to the northwest with a restaurant and store on the first floor and rooms for rent on the second. The property went through several owners and was usually known as the Maricopa Hotel or Harvey House.
It hosted many travelers on their way out to California or north to Phoenix or Prescott.
In 1890, owner James Edwards’ wife Mary Ellen became the first white woman to settle in the community. Her accounts of running the hotel included hosting two presidents, William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, and heavyweight boxing champion John L. Sullivan.
Maricopa also became a popular honeymoon destination for couples from Phoenix. Mary Ellen Edwards delivered the community’s first baby at the hotel in September 1899, born to a woman who was traveling back from her summer on the California coast. She named her baby after the town.
In the early 1900s, three trains were running daily between Phoenix and Maricopa. Tom Gregory, who managed one of Maricopa’s hotels, told the Arizona Daily Citizen in Tucson he’d been especially busy in February 1900:
“For three months, we have had our hotel filled to the attic every night, and the other hotel is crowded, too. The depot has its usual number of loungers, and the Pullman accommodations have been generously patronized. Maricopa has never been so busy. The crowds going to Phoenix this winter have been greater than ever.”
The rail station and Maricopa Hotel prospered until they were destroyed by fire in 1931, and the Maricopa & Phoenix Railroad ended its service to the town four years later.
Sources: Maricopa Historical Society, City of Maricopa