Ocotillo Road

Ocotillo Road runs east to west from the southern farms of Higley to present day Chandler. The old dirt road was a product of the agricultural era during the cotton boom of the early twentieth century in the the Southwest. Still today some cotton farms can be seen along the sides of the road.

In the late eighteen hundreds and into the early twentieth century, the State of Arizona took a turn for a prosperous future. In the year 1891, a veterinary surgeon named Dr. Alexander John Chandler made a claim on a piece of land south of Phoenix. This land totaled eighty acres of untilled Sonoran Desert. By the early 20th century Dr. Chandler owned much of the Salt River Valley. In 1912, Dr. Chandler began to subdivide the land and on May 17, he sold nearly $50,000 dollars worth of land on that one day in his new Chandler Ranch. This new land became a mixture of urbanization and farming. It grew larger and became what is today Chandler, Arizona, named after Doctor Chandler himself.

In the early years of Chandler, money making was the priority. The people of Chandler had to find something they could produce to make their money. They found their success in agriculture. Cotton, all kinds of grains, and alfalfa became the backbone of their success. Many “farmers also raised cattle sheep and, yes, ostriches." This brought success to the people of this new town. But no one could predict what an influence this agricultural production, particularly cotton, would have on the future of this nation.

Ultimately cotton became the key crop grown in Chandler, due mainly to the wonderful agricultural area of the Salt River Valley. During World War I cotton became a much-needed resource for many of the items used in war. The long-staple cotton that previously was produced in Egypt was mainly used in the construction of tires and many fabrics for safety during the war.

The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Corporation became interested in the Chandler area in 1916. Goodyear was looking for a good source of cotton fiber for its newly patented tire manufacturing process. In December of 1916, Goodyear bought 8,000 acres of the former Chandler Ranch. By 1917, the town of Goodyear, whose name was later changed to Ocotillo, was being constructed southwest of Chandler. Goodyear was a planned company town loosely modeled after a Mexican village, but it was never fully developed. The company later built a more successful company town, Litchfield Park, in the southwestern part of the Salt River Valley. The present community of Ocotillo contains only a few of the original buildings, and was generally neglected by the Goodyear Corporation after the founding of Litchfield Park.

With the development of Goodyear farms, many of its inhabitants soon found themselves traveling to and from south Arizona Avenue along an old dirt road. The road on which they traveled is now Ocotillo Road, but to many of the residents in Chandler it never really had a name. The two new developments, Chandler and Goodyear (Ocotillo), realized their co-dependence on cotton. Ocotillo Road was built and soon connected these two towns with pavement. The road created a path of life and prosperity for the area as it began its new beginnings.

Now, why exactly is it called Ocotillo? Speculation would have it that along the road there were many plants, mostly consisting of the ocotillo plant.

The ocotillo, Fouquieria splendens, is a curious desert plant of the southwestern United States… At first appearing to be an arrangement of large dead sticks, closer examination shows that the stems are partly green and covered (at most times of the year) with small ovate leaves. The stems may reach a diameter of 5cm at the base, and the plant may grow to a height of 10m. Each stem is separate, and does not branch. The leaf stalks harden into blunt spines, and new leaves sprout from the base of the spine.

Whether or not this is true one will never really know. But another conclusion can be drawn from an interview with Calvin “Cuda” Andrews, who picked cotton in Chandler as a boy. Andrews said that people often referred to Chandler as Ocotillo. “Chandler was rough for a twelve-year old boy called Cuda Andrews. Back then they called Chandler, Ocotillo." There is no real historical evidence showing why and when Ocotillo Road got its name. Perhaps the people who worked on the outlying farms called the road that brought them to Arizona Avenue and into downtown Chandler, Ocotillo, merely because it leads to the final destination of Ocotillo, the town. Whatever the reason for the name, we can conclude that this road, aided in the building of a marvelous state and nation.

By Brett Garner & Kai Nelson