Was Mesa founded by Mormons?

14 December 2023

Understanding the roots of a city is like peeling back the layers of an onion. Each layer reveals a new aspect, a different group of people who have left their mark on the city’s history. So, was Mesa, a city known for its modern amenities and vibrant cultural scene, founded by Mormons? This is a question that has piqued the curiosity of many. To answer it, we delve into the annals of history, tracing the steps of the early settlers and exploring the influence of different communities, particularly the Mormons, on this thriving Arizona city. Join us as we embark on this fascinating journey.

History of Mesa

Let’s turn back the clock and venture into the early history of Mesa, a city nestled in the heart of Arizona. The story begins with the Hohokam people, the native tribes who were the original inhabitants of this region. The Hohokam, whose name means “those who are gone,” were known for their advanced irrigation systems, a testament to their innovative thinking. They built intricate canal networks to harness the water from the Salt River, laying the groundwork for future settlements.

The Native Americans of the area

The Hohokam thrived in the area for centuries. However, around 1450, these ingenious canal builders disappeared, leaving behind only the remnants of their civilization. The reasons for their disappearance remain a mystery to this day. The Pima and Maricopa tribes eventually moved into the area, and they are the ones who greeted the first English settlers.

Early English settlers in the area

Fast forward to the mid-19th century, the area caught the attention of the United States government during the westward expansion. The pioneers, upon finding the ancient canals, were amazed at the potential of the land. Among these early settlers were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormons. And thus, the stage was set for the founding of Mesa.

The Founding of Mesa

With the arrival of the Latter-day Saints, the foundations for a new settlement in the area were laid. The Mormons, led by pioneers such as Daniel Webster Jones and Charles I. Robson, were drawn to the area due to the potential of the land, thanks to the ancient irrigation systems left behind by the Hohokam. But what led to the actual founding of Mesa?

The Irrigation and the Founding of the City

The Mormons, recognizing the potential of the old Hohokam canals, began the process of restoring these irrigation systems. The restored canals brought life back into the dry desert land, attracting more settlers to the area. The establishment of the First Mesa Company in 1878 marked the official founding of Mesa. The city was aptly named Mesa, meaning “table” in Spanish, for its table-top flatness.

The Founding of the Stake

As the community grew, so did the influence of the Mormon Church. In 1878, the same year as the city’s founding, the Mesa Arizona Stake—the first stake in Arizona—was established. The establishment of the stake solidified the strong presence of the Mormon community in Mesa.

Thus, it is evident that the founding of Mesa is deeply intertwined with the arrival and influence of the Mormons. The next section of our journey delves into the impact of the Mormon Church on Mesa and its relationship with the broader community.

Mesa and the Mormon Church

The founding of the Mesa Arizona Stake marked a significant milestone in the history of Mesa. With this, the Mormon Church became an integral part of the community, shaping the city’s culture, traditions, and even its layout. So, what was the Church’s influence on Mesa, and how did it interact with the community? Let’s explore.

The Influence of the Mormon Church on Mesa

The Mormon Church’s influence on Mesa is palpable, extending beyond the spiritual realm. The Church played an instrumental role in the city’s development, shaping its culture and community life. The city’s layout, with its broad, straight streets and large city blocks, reflects the Mormon influence, mirroring the design of Salt Lake City, the Church’s headquarters.

Moreover, the Church fostered a sense of community and cooperation among the residents, values that are still embedded in Mesa’s fabric today. The establishment of the Mormon Temple, the first in Arizona, further cemented the Church’s presence in Mesa, turning the city into a central hub for Mormons in the Southwest.

The Church also contributed to Mesa’s educational landscape. The establishment of the Mesa Public School system can be traced back to the early Mormon settlers, who emphasized the importance of education. The Church’s influence is also evident in the city’s commitment to family-friendly activities and community events, such as the annual Mesa Christmas Market and the Mesa Easter Pageant.

Thus, the Mormon Church’s influence on Mesa is wide-ranging and profound, shaping the city’s identity and making it a unique spot in the Arizona desert.

The Early Church and Relationship with the Community

The early Mormon Church in Mesa was not just a religious institution; it was a community builder. The church instilled values of cooperation, community service, and education, which resonated with the people of Mesa. These principles were reflected in the way the early settlers worked together to develop the city, from the restoration of the Hohokam canals to the establishment of educational institutions.

The church also fostered an environment of tolerance and coexistence. Despite being a predominantly Mormon community, Mesa was home to people of various religious and cultural backgrounds. The early church leaders understood the importance of community harmony and made efforts to integrate into the broader community. They worked with local Native American tribes, shared resources with other settlers, and participated in community events. This inclusive approach played a significant role in shaping Mesa’s diverse and vibrant community.

Today, the Mesa Arizona Temple stands as a testament to the early church’s efforts in building a tight-knit community. It continues to serve as a spiritual and social hub, hosting various community events and ceremonies. The temple’s annual Christmas Lights and Easter Pageant have become beloved Mesa traditions, attracting visitors from all over Arizona and beyond.

In the following section, we’ll delve into the reasons behind the decline in the Mormon presence in Mesa and how the Church continues to influence the city today.

The Decline in Mormon Presence in Mesa

While the influence of the Mormon Church on Mesa is undeniable, it’s also true that the presence of the Church has seen a gradual decline over the years. The reasons are manifold and complex, ranging from demographic changes to shifts in religious affiliation. But, what exactly triggered this decline? Let’s delve deeper into this intriguing part of Mesa’s history.

The Reasons for the Decline

Several factors have contributed to the decline of the Mormon presence in Mesa. One of the main reasons is the shift in demographics. As Mesa has grown, so has its diversity. People from different cultures and religions have made Mesa their home, leading to a more heterogeneous society. This has naturally led to a decrease in the proportion of the population identifying as Mormon.

Another reason is the changing religious landscape in the United States. A growing trend of religious disaffiliation has been observed nationwide, and Mesa is no exception. Some members of the younger generation, even those from Mormon families, are choosing to identify as non-religious or are exploring other faiths.

Another factor is the urban sprawl of Phoenix. As Mesa has been absorbed into the Phoenix metropolitan area, the city has lost some of its distinct identity, including its religious makeup. The influx of people moving to the area for work or other reasons has also contributed to the dilution of the Mormon presence.

Finally, the Church has also expanded its global missionary efforts, leading to a shift in focus. While Mesa remains a significant center for the Church, resources and attention have been directed towards establishing and growing the Church in other parts of the world.

Despite these factors leading to a decline in the Mormon presence, the Church continues to have a significant impact on Mesa’s community and culture, as we’ll explore in the next section.

The Church’s Continued Presence in Mesa

Despite the decline in the Mormon population, the Church’s influence in Mesa remains substantial. The Mesa Arizona Temple, a landmark in the city, continues to serve as a spiritual center for Mormons in the region. Additionally, the temple’s annual Christmas lights and Easter pageant are still major events in the city’s calendar, drawing thousands of visitors each year.

Beyond the temple, the Church’s commitment to community service continues to make a significant impact. From humanitarian efforts to educational initiatives, the Church continues to contribute to the well-being of the Mesa community. For instance, the Church’s welfare program provides food and emergency relief to those in need, regardless of religious affiliation.

Moreover, the Church’s emphasis on family values and community cooperation continues to shape Mesa’s culture. These values are reflected in the city’s numerous family-friendly events and activities, and in the strong sense of community that pervades Mesa.

Thus, while the demographics of Mesa may have changed over the years, the legacy of the Mormon Church continues to be a crucial part of the city’s identity. As we trace Mesa’s history, it becomes clear that the Mormons played a significant role in shaping the city we know today.

Key Takeaways

So, was Mesa founded by Mormons? The answer is a resounding yes. The Mormons played a pivotal role in the founding and development of the city. From the restoration of Hohokam canals to the establishment of the first stake in Arizona, their influence is deeply etched into Mesa’s history.

While the Mormon presence in Mesa has declined over the years due to demographic shifts and changing religious affiliations, the Church’s impact on the city remains significant. The annual events at the Mesa Arizona Temple, the Church’s commitment to community service, and the enduring emphasis on family values and community cooperation are all testaments to the lasting legacy of the Mormon Church in Mesa.

As we journey through Mesa’s history, we see a city that has grown and evolved while cherishing its roots. The story of Mesa is one of ingenuity, resilience and community – a story that continues to unfold with each passing year. In the end, the tale of Mesa is not just about the Mormons or any other single group. It’s the story of all the people who have called this city home and contributed to its rich tapestry of culture and history.


In conclusion, the city of Mesa, with its modern amenities and vibrant cultural scene, owes much of its development and identity to the early Mormon settlers. Their legacy is woven into the fabric of the city, from the restored Hohokam canals to the broad, straight streets reminiscent of Salt Lake City. Though the demographic makeup of Mesa has evolved, the influence of the Mormon Church continues to resonate through the city’s values, traditions, and community spirit.

Understanding the city’s rich history and the role of the Mormons in its founding provides a deeper appreciation for Mesa’s unique character. It reminds us that the growth and development of a city are shaped by the diverse communities that call it home. So, while the demographics may shift and cultures may blend, the spirit of unity, cooperation, and community instilled by the early Mormon settlers continues to thrive in Mesa.

So, to go back to the question we started with – was Mesa founded by Mormons? Yes, it was. And their influence is still felt today, shaping Mesa’s identity and making it a unique and cherished city in the heart of Arizona.

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