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James T. Priest

James T. Priest

Born: September 19, 1835, in Ontario, Canada
Died: May 2, 1903, in Tempe

James T. Priest settled in the Tempe area in 1871. He worked on the construction of the Kirkland-McKinney Ditch, which earned him rights to use water from the canal. He homesteaded land west of Hayden's Ferry, and got seeds from one of the Pima villages along the Gila River. At that time metal tools were scarce in the Salt River Valley, so Priest used an "Indian plow" made from a bent stick to clear his land. In 1875, after he established a prosperous farm, he married Mariana Gonzales, the oldest daughter of his neighbor, Mariano Gonzales. They had eight children, six of whom survived, including Clara, John, Marina, Anna, Lourdes, and James, Jr.

James Priest was actively involved in the early development of Tempe. He served as a zanjero on the Tempe Canal, and was elected to the Board of Directors of the Tempe Irrigating Canal Company. He served five terms on Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in the 1870s and '80s. He was a Tempe School District trustee and the Justice of the Peace at Tempe. He was also a member of the Arizona Good Roads Association and the Republican party. In the 1880s, he served on the Maricopa Water Storage Commission and was one of the party of five men who went to Tonto Basin and laid the first plans for the Roosevelt Dam. But he did not live to see the completion of the dam in 1911. Priest was one of the donors that helped purchase land for a site for the Territorial Normal School in 1885. He also helped raise money to build St. Mary's Catholic Church, which was completed shortly after his death.

Priest Road was named for this Tempe pioneer who established the first farm in what is now west Tempe.