The Mesa Grande platform mound was built and inhabited by the ancient Hohokam, the ancestors of the present O’odham, between 1100 and 1450 AD. The mound was the social and ceremonial center of one of the largest Hohokam cities in the Salt River Valley, a residential area that ran for more than a mile along the terrace above the river.
The Hohokam were the first ancient North American civilization to use canal networks to irrigate a wide area (up to 110 km2) of crops like corn, beans, and squash. An ancient canal 15 feet deep and 45 feet wide was uncovered by a team from the Arizona Museum of Natural History. The planning and construction of these irrigation systems took a huge amount of time and energy. In the late 1800s, farmers reactivated sections of the Hohokam irrigation infrastructure.
Mesa Grande is the larger of the two major Hohokam temple mounds.
As a cultural park and museum, the Phoenix metropolitan has preserved Pueblo Grande, its twin mound. The campaign to maintain public access to Mesa Grande was Mesa’s first historic preservation project. It is unknown when this effort first began, but in 1927, a parade down Main Street was organized by the local chamber of commerce. This year was the very first time that the Hohokam’s other main mound, Pueblo Grande, was open to the public.
A series of similar efforts followed, and the community has consistently shown its unwavering backing for a public structure over the years. Early advocates for public access to the mound, Frank and Grace Midvale, created the Mesa Grande Archaeological Society. In 1955, they branched off to form what is now known as the Mesa Archaeological and Historical Society. The first organizing meeting, held at Mesa Grande, drew almost 200 individuals.
The Mesa Archaeological and Historical Society played a significant role in the community, frequently hosting prominent figures like former Arizona Governor and Senator Barry Goldwater. The Mesa Historical Society is currently in charge of the museum. The Southwest Archaeology Team from the Arizona Museum of Natural History has been conducting excavations on the Mesa Grande platform mound.
Mesa Grande was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 21, 1978. In 1988, after repeated efforts to preserve it gained considerable public support, the City of Mesa spent $1.1 million to buy the mound.
Since then, the Southwest Archaeological Team—an award-winning amateur archaeological group associated with the Arizona Museum of Natural History—has worked on stabilization, reconstruction, and excavation.
In 1994, the museum produced a comprehensive blueprint for Mesa Grande. The primary goals of the preliminary inspections were condition definition, erosion process identification, and information gathering for a stabilization strategy. Volunteers worked together throughout the course of the following year to develop and implement the stabilization plan. The emergency stabilization was completed in a relatively short amount of time.