The Dobson family owned all the land that is now called the Dobson Ranch located at what is now Dobson and the US 60. The road covers parts of Mesa, Tempe, and Chandler. Fiesta Mall, Mesa Community College, the Desert Samaritan Hospital, and many other important buildings all occupy land originally owned by the Dobson family. The land they owned once extended as far as the San Marcos hotel property in Chandler. Numerous places are named after this family. Dobson road, for example, got its name from John H. Dobson, but this family did not always live in Arizona.
They originated in Ontario, Canada. Wilson Wesley Dobson was the first of the Dobsons to migrate to Arizona in 1886. One time he returned to visit his family back in Canada and told his brother, John H. Dobson, all about Arizona and about how anything would grow if only they could get water there. That was what made John interested in going to Arizona with his brother. When Wesley was loading his wagon, preparing to go back, John climbed into the wagon with a suitcase and went with Wesley to Arizona without telling his parents. He was 17 at the time he arrived in Arizona; he worked all day for his brother on his farm. He got paid $1 a day plus board, but John was lonely being away from his family in Ontario. He would ride into Mesa in order to visit some of his friends.
John saved up enough money to buy 80 acres of land from Wesley to farm on his own. He became discouraged each time the Salt River would flood over so he decided to move back to Canada in 1900. There, he owned a general store in Rouleau, Seskatchewan, got married and started a family. In 1906, he heard that the Roosevelt Dam was going to be built so he moved his family to Arizona. Dwayne Dobson, Wesley’s grandson, stated in an interview, “That’s what brought them here because they knew they were going to have a dependable supply of water through the Roosevelt Dam construction which came in 1906. It started in six and was completed in twelve I believe is when they had the dedication”.
Once they were in Arizona, John began to expand his land and within twenty years, he had one of the largest ranching operations in that area. Eventually, he owned gotten more than 4,000 acres of farmland in Mesa and Chandler, 32,000 acres of desert land east of Mesa, and about the same amount in the White Mountains. He ran about 20,000 head of cattle each year at his ranch on Baseline Road where the Dobson Ranch development is today. “He just couldn’t leave a nice piece of land alone,” said Mildred Fitch, his daughter who lives in Mesa. “Mother kept telling him to stay out of debt, but he said debt was all right if it was for land. He told us never to go into debt to buy something like a car or a refrigerator. But for land it was okay” (Taylor 1).
When Dobson became successful with his ranch, he helped with the early development of Chandler; part of his land was sold to build the San Marcos Golf Course. Eventually, most of the Dobson land was sold for development. Mildred said, “I remember one time he sold off a corner of land for $1,000 an acre and he said ‘who have ever thought it would ever be worth that much?’”. Today prime development property in Mesa sells for more than 20 times that amount (Taylor 2). His son Earl stated, “If he saw the Dobson Ranch today, he’d fall over” (2).
Images on this page courtesy of Chandler Museum.