A Publication of WTVP

Ever typed “Peoria” into a Google search and for-gotten to add the “IL”? Chances are, you’ve stumbled upon Peoria, Arizona. Little might you know that the two are directly linked: for Joseph B. Greenhut and DeLoss S. Brown, natives of Peoria, Illinois, founded the desert city of the same name.

Greenhut’s legacy began here in Illinois, as he helped build Peoria’s Great Western Distillery into the largest distillery in the world in the early 1880s. One of the city’s famous “whiskey barons,” he contributed more than anyone to Peoria’s standing as “The Whiskey Capital of the World.” But opportunity would sweep Greenhut from Peoria within the same decade.

Attracted by Illinois engineer William J. Murphy’s descriptions of a “soon-to-be reclaimed desert agricultural Mecca,” Greenhut, Brown and four Peoria families headed west. According to the Peoria Arizona Historical Society, “Completion of the Arizona Canal in 1885 secured irrigation water for the farms that were to come, and…Murphy…was paid for his work on the canal in land and water rights. This tied Murphy’s earnings to his ability to successfully recruit settlers to turn the area into productive farmland, thereby increasing its value.”

The Peoria transplants began to homestead land near the canal in 1886. By 1897, Greenhut and Brown had filed the original plat of the townsite—four sections of land they acquired through the Desert Land Act of 1877—and named the community after their hometown back in central Illinois.

Since then, Arizona’s Peoria has grown from its original square mile to nearly 200, and its population to about 145,000—about 25 percent more than our own Peoria’s population of 115,000.

Today, the Greenhut Mansion on Sheridan at High Street sits near the other whiskey baron homes as a reminder of the fleeting wealth that once flowed into the city—before some of it went westward, ho! iBi