Gilbert owes its start to William ‘Bobby’ Gilbert who donated right of way and parcels of land to the Arizona Eastern Railway in 1902 to construct the first rail line between Phoenix and Florence, Arizona. The first store in Gilbert opened in 1910 and became the location of the first post office in 1912. The location of the town post office moved several times before settling on the east side of Gilbert Road in downtown, where it still stands today. In 1912, many Mormons who had fled the Mormon colonies in Mexico due to the actions of the forces of Pancho Villa settled in Gilbert. By 1915, they began holding church meetings at the Gilbert Elementary School. In 1918, they were organized into the Gilbert Ward.
Incorporated in July 1920, Gilbert was foremost a prime farming community fueled by the rail line and construction of the Roosevelt Dam and the Eastern and Consolidated Canals. It remained an agricultural town for many years and was known as the “Hay Capital of the World” from 1911 until the late 1920s. Gilbert began to evolve into the modern city it is today during the 1970s when the Town Council approved annexation of 53 square miles of county land. Although the population was only 1,971 in 1970 the Council realized that Gilbert would eventually grow and develop much like the neighboring communities of Tempe, Mesa, and Chandler. This proved to be a farsighted decision as Gilbert positioned itself for growth in the 1980s and beyond.
Gilbert was recognized in 2010 as the ‘36th Best Place to Live in the nation’, as well as among the nation’s ‘top places to live and learn’, by GreatSchools.org. Washington, DC-based CQ Press rated Gilbert the ‘safest municipality in Arizona, and 25th safest in the nation.’