Although Dutch explorers had travelled up the Swan River as far as the site of Perth in 1697, it was not until the French expedition of 1801 that Europeans reached the Swan Valley. Captain James Stirling was sent on an exploratory voyage to the Swan River in 1827, where he travelled as far upstream as the site of the current All Saints Church. Following this expedition, his enthusiastic reports on the richness of the countryside led to settlement two years later.
Land grants in the Swan Valley were issued and Guildford founded within months of the arrival of the first settlers in June 1829. Guildford became an inland port, as the river was the main means of transport. Buildings from this era include All Saints Church, Upper Swan, St Mary's Church, Middle Swan and the Rose and Crown Hotel, Guildford. It was during this time that viticulture was established.
Population growth and availability of labour due to an influx of convict arrivals was a huge economic stimulus. Guildford became a convict depot, resulting in considerable building activity within the townsite as well as the construction of the Upper Swan Bridge and Barkers Bridge and the creation of roads through the district.
The arrival of the railway in Guildford in 1881 and its subsequent expansion throughout the agricultural areas led to the decline of Guildford as a port. The emerging town of Midland Junction became the preeminent commercial centre following the establishment of the Midland Railway Company's headquarters there in 1886 and the Western Australian Government Railway Workshops in 1902.
The gold rushes of the 1890s resulted in a very large increase in population throughout Western Australia and saw the beginning of the subdivision of the large estates in the Swan Valley.
The area's contribution to the First World War is recorded in the many war memorials throughout the City, particularly the Midland Town Hall clock, the Peace Statue at the Midland Railway Workshops and the obelisk in Stirling Square, Guildford.
Post-war, various areas in the Swan Valley were used for soldier settlement schemes and by the 1920s the Swan Valley became overwhelmingly a grape-growing district for table grapes and dried fruit. The large packing shed of the Swan Settlers' Co-operative was built at Herne Hill in 1923.
Pearce Air base was established at Bullsbrook in 1938 and in the same year a site in South Guildford was earmarked as the location of a major airport, now known as Perth Airport.
Midland and Guildford were major centres for World War II efforts. Parts of the Midland Railway Workshops were converted for the repair of naval equipment and parts and a large shell annexe was constructed for the production of munitions.
The return of soldiers led to a 'baby boom', and together with accelerated immigration new suburbs surrounding Midland were developed.
Midland dropped the 'Junction' from its name in 1961 to become the Town of Midland.
The Midland Railway Company was taken over by the Western Australian Government Railways in 1964 and the new Standard Gauge Railway routed through Midland.
The newly created Shire of Swan, the result of the merger in 1970 of the Swan-Guildford Shire Council and the Town of Midland, was faced with many challenges such as a rapidly expanding population and new suburbs, planning schemes and the urbanisation of the Swan Valley.
Whiteman Park began development in 1977, with the purchase of land from Lew Whiteman, and was opened in 1986.
In the western part of the Shire, suburban subdivisions on the fringes of the built-up urban areas spread into the Shire, particularly in areas such as Malaga, Ballajura and Beechboro. The Vines was planned in the late 1980s as a suburban area centred around a large golfing and leisure resort and Ellenbrook opened in 1995.
In 1993 the State Government announced the relocation of the Department of Land Administration (now known as Landgate) to Midland, and in 1994 the closure of the Western Australian Government Railway Workshops in Midland. Mounting concern over the need to protect the rural nature of the Swan Valley led to the passing of the Swan Valley Planning Act in 1995.
The City entered a decade of change, revitalisation and recreation. The Shire of Swan became the City of Swan in 2000, signifying a new status for the Council. The establishment of the Midland Redevelopment Authority in the same year resulted in the beginning of the transformation and development of the Midland CBD and of the railway workshops site.