Exploring Yuma History
You may have noticed that I cover a lot of historic sites on the blog. I can’t help it, I’m fascinated with the history of the area. I feel the same way when I travel and want to know all about my destination’s past. Little did I know that when I traveled to Arizona with the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association I would hit a gold mine of Yuma history.
After embracing the heat at Yuma Lettuce Days I decided to head inside to cool off and visited to the Sanguinetti House. This historic site is the former home of the Merchant Prince of Yuma, E. F. Sanguinetti. He arrived in Yuma at the age of 15 with hardly a dime to his name. What he lacked in funds he made up for in brains and quickly figured out a way to a fortune – retail. It was the 19th century and Yuma residents had nowhere convenient to buy their necessary items. Sanguinetti changed all that by bringing goods to the area and introducing the concept of cash and carry. By the time of his death he was one of the town’s most prominent residents.
I was able to tour his home and learn all about his storied history. My tour guides were very knowledgeable about Yuma’s past and provided a fascinating glimpse into it. They also inspired my next adventure when I overhead one of them mention the Castle Dome Mine. She was telling another tour goer how interesting it was and that was all I needed to hear. I soon set a course north to the historic ghost town.
Wow! What an adventure! The ghost town is located about an hour north of Yuma off a bumpy dirt road. It literally is in the middle of nowhere and when I got out of the car the silence was overwhelming.
Castle Dome was a silver mine that operated from 1862 to 1978. As such, the museum houses structures and artifacts that span its entire existence.
Simply put, it was incredible. There are over 50 structures and they are chock full of artifacts. Visitors get the run of the place and you can enter any building and look around. You can even go partially into a mine!
Honestly, doing that made me a bit nervous so I quickly hustled out of it and contented myself with exploring the rest of the structures.
It was a fantastic outing and I’m so glad I made the effort to see it.
The next morning our group got up bright and early to head to the Yuma Crossing and walk along the Colorado River. Did you know the famed river runs through the heart of Yuma? In the past it was a raging river and thanks to Yuma’s natural landscape the town became the ideal spot to cross it. First by rope ferry then by train then by car. The first train in Arizona came here. The first cars to cross the river crossed here. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the history of transportation in America.
Thanks to damming the river now runs at 10% of it’s capacity. The raging river has been replaced by a serene stream and the wild shores are now a nature path. It really is a lovely place to visit and on our walk we saw several residents enjoying the scenery whether they were biking, kayaking or walking their dogs.
From the Yuma Crossing you can also catch a glimpse of this historic structure.
This is the guard tower of the Yuma Territorial Prison which housed criminals from 1876 to 1909. Today it’s a museum which you can tour and learn all about the Alcatraz of the Desert.
The structure was hand built by the prisoners it later housed. It was brutal place offering little respite from the desert that surrounds it.
The cells were small and housed 6 prisoners apiece. It’s certainly a place I would never want to spend any time in.
As the prison existed for only 33 years you may wonder what became of the building after. From 1910-1914 it housed Yuma High School who’s mascot happens to be a criminal. It housed a county hospital and was used rebuild the area after a devastating flood in 1916. The railroad then came and demolished some buildings to build rail lines and a bridge. During the depression it housed people who couldn’t afford anything else. In 1940 it became a museum and through ups and downs has remained that ever since. I don’t know what’s more fascinating – it’s time as a prison or the period after!
All in all Yuma was a fascinating place to visit. Going there I had no inkling of the rich history of the area. I’m so glad I had a chance to discover it.