Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park provides peek into late nineteenth century history
The 10-acre Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park in Yuma, Arizona provides a peek into the history of Yuma at a time when it was an important U.S. Army supply station for forts in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Texas. The U.S. Army Depot was in operation from the mid 1860s to the 1880s.
Ocean vessels brought goods to the Gulf of California where they were transferred onto steamboats for the trip upriver to Yuma. That was before dams were constructed on the Colorado River. It ran faster and deeper than it does today. Today the river rarely reaches its delta and the Gulf. At the Depot, goods were unloaded and shipped upriver via steamboats or overland via mule-drawn freight wagons.
A steam pump propelled muddy water from the Colorado River through pipes to an elevated holding tank. Sediment fell to the bottom and gravity flow forced cleared water through pipes to buildings and houses in the area. Periodically, the army sent a soldier in to clean out the silt.
The Quartermaster, the officer in charge of the depot, originally had his office in a corner room of the noisy warehouse. In 1872, permission was granted to build new office space. In 1873, the U.S. Army Signal Corps operated Arizona’s first non-private telegraph line from the building. The line ran from San Diego through Yuma to Prescott and Tucson.
In 1859 steamboat entrepreneur George Alonzo Johnson built a riverside home for his bride. The home later became the Commanding Officer’s Quarters. It is believed to be Arizona’s oldest Anglo-built adobe building.
With the coming of the railroad in 1877, the Depot’s importance lessened. The Army closed it in 1883. The Signal Corps remained on site until 1891. In that year the Weather Bureau became a separate entity and civilian employees of that agency lived in the Quartermaster’s Office until 1949.
In 1902 President Theodore Roosevelt designated the Commanding Officer’s Quarters a U.S. customs reserve. The U.S. Customs Service remained in that building until 1955.
The Corral House stored grain and tack for the mules and horses. The adobe corral where the animals were housed no longer exists. Only the rooms at the far end of the current Corral House are original. The other rooms were added in the early 1900s by the Bureau of Reclamation when the Yuma Project was based in the building,
One of the most interesting displays in the Park is in that Corral House. Panels, photographs and videos outline the story of the Yuma Project, the first project to build dams and canals on the Colorado River in the early 1900s. The design of the Laguna Dam was based on successful weirs built in India. Because of the dam’s location, any canal constructed to provide irrigation to the Yuma Valley would have needed to cross the Gila River if originating in Arizona or the Colorado River if originating in California. To solve the issue, an inverted siphon was built under the Colorado River.
The Colorado River is one of the heaviest developed in the world. The story of its development and the consequences, intended and unintended, is fascinating. And the story continues to evolve with new conservation projects and an international agreement with Mexico for water sharing and improving the habitat in the river delta.
The Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park is open seven days a week 9 am to 4:30 pm from October to May with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It is open six days a week the remainder of the year, closed on Mondays. It is well worth a visit. The Visitor Center is also the site of the Yuma Visitors Bureau.