The U.S. military has had a presence in Yuma County for more 160 years and was instrumental in getting local communities established.
The Yuma Quartermaster Depot opened in 1864, resulting in Yankee soldiers in blue uniforms to be permanently stationed in the area to oversee the distribution of supplies brought up the Colorado River from the Gulf of California.
Today, the Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park at 201 N. 4th Ave. is open to the public and boasts five buildings that have stood for more than a century.
“The fact that literally Yuma was founded and based on its connection with the U.S. military is significant,” Charles Flynn, executive director of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, said of the depot.
And the military is still here today. They are even more important to our economy and to our community.
However, if it had not been for the efforts of local citizens, the park would now be closed.
“Back in mid-2009 Arizona State Parks announced they were going to close this park because of budget cuts,” Flynn said.
We were able to work with the city and get some support from them and worked with the Yuma Visitors Bureau to move their welcome center into that site. We were able to pull the resources together through a joint effort and keep the park open and operating.
Flynn said the depot is an essential part of the historic North End.
We have always sort of assumed these national historic landmarks would always be there, but when the Hilton Garden Inn opened up there on the riverfront in April of 2009, within 60 days the state was talking about closing the Quartermaster Depot, which is directly adjacent to the hotel. We had designed this plan over 11 years to integrate all of these amenities, and to all of a sudden lose them just didn’t make any sense.
The depot was far too significant a resource to lose, Flynn said.
Frankly, these were community resources the community had worked long and hard to preserve and keep, and that is why the committee stepped up.
According to the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, the depot’s storied past began during the height of the American Civil War but matured during the Indian Wars of the 1870s.
During this period, the U.S. Army on the western frontier spent much of its time fighting with Native American tribes as the federal government attempted to force them onto reservations.
In 1877, the Southern Pacific Railroad line reached Yuma and construction continued into the interior of Arizona. With the railroad, the military could ship supplies much cheaper and faster than previously allowed, and the Yuma Depot along the Colorado River was no longer needed.
Largely abandoned by the late 1870s, the depot officially closed in 1883 after the quartermaster moved to Fort Lowell in Tucson.
The Signal Corps, having arrived at Fort Yuma and the Quartermaster Depot in 1875, remained there until 1891. After the departure of the Signal Corps, the property was transferred to the control of the U.S. Weather Service, which worked out of the depot site until 1949.
Other federal government agencies would also use the old buildings over the years. These agencies included the Bureau of Reclamation and Customs Service.
According to the city of Yuma Visitors Center, the depot was identified as a possible historic park in the early 1960s.
Groundbreaking for the park was held in 1986 after the land was purchased from the U.S. Department of the Interior by the city of Yuma and donated to the state park system.
In 1990 the Yuma Crossing Foundation Inc. established an agreement with the state parks board to manage, develop and operate the site as a living history museum.
After seven years of construction and rebuilding, the park was opened to the public in 1997 and is now part of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area. For more information about the park, call 329-0471.