Situated in the southwest corner of Arizona, Yuma came to life because it was one of the only predictable areas for indigenous people and early travelers to cross the Colorado River. For this reason, Fort Yuma has widely been considered the gateway into California and a very popular spot during the Gold Rush.
Two Towns Come to Life
Near the fort two settlements popped up, one of which was called Arizona City. The city sat up high and overlooked the river and the fort. It featured two saloons, adobe dwellings, and two stores. Its position up on the hill saved it from the devastating Great Flood of 1862. After the flood, what was left of the other settlement was pulled into Arizona City and it was renamed Yuma in 1863.
By 1854 travelers were no longer trying to ford rivers and the steamboat industry had arrived. As a popular steamboat stop, hotels and outposts popped up near Yuma and the city became a popular stop for passengers and mining equipment that was headed over to California during the Gold Rush. In addition, the cargo was unloaded onto steamboats from the Colorado River mouth and then sent up to the Yuma Depot which today has been turned into a historical park.
The Yuma Territorial Prison
Finally, the river was officially bridged via the Southern Pacifica Railroad and Port Isabel was closed making Yuma the new base of all cargo operations from 1879 onward. Around the same time one of Yuma’s most notable historical buildings was established, the Yuma Territorial Prison. While it had a poor reputation given the death rate, the institution was considered somewhat enlightened for the time and following its closure in 9109 the buildings were used by the nearby high school.
The Laguna Dam is Constructed
Following the Gold Rush Yuma moved into the 1900s by building the Aluna Dam in 1905 which was one of the first dams to be built along the Colorado River marking the end of its prominence as a trade stop and starting its modern future as an area of agriculture. A large tunnel was built under the River and used to irrigate 965 feet of agricultural land. The depression hurt a lot of the region, but the construction of the Imperial Dam helped keep Yuma relevant and in fact, the first modern motel in the state was built in the city.