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Sanguinetti Museum and Garden offers over 100 years of Yuma history
Feb. 14, 2012, marks 100 years of statehood for Arizona. The Sanguinetti House Museum and Garden, located at 240 and 248 Madison Avenue in downtown Yuma, is part of Arizona's historic past.
The house was constructed in the 1870s and is older than Arizona. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the building was purchased in 1890 by one of Yuma's first merchants, E.F.Sanguinetti Sr. As his family grew, rooms were added to the original adobe building, and a small oasis of gardens and aviaries was created behind the home.
Sanguinetti lived in the house until 1946. In 1963, it became the Yuma Historical Society's museum.
Today, the Sanguinetti House Museum, sponsored by the Arizona Historical Society, offers visitors an opportunity to step back in time to the turn of the 20th century when life was simpler and the Lower Colorado River was the center of Yuma's commercial travel. The California Gold Rush of 1849 brought an increase in the number of people traveling through Yuma to California, which helped make Yuma a boomtown. Steamboats and other vessels traveled up and down the river carrying passengers and supplies to Yuma.
As trains replaced steamboats, the Southern Pacific Railroad laid track from Colton, Calif., to as far east as Texas. Trains passing through Yuma stopped at the Southern Pacific Hotel and Depot, continuing Yuma's tradition as a crossroads for travelers.
A rail bridge was built where Madison Avenue meets the river, which connected Arizona to California. It was a swing-span bridge that swung open to allow steamboats and other vessels to pass through.
A walk through the museum's garden reveals a variety of drought-resistant plants similar to those grown in the original garden. Over the years, Sanguinetti grew over 4,000 different plants. Agave, bougainvillea, cape honeysuckle, elephant's food, fountain grass, Arabian jasmine, oleander, myrtle, roses and cannas are a few plants to look for.
A meandering sidewalk invites you to take a leisurely stroll, with stops at several large aviaries which were part of the original garden and have housed exotic birds ever since E. F. Sanguinetti Sr. filled the cages in the 1890s. Look for the peacock and peahen, yellow nape Amazon parrot and blue fronted Amazon parrot.
“The garden is the perfect setting for our weekly talks about Yuma's history,” said Carol Brooks, museum curator. The talks are held each Wednesday at 10:30 a.m., and the cost is $5 per person. On Feb. 8, the garden talk will be “Yuma: The Day Arizona Became a State, 1912.” On Feb. 22, a talk will be given by George Chavez, discussing “Old-Time Yuma Families.”
Desert tours are also sponsored each month. A caravan of cars, led by a tour guide, travels to interesting historic sites in the Yuma area. Feb. 26 will be a trip to the American Girl Gold Mine, with lunch at the mine. That tour is $20 per person, and reservations can be made by calling 782-1841.
In 1873, Jack Mellon, a steamboat captain on the river, built the Adobe Annex building that now houses the museum's library, archive collection and gift shop. The gift shop is open Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and offers many locally written books discussing the history of the Yuma area, its wildlife and horticulture. There is also a variety of specialty gift items.
Through the years, the Federated Garden Clubs of Yuma has been a strong supporter of the Sanguinetti House Garden. In 2003, they began restoration of the garden back to the original design E.F. Sanguinetti Sr. had constructed using plants available during the 1800s. Sanguinetti had combined native and exotic plants, some brought by steamboat from San Francisco, to create a decorative garden similar to those he remembered seeing on a visit to Italy as a boy.
“When we began work in the garden, Kyle Ramsey, a local Boy Scout in Troop 9, worked with other Boy Scouts in his troop to help Federated members plant the garden,” said Sharon Jessup, Pecan Grove Garden Club member. “The project helped Kyle earn his Eagle Scout Award, and we greatly appreciated the Scouts' help.
“In 2004, Val Colvin, Federated Garden Clubs of Yuma, and Megan Reid, director of the Arizona Historical Society-Sanguinetti House Museum, obtained two grants to improve the garden's irrigation system and replace plants which had died. Another grant allowed further improvements in the garden,” Jessup said.
By 2005, the garden was completed.
“In 2009, Federated Garden Clubs held a fund-raiser which offered the public a fun day of music, food, and games in the garden,” said Cal Kelley, Yuma Garden Club president. “Proceeds from the event went toward maintaining the garden's landscaping.”
Once a year, Federated Garden Club members work in the garden pruning, weeding and cleaning out flower beds.
“We enjoy helping keep the garden pretty so that everyone in Yuma can enjoy its beauty,” explained Willene Calvert, president of Pecan Grove Garden Club.
Sanguinetti Garden has become a favorite spot for special events, such as weddings, birthdays, anniversary parties and group activities. Its mature landscaping is perfect for group photos.
“Call 782-1841 to reserve the garden for a special event. We are more than happy to help. We are closed Sunday and Monday,” Brooks said.
Another favorite spot whose history is connected to the Sanguinetti House Museum is the Garden Café, 250 S. Madison Ave. The cafe was started by Rosemarie Sanguinetti Gwynn (daughter of E.F. Sanguinetti Sr.), her husband, Howard, their son, Bruce, and his wife, Debbie. The cafe is located next door to the museum and was once part of the Sanguinetti House Garden.
Today, Bruce and Debbie carry on the café's tradition of fine food in a beautiful garden setting. Diners enjoy the outdoor patios nestled amidst garden greenery. An aviary along the north side of the patio area shows off a flock of cockatiels and parakeets that offer constant entertainment.
Karen Bowen is a master gardener and member of Yuma Garden Club. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is sponsored by the Federated Garden Clubs of Yuma.