Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Power of Restoration - Fort Davis

Photo from Library of Congresss:  Historic American Buildings Survey, Marvin Eickenroht, Photographer May 23, 1936 NORTHEAST ELEVATION OFFICERS QUARTERS (EAST FRONT AND NORTH SIDE).
Frankly, we were shocked to see photographs of Fort Davis in the collection of the Library of Congress, dating back to 1936, forty-five years after the closing of the fort.  Today the fort is so loved, it is almost unimaginable to think of the property in such disrepair. 

Why was the fort abandoned?  From the National Park Service website:   "It was peaceful during the last ten years (1881-1891) the fort was in existence. Soldiers from the fort still patrolled the western frontier, but they were more involved in surveying or repairing roads and telegraph lines. The fort, however, continued to grow. By the late 1880s, it had gas lightening, running water, and an ice machine. It had over one hundred buildings, and its excellent hospital treated people from all around the area – not just people who lived at the fort.
   The post, nevertheless, was isolated. Located twenty miles from the nearest railroad station, it was built on land the government did not own. Raiding by Comanches or Apaches was over. By June of 1891, the army had judged Fort Davis to have “outlived its usefulness” and ordered it - one of the largest and most prominent frontier military posts in the American Southwest - to be abandoned."

The Fort Davis Chamber of Commerce picks up the story: "In May 1946 David A. Simmons of Houston, former president of the American Bar Association, bought the property on which the old fort stood with the intention of restoring it and opening it to the public as a year-round resort. Simmons died in 1951, before his plan could be realized, but in September 1961 Fort Davis National Historic Site came into being; the 460-acre site was formally dedicated in April 1966."

This fall, the Fort Davis National Historic Site will celebrate its 50 years as a National Park Service facility. (Stay tuned for information on the celebration!)  Clearly, we're the benefactors of the advocacy, love and care and funding from others coming before us...we still have the fort to enjoy and tell us about the past.  Restoration continues with the leadership of the National Park Service staff and many volunteers. 

In fact, restoration of the fort hospital is an ongoing and active project, aided by the Friends of Fort Davis.  Read about it here.   And in recent years, land was purchased above the property to preserve its pristine setting.  You can join the effort by becoming a member of the friends organization, here.

Read more about the history of the fort, here.

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