Monday, March 24, 2014

Fort Churchill, Nevada

Fort Churchill State Historic Park
Fort Churchill State Historic Park
Fort Churchill (1860-1871) - Visited 18 Mar 2014 - Visiting Fort Churchill is not very difficult if you find yourself in the Reno or Carson City area of western Nevada. The key is Alt U.S. 95A which can be reached from Reno, Carson City or Fallon via U.S. 50 or I80. The Fort Churchill State Historic Park is just south of Silver Springs, Nevada on Alt U.S. 95A just before the Carson River crossing. There is a fee for entry, seven dollars per car for us at the time of our visit. The fee is paid at the entrance and you will need cash or check because the fee station is unmanned. Fees vary by status.
View of the South End of the Post From the Visitor Center
View of the South End of the Post From the Visitor Center
It is a good idea to stop first at the visitor center/museum to get an overview of the site and an idea of what life was like at the post. There are a couple of free publications available at the visitor center that are most useful. Included in the displays is a model of the post and two rooms with period furnishings that depict the headquarters office and a prisoner cell. Outside the visitor center/museum there is display of two 3 inch ordnance rifles on field mounts as well as a number of plaques and markers. On the west side of the building there is a great view of the fort below and an interpretive display identifying the buildings.
Interpretive Panel at the Visitor Center Describing the Fort Buildings Below
Interpretive Panel at the Visitor Center Describing the Fort Buildings Below
Remains of the Post Hospital
Remains of the Post Hospital

All of the remaining post buildings are in a state of "arrested decay", some with a shell remaining, others with just a wall or two and others with just a foundation. This was an "open plan" fort without a stockade or walls with buildings built around a central parade. The buildings were built with 20 inch thick adobe walls and that is the reason that you can see what the post looked like today. Had the buildings been wood frame they would have been carried off long ago.
Ruins of Officer's Quarters
Ruins of Officer's Quarters



There is a loop drive around the fort with two parking lots, one on the north and one on the south side of the post. Pick one and take the walk around the parade. You will quickly get the feel of the post with the officer's quarters on the north side, barracks on the west side, magazine and guardhouse on the south side. The east side housed the headquarters, quartermaster buildings and the hospital. In back of the hospital is the ruins of the laundresses quarters. The interpretive signs along the path are great, they not only identify the buildings but offer some insight into the operation of the post. 
Remains of Post Headquarters
Remains of Post Headquarters

The officers quarters were quite something and provided confortable living for the post officers and their families. The unmarried enlisted troops were housed in the barracks buildings which were less comfortable but the 20 inch walls provided protection against the extremes of weather. You can get an idea of what a barracks was like by viewing the visitor center, it was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as a replica of a barracks building.
Mess Hall Ruins
Mess Hall Ruins




The first post commander, Captain Joseph Stewart, 3rd U.S. Artillery, was an experienced officer who was in command of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Harbor when he was tapped for the Carson River Expedition during the Pyramid Lake Paiute War. He was subsequently ordered to establish a permanent post along the Carson River that would provide protection for settlers and miners and communities like nearby Virginia City. The gold and silver mines had resulted in the rapid influx of miners and settlers that precipitated the Pyramid Lake Paiute War. 

Sketch of Fort Churchill from Museum Display
Sketch of Fort Churchill from Museum Display

Stewart, a West Point graduate, apparently took his job seriously and the first cost estimate for the new post was $192,556, a considerable sum for the time and ten times above what it cost to build comparable posts elsewhere. The high cost of labor, the expense of shipping in materials from San Francisco during the gold rush and the necessity to get the command under shelter before the harsh winter set in all contributed to the high cost. Construction began in July 1860 and enough buildings were completed to shelter the command by October that year. The post was named Fort Churchill for Colonel Sylvester Churchill, then Inspector General of the Army. Captain Stewart returned to his command at Alcatraz 26 Oct 1860. 
Museum Interior
Museum Interior

The post was garrisoned through much of the Civil War by California Volunteer troops as were many of the western forts. Most regular U.S. troops returned east for the duration of the war. Regular U.S. troops returned after the end of war and garrisoned Fort Churchill until it was abandoned in 1869-71.

Museum Replica of Headquarters Office
Museum Replica of Headquarters Office






This is a great place to visit and offers a good look at what a pre Civil War western fort must have looked like. We visited in March and we were the only visitors during the two hours we were there. The experience could be enhanced with a few additions especially a period flag pole and garrison flag on the parade where the original was located and perhaps some recorded bugle calls to break the silence. Well worth the visit!

GPS Coordinates: Lat 39.2925 Long -119.27056



No comments:

Post a Comment