How the citizens saved the old Fort Scott

Saturday, May 31, 2014
On Thursday, Fort Scott National Historic Site Historian Bill Fischer talks about the history of the site during the Fort Scott Area Chamber of Coffee. The Fort, established in 1842, then later closed and auctioned off. Through the years, various attempts were made to save the buildings. Thirty-five years ago, the city of Fort Scott began redeveloping the site as a park.

At Thursday morning's Fort Scott Area Chamber of Commerce weekly coffee, Bill Fischer, historian at the Fort Scott National Historic Site (FSNHS), told the audience that the preservation of the old Fort Scott has been a long journey of citizens caring about preserving their history.

FSNHS hosted the coffee at its Grand Hall on the fort grounds.

"This is a story about Fort Scottians wanting to preserve their heritage," Fischer said. "This place exists because people in this community knew there was something here that was worth preserving."

This year the Fort Scott National Historic Site is commemorating the 35th anniversary of the city of Fort Scott redeveloping the original site into a city park. The commemoration is a traveling history display which depicts the span of over 100 years of history into five large panels with photos of people and buildings that tell the story of the town and fort. The FSNHS partnered with Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area (FFNHA), and was eligible to apply for grants, which produced the panels. The FFNHA Interpretive Grant covered about 80 percent of the cost of the panels, according to Fischer.


The United State Army established Fort Scott in 1842 as part of a line of forts along the Indian frontier. National events led to the fort's obsolescence and closure in 1853.

"The fort closed in 1853. In 1854 the Kansas Nebraska Act opened the site to settlers. In 1855, the buildings were auctioned off and this became the civilian town of Fort Scott. This is where your town began," Fischer said.

The parade ground of the old fort became the first city park.

"So that parade ground is the heart and soul of this town," he said.

Through the years the site went through a period of disrepair, but civic-minded people worked to preserve the story of their town's original fort.

"We couldn't mention every single person who was critical to this effort," Fischer said. "It spans 100 years."

Many of the old fort buildings were torn down by 1900, according to the commemorative history display.

In the early 1900s the Bourbon County Historical Society and the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) made the first effort to remember the town's historic past.

Starting in 1916, Fort Scottians sought recognition for the old Fort Scott. Politicians' plans for getting recognition for the old fort were thwarted.

The D.A.R. saved the Blair blockhouse in 1923. The local Rotary, Kiwanis, American Legion and others helped preserve the structure and moved it to Carroll Plaza, Fischer said.

In the 1930s the Works Progress Administration built stone entrances to Carroll Plaza, the former parade ground of the fort. The workers also refurbished the officers quarters as a historical museum.

The Business and Professional Women's Club (BPW) reestablished a museum in Officer' Quarters No.1. in 1947.

National historical significance

In the 1950s, Dudley Cornish, Pittsburg State University professor, researched African American troops serving in the Civil War. His research on the First Kansas Colored Infantry recruitment at Fort Scott showed the national significance of the site and helped Fort Scott gain National Historic Landmark status.

Cornish went to Washington D.C. in March 1965 with a group of local citizens to a Congressional hearing on behalf of the site, according to the commemorative panels.

Joe Skubitz, who was elected to Congress in 1962, served on the House Interior Committee. He became a driving force to fund the old fort's redevelopment.

In 1966, the National Park Service and the city of Fort Scott signed a cooperative agreement to redevelop the site.

In 1975, the city established a governing board to run the park, with Grace Moore as the first chairperson.

The site opened May 31, 1975.

In 1977, it was apparent that the site was "too big for Fort Scott to handle," according to a quote by Harry Fisher that is part of the commemorative display.

On May 18, 1979, Fort Scott Mayor John Baker signed a deed to transfer the Fort Scott Historical Site to the National Park Service (NPS).

The initial NPS interpretive staff were hired in 1980: Randy Kane, Don Wollenhaupt and Arnold Scholfield.

In 1993, the site had its one millionth visitor.

Currently the FSNHS employs 14 permanent positions, five seasonal workers and has over 400 volunteers, Kellye Collins, FSNHS chief of interpretation and resource management, said.

Upcoming events

* The Fort will feature history of Civil War transportation and communication during next week's Good Ol' Days.

* From 8:30 a.m. to noon Aug. 4-8, there will be a week-long Trailblazers Day Camp for Kids.

* Symbols of Sacrifice, honoring our nation's war dead, will be Sept. 11-17, with Sept. 11 designated as a day of service.

Groups of volunteers are needed to set the thousands of flags on the grounds.

* On Sept. 26, new citizens to the United States swear allegiance to their newly adopted country on the parade grounds.

* Collins said the museum building is being remodeled this year and a theater will be added, along with new exhibits. Work is being done to make the Fort more handicapped accessible, as well with a redesigned restrooms, benches and technology for visitors who can not go up the stairs at the site, she said.