This project was undertaken by the National Park Service, Intermountain Region, in cooperation with CyArk and the University of Colorado Denver, Center of Preservation Research.
Old Guard House
Burt House 2nd Floor Interior
New Guard House
New Post Hospital
Officer's Quarters Ruins
Old Bedlam 2nd Floor Interior
Post Surgeon's Quarters
Post Surgeon's Quarters 2nd Floor Interior
The Commissary Storehouse, built in 1883, was used to store food supplies for the fort's mess halls. The building now serves as the Fort Laramie National Historic Site Visitors’ Center. It is a well-preserved, one-story, rectangular, 5,990-square-foot structure built primarily of lime grout concrete. The building has a wood-shingle hip roof, two brick chimneys, three pipe flues, and dark Venetian-red-painted eaves. The exterior surface displays score marks, which were intended to mimic the texture of masonry block construction (NPS C.S., NPS).
The Old Guard House, built in 1866, is fully restored. The guardhouse is a 1½- story, stone masonry structure built along a steep slope. The main floor contains two rooms; one room was used by the guard, and the other by the officer of the guard. Guard duty consisted of 12 2-hour shifts. Guards were required to be awake and in dress uniform at all times. The basement housed jail cells, set along the easterly side of the building, down slope from the upper level. The cells had little natural light and no heating. In the winter, the temperature in the cells could reach a very cold 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Prisoners were only allowed their two field blankets for staving off the cold. One bucket provided sanitation for prisoners. Disobedience, fighting, and drunkenness were some of the offenses that were punishable by jail. In 1876, the New Guard House was built and the new jail cells provided somewhat better conditions for prisoners (NPS audio tour). With the construction of the New Guard House, the Old Guard House was converted into a magazine (ordnance storehouse) (NPS C.S.).
The Administrative Building, built in 1884, currently stands in ruins. The Administrative Building housed the adjutant’s office, post school, library and a multi-purpose theater known as the amusement hall (NPS C.S.). The large (36 foot by 102 foot by 31 foot by 52 foot) L-shaped building is of lime grout concrete. The building’s wood components remain in fragments, much of the material having been scavenged during the homesteading era.
The Burt House is named for Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Burt, who served as commander of the Bozeman Trail's Fort C.F. Smith (Kaiser 248). The home was constructed in 1884-85 and was the last major construction at Fort Laramie. Andrew Burt was second in command at Fort Laramie from 1887-89. He lived in this house with his wife Elizabeth and their children, Reynolds and Edith, from February 18, 1888 to May 14, 1889 (NPS, NPS C.S.). The single-story house has a large attic and is constructed of lime grout concrete and timber framing with a shingle mansard roof (NPS C.S.). In 1890, when the Fort was abandoned, the Burt family moved out and the last post sutler (trader), John Hunton, took the Burt House as his residence (Hieb part S).
The second floor of the Burt House consists of a large attic with dormer windows set into the steep slope of the mansard roof. In 1961, when the National Park Service restored the Burt House to its 1888-89 condition, the task was greatly facilitated by the aid of Reynolds Burt. Burt, who had clear memories of the layout of the Victorian house from his childhood, donated many of the original items found inside today (NPS, NPS C.S.).
The Captain’s Quarters, built in 1868-70, was designed to be the single-family residence of the post commander. However, once the residence was completed, the post commander chose to live in a different house. The Fort’s quartermaster then converted the building into a duplex. At the time, officers’ housing was in high demand due to the increasing size of the Fort’s garrison in the years leading up to the Great Sioux War. The two residences of the Captain's Quarters were considered grand compared to the other officers’ quarters and thus were much-coveted by senior officers and their families (NPS).
The well-preserved building is a 1½-story, U-shaped structure of wood frame construction, with weatherboard walls and a gabled roof. The building has porches on three sides, and four fireplaces with brick chimneys. It has a symmetrical plan with two larger rooms flanking a center hallway. The eastern section of the building has been furnished to represent the 1870 period (NPS C.S.).
Located north of the parade ground, the Cavalry Barracks is the only surviving enlisted men's barracks at Fort Laramie. Built in1874, the two-story, gabled-roof building is Fort Laramie's largest lime grout concrete structure. The structure measures 26 feet by 270 feet in plan, and has a 12-foot veranda (built in 1882-83) that stretches the length of the building. The Calvary Barracks contains kitchens, mess halls, reading rooms, washrooms, and quarters for the 120 additional cavalry soldiers (two mounted units) who were assigned to Fort Laramie during the buildup to the Great Sioux War of 1876-77. The Cavalry Barracks was occupied by cavalry soldiers from 1874-83, and then by infantrymen from 1883-90 (NPS C.S.).
The Cavalry Barracks is one of few, if not the only, example of its kind in existence. Today, the barracks' northern end is used as office space by the staff of Fort Laramie National Historic Site, while the south end has been restored and furnished to its 1876 condition, when it would have housed the Second Cavalry's Company K under Captain Egan (Kaiser 247, Hieb part s, Gettman 2008).
The Magazine, built in 1850, to hold Fort Laramie’s ammunition and weapons supply, sits behind the stone foundations of the former Officer's Row. The 464-square-foot, one-story building has an adobe foundation, a single door and window, and fieldstone walls with lime grout mortar (NPS C.S.). During the homestead era, the ruins of the Magazine were used as a chicken coop. The magazine was restored to its post-homestead era appearance by the National Park Service. (Mattes 1980: Part III).
The New Bakery, the last of four post bakeries, was built in 1883-84 to replace the nearby Old Bakery of 1876 (Mattes 1988:235, NPS C.S.). All the flammable parts of the New Bakery burned during a fire on April 3, 1925, which threatened the entire site but was doused by local citizens before it spread further (Mattes 1980: Part II). All that remains of the New Bakery are the ruins of its lime concrete walls, measuring 34 feet by 46 feet in plan.
The New Guard House was built in 1876 to replace the Old Guard House (1866), following complaints about poor conditions in the earlier building (Hieb part S). The New Guard House was the third jail at Fort Laramie, built atop the ruins of the first guard house from 1850; the foundation and ruins can be seen inside the New Guard House. The New Guard House stands prominently at the northeast corner of the parade ground. The one-story structure measures 50 feet by 36 feet in plan, and is of lime grout concrete, with a limestone rubble/lime grout foundation that extends from two inches to four feet above ground. The building has a wood-shingle roof, two concrete chimneys, and a 20-foot-deep front porch. The building was originally partitioned into areas for the guardroom, the officer of the guard, and cells for prisoners (ibid., NPS C.S.).
Built in 1873, the New Post Hospital now stands in ruins on a hill north of the parade ground. The hospital was built on the site of the old military cemetery and near the civilian cemetery dating back to Fort William. Army and civilian surgeons treated the sick and wounded at Fort Laramie. Surgeons were aided by a soldier known as the “hospital steward”. The hospital steward acted as nurse and first-line aide, determining whether the patient was ill and then prescribing treatment according to a standardized manual. While medical training was not required, the hospital steward was a trusted non-commissioned officer responsible for daily record keeping and medical supplies, including drugs and alcohol. (NPS).
The New Post Hospital was the first lime grout construction at Fort Laramie and consisted of two wings, a patients' ward and an administrative building, along an L-shaped floor plan. Today, the building's lime grout concrete walls and a reconstructed one-story section of the northeast corner roof are the only extant features (NPS C.S.). The New Post Hospital originally had 12 beds in its ward, a kitchen, dispensary, dining room, isolation (quarantine) rooms, surgeon's office, and rooms for storage and orderlies. There were no operating rooms or laboratories. Rest, fresh air, and isolation were the standard treatment for most conditions. In its day, this was considered one of the best hospitals in Wyoming Territory (NPS audio tour).
Three officers' quarters, built in 1881, are near the southern end of Officers' Row. Although in ruins today, the quarters consisted of two duplex buildings and a large mansion for the commanding officer and his family. All three buildings were reduced to their residual lime grout concrete walls by lumber scavengers after the Fort was auctioned off in 1890 (NPS audio tour).
The Old Bakery was built in 1876 to make bread for the soldiers stationed at Fort Laramie. This was the Fort’s third bakery, and one of two still extant. The building is a simple, 921-square-foot, brick and lime grout concrete structure with a gable roof. The bakery operated 24 hours a day to produce a daily ration of 18 ounces of bread for each soldier. This bread was not what soldiers ate in the field. Field rations included hard tack bread, which was made in the East. Hard tack could be Civil War surplus, and broken, moldy, and weevil-infested. In contrast, bakery bread was considered delicious, despite the amateur status of its bakers. Soldiers rotated through bakery duty every ten days, and many had never had any prior baking experience. In 1883, after seven years of service, this bakery was replaced by the larger New Bakery to the east (NPS). The Old Bakery was used as a schoolhouse from 1884-87, and then as a granary until 1890 when the Fort was abandoned (NPS C.S.).
Old Bedlam, built in 1849, is the oldest, documented, standing structure in Wyoming, and is widely considered to be the symbol of Fort Laramie. Built in the Greek Revival style, this 5,561-square-foot, two-story structure was constructed of wood framing and brick, with a limestone foundation. Although built as a bachelor (unmarried) officer's quarters, Old Bedlam served a variety of roles during the Fort's 41-year history (NPS C.S.). The building housed the post headquarters until 1867, and practically all important personages who used the Oregon Trail during the Westward Expansion period passed through its halls.
Old Bedlam’s parties were legendary and likely contributed to the building's name, which refers to England's infamous Bedlam insane asylum (NPS audio tour). Historic events associated with Old Bedlam include John Phillips's 236-mile ride to Fort Laramie in 1866. Phillips arrived during a Christmas night party to deliver the message that Fort Phil Kearney was in danger of attack, and relief troops were quickly sent from Fort Laramie (Wyoming 270; Hieb part m). Following the abandonment of Fort Laramie in 1890, Old Bedlam remained standing, though in dilapidated condition. From 1960-64, the building underwent a major reconstruction, which brought it back to its 1854-64 condition, replete with furnishings (Hieb part s; NPS).
The second floor of Old Bedlam was the office and residence of Colonel William Collins, the post commander. The rooms have been restored and refurnished to their 1864 condition, appearing as they did during Collins’s command. Collins's original regiment was the 11th Ohio volunteer Cavalry. As the Civil War was in full swing in the East, officers on the frontier were ordered to secure the Bozeman Trail and its gold deposits, which were to be used to help fund the war effort. But the Bozeman Trail was in Indian Territory, and Native American tribes fiercely fought the trail’s illegal use by prospectors and the military. Collins was a primary commander in the ill-fated effort to secure the trail (NPS).
Constructed in 1875 along the parade ground, the Surgeon's Quarters served as a duplex residence for officers, as well as the post surgeon. The two-story building was constructed of lime grout concrete and wood framing. While the north (officer's) quarters are currently unfurnished, the south (surgeon's) quarters have been restored and furnished to the 1880 period (NPS C.S.), when the surgeon and his family lived here. One door led to the kitchen, while another (on the left wall) led outside, for patients to enter and exit the building (NPS audio tour).
Both floors of the Post Surgeon's Quarters are laid out with two main rooms flanking a central hallway. The rear wing also was laid out with two sets of two rooms, only without the hallway (NPS C.S.). The post surgeon acted as general physician to the enlisted men, officers, and laundresses of Fort Laramie, as well as to the families of officers from all over the area. Disease and accidents produced most of the patients. The post surgeon also oversaw sanitary conditions throughout the post. In addition, he kept records of local flora and fauna, and collected specimens. As was the custom of the day for learned men, the surgeon was expected to act as a scientist as well as a doctor (NPS).
The Sutler's Store is the only surviving non-military building at Fort Laramie. The oldest part of the building was built of adobe in 1849 as a one-room general store. The Post Sutler held a special license from the War Department granting sole rights to sell and trade on post. The Sutler's Store is a vivid daily reminder of Fort Laramie's original and ongoing role as a trading post. Soldiers, immigrants, Indians, speculators and other frontier dwellers all mingled together in the store, which opened for business in 1850. Anything from “back East” could be ordered, provided one could pay for shipping; rice, sugar, tobacco, and other products were available for trade at high cash prices (NPS audio tour). A stone addition was built in 1852, and served as the post office and quarters for the sutler (post trader).
In 1883, a lime grout concrete addition was built to house the officers’ club, the storage rooms, an enlisted men's saloon, and a pool room (NPS; Hieb part s). The post trader ran both the enlisted men's and officers' drinking facilities under his government license. While there were no limits on officers’ drinking, the post commander controlled drinking by enlisted men on post. In the enlisted men’s bar and pool room beer dominated the alcohol selection. The army allowed enlisted men’s bars to discourage soldiers from leaving the base to drink, gamble, and consort with prostitutes at nearby businesses (NPS audio tour).
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