A Day’s Escape to Ft. Scott

20 May
The hospital, now Visitors’ Center.

In 1988 I went on a road trip with my parents, husband, and then two -year-old daughter.  My Dad was a big Civil War and also Harry Truman fan.  Since we lived on the border of Missouri and Kansas, he had sites he wanted to see.

We drove down Hwy 69 to Ft. Scott first to see the old historic site. It was in the beginning of its renovations and restorations. I just remember one building. From there we went to Silver Dollar City, Mansfield where we visited Laura Ingalls Wilder’s house (for my Mom and me) and finally on our way home, we stopped in Lamar, Missouri, to see Truman’s birthplace. This four-day trip was a highlight for my parents.

For me, there was just one place I wanted to return to, Ft. Scott.  For the last 33 years, I have been commenting that I need to go back and see what they did with the fort.  It is not that I haven’t been to the city of Fort Scott.  I have driven through it at least once a year on my way to Arkansas or other spots in Kansas. 

I have even stopped in Ft. Scott to visit the Lowell Milken Center, Unsung Hero Museum. This museum focuses on taking action to improve the lives of others. I was interested in it through my volunteer work with the Kansas City Section of the National Council of Jewish Women. We were involved in the development of the play about Irena Sendler: Life In A Jar, which is highlighted at the museum.

But I never got over to the Fort!  Each time I went it was raining, not a gentle rain, but a good Kansas downpour.

When I went the first time, in 1988, the renovations and restorations had only been going on for a decade. The Fort Scott Historic Site became part of the National Park System only in 1978. For a long time, From the late 1800s to 1978, it was part of the town of Ft. Scott.  Some of the buildings, that were not torn down, were used by town’s people as homes or community buildings, like a home for girls.  

In the 1950s community members started working to restoring the fort.  Most buildings are not original, rather recreations. Since 1978, recreations of buildings have been built around the common area.

The Fort was important during the time of “bleeding Kansas,” as Kansas and Missouri fought over free and slave states. In fact, during that time, two of the buildings were used as hotels. Across the square common area from each other, one was for those who supported a free state, the other was for those who wanted a slave state. Sometimes, violence broke out!!

During the Civil War, the Fort was used as a supply depot and hospital for Union soldiers. In the Visitors’ Center they have a room set up as the hospital would have been like in the 1860s.

For the past 33 years, I have been wondering, did it get completed? What happened? I have been wanting to see the Fort! I tried to arrange field trips with friends to take our children there. It never happened. I tried to get my husband to go with me. He did not have time to take the drive.

Finally, I completed my quest.   In the time of Covid, my husband had 25 vacation days that have to be used before July 1. He is taking every Thursday and Friday off for three months.  Good friends of ours drove down from Wisconsin.  Our first overnight company in 15 months.  We are all vaccinated.  I suggested a field trip to Ft. Scott. Most of the time we would be outside.  They agreed.

I have to admit, it was better than I imagined.  When we were there 33 years ago, the place was ragtag and a mess of construction.  Now it is a lovely well-organized group of 20 buildings that you can enter and see cannons and carriages; the places where supplies were kept and bread was made.  The best was the officers’ quarters. The building we entered was an original 1845 building.  It is the same building we went into in 1988.  This building had been a private home and then a school for girls.

There is even a Tallgrass Prairie planted with a trail, so that you can imagine yourself walking the prairies of Kansas in the 1840s.

We spent about 90 minutes walking around the grounds and into the open buildings.  Several of the buildings were closed for various reasons.  The Visitors’ Center, which once was the hospital, has a small gift shop, and clean restroom. There is no entrance fee to visit the historic site. It is opened almost every day until 5 pm. But even when the buildings are closed, you are still allowed to walk around the park.

After we toured the site, we walked across the street to a nice little Mexican restaurant and then walked through the quaint town, entering a few stores. 

There is one other museum I want to see in Ft. Scott, the Gordon Parks Museum.  Located on the grounds of the Ft. Scout Community College, the museum highlights the work and life of well-known photographer Gordon Parks.  I will get there one day!

To be honest, I enjoyed my day in Ft. Scott so much, I have decided that this one-hour drive will be added to my activities whenever we have out of town company.  It is a great way to spend a day.

Center of the common area. Across the way are the soldiers quarters and the stable.
The officers’ quarters. The building on the right, known as the Wilson/Goodlander Home.This is the building I saw in 1988.
The back of the officers’ quarters. They had private gardens.
Inside the hospital.
The bakery.
The basement of the storehouse. The stone floor is the original floor.
The prison.
The Tallgrass Prairie

https://www.lowellmilkencenter.org/
https://www.nps.gov/fosc/index.htm

http://www.gordonparkscenter.org

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