Saturday, January 25, 2014

Day Trip: Fort Lancaster State Historic Site

I love visiting old forts in Texas. For quite a while now, I've wanted to visit Fort Lancaster State Historic Site in western Crockett County just east of the small community of Sheffield. On a recent mild and sunny day, we made the trek there and toured the grounds of the old military outpost.

Fort Lancaster was established in 1858 to protect the overland route between San Antonio and El Paso. The life of the post was short-lived, and it was finally abandoned by 1874. At its peak, it consisted of 25 buildings. Originally, the post was manned by infantry. Following the War-Between-the-States, Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th Cavalry stationed at Fort Stockton farther west rotated to garrison the post. Fort Lancaster is the only Texas military fort that suffered a direct attack by Native Americans when a large force of Kickapoos and Lipan Apaches assaulted the post.

If you visit the post, do not expect to see restored buildings like you would at Fort Concho or Fort Davis. What you'll find instead are ruins. No building on the post is intact, and many are merely a jumble of stones. All of the remains are identified, though, and the layout of the post is clearly visible.

We began our tour at the Visitor Center, where a few exhibits are available. Be aware that this park is operated by the Texas Historical Commission, not the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. So, if you have a State Park Pass, as we do, it will do you no good here. Admission is $4 per person.

Visitor Center at Fort Lancaster State Historical Site
Exit the Visitor Center at the rear and the post stands before you. Be sure to look at the display just before leaving the Visitor Center to help plan your route. Also, pick up a Visitor's Guide, which includes a map. Determine the route you wish to follow and then take off.

Below are a few photos we took during our tour. One of the best things about this post is its location and setting. The views are really great. The post lies in the Pecos River Valley near Live Oak Creek. This is a broad valley with upper elevations as much as 600 or 700 feet above the valley floor.

This was Company K Barracks, and it is the most recognizable structure of the post. In fact, it graces the cover of the Visitor's Guide. The photo looks west across the Pecos River Valley.
This is the hospital, and it is pretty typical of what you will see in the park. The outline of the building is clear, and that's about it. Some buildings are just piles of stones with no clear detail.
This is the lime kiln, used to produce lime for construction of the stone buildings.
The blacksmith shop
Another view of Company K Barracks
The mess hall
This was the bakery. Today, it's merely a jumble of rocks with no clear outline or form. Notice the background.
If you are traveling along I-10 between Ozona and Fort Stockton, take old Highway 290 near Sheffield and take a walk through history. The scenery is impressive, and the old post provides a glimpse into the past in this rugged country.

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