Fort Hartsuff State Historical Park
Tour of the Historic Buildings at Fort Hartsuff
Fort Hartsuff stood as a buffer between settlers and Native Americans. It also provided protection to the Pawnee from the Sioux in the North Loup River Valley from September 1874 to May 1881. Because the main fort buildings were constructed of a lime/concrete mixture, many have survived. The Fort is named after Major General George L. Hartsuff. When the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission obtained the site in 1961, restoration began. It was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Because of its size and condition, Fort Hartsuff is one of the most complete forts of this time period anywhere in the country.
Most of the buildings at Fort Hartsuff are arranged around the 500' x 500' Parade Grounds. This area was where the posting of the colors and retreat, roll call, the changing of the guard, exercises, drills, and recreation, such as baseball, were conducted. The lone feature on the parade ground was the ninety-seven-foot tall flagpole
The post headquarters was the administrative nerve center for the daily activities at the fort. The Commanding Officer, Adjutant, Commissary Sergeant, and Quartermaster each had an office in the building. It was there that duty rosters, orders, requisitions, and the like were written. The post headquarters now houses the park office and gift shop. A film on the history of Fort Hartsuff is available for viewing.
If Post Headquarters was the brain of the fort, then the barracks was the heart. Most of the forty to sixty enlisted men stationed at the post lived here. When viewed today with very few people in it, the barracks seem huge. However, when filled with a full company of soldiers, the barracks would seem crowed with a decided lack of privacy.
This large two-story duplex housed the post surgeon, the two lieutenants, their families (if married), personal cooks, and servants. Military protocol at the time dictated a distinct separation between officers and enlisted men, with the enlisted men not even permitted to speak to an officer without permission. Visiting officers and dignitaries stayed here while visiting.
Even by today’s standards, the Commanding Officers Quarters is a large house. By 1870’s standards, it must have seemed like a mansion. Designed and constructed as the personal home of the Commanding Officer, his family, and his servants, the quarters were quite luxurious. They helped to earn Fort Hartsuff the honor of being “The most pleasant duty station in the Department of the Platte.”
Fort Hartsuff was originally designated as a two-company post with a company of infantry and a company of cavalry to be housed here. However, before construction was completed it was decided to place a single company of infantry here. Rather than waste the foundation that had already been poured for the cavalry officer’s quarters, the plans were modified to change the structure into the post-hospital.
Typically 1870’s Army posts with both Infantry and Calvary were laid out so that the infantry barracks were on one side of the parade ground with a mirror image cavalry barracks on the other side. Fort Hartsuff was no exception. But when the post was downsized to a single company of infantry, the cavalry barracks were no longer needed to house the cavalry personnel. What was needed was a place to house the quartermasters and commissary material.
During the 1870s, the U.S. Army had a policy of constructing its forts from whatever materials were available locally. With plenty of lime, sand, water, and gravel in the vicinity, this policy dictated concrete buildings at Fort Hartsuff. The Blacksmith/Carpenter’s Shop is a notable exception. It was built of board and batten construction with lumber cut by the fort’s own steam-powered sawmill.
Even though Fort Hartsuff never housed cavalry other than an occasional visiting detail, there was still a need for horses and mules both to ride and to pull wagons. Typically thirty mules and ten horses were housed in this building. The company saddler sergeant had his quarters in a corner room. The saddler was responsible for the health of the animals as well as the maintenance and repair of the harness and leather goods on the post. Though normally exempt from field duty, the saddler could volunteer for hazardous field service.
The laundress quarters was a very active building. It housed the Commissary Sergeant, the Baker, and of course, the Laundresses and their families. Another name for the laundress quarters was “Suds Row.” The Commissary Sergeant lived in this building because it was close to the storehouse, and he was also in charge of the wagon scale that was located behind the Laundress Quarters.
As the name implies, the guardhouse is the building that housed the guard detail. The guard detail was chosen from among the men in what was sometimes a fierce competition. While guard duty meant walking sentry duty, it also meant exemption from other fatigue details. Soldiers competing for guard detail were judged on the appearance of their dress uniform and mastery of drill.