3. FORT DAVIS, TEXAS
Since 1964, when Fort Davis opened as a part of the National Park Service, the long-standing dream for park service personnel and local citizens was to restore the 1876 hospital. Nearly 50 years later, that dream has become a reality.
Retired and current National Park Service superintendents have volunteered to help restore the post hospital ever since the Fort Davis National Historical Society launched the project in 2000. Friends of Fort Davis National Historic Site acquired a $200,000 matching grant, and the project was good to go. Everyone pitched in: NPS retirees and current rangers, local residents, graduate students from the University of Vermont and Cornerstones Community Partnerships of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Thanks to the funding for materials and all the volunteer work, restoration of the hospital is nearly completed. The next step for the hospital will be acquiring late 19th-century furnishings for a ward and the post surgeon’s office. Then volunteers will move on to renovating the post’s jailhouse. The commissary building also underwent a multi-year renovation, and it opened to the public in 2009. The 1854 fort currently has 25 restored structures, with five furnished to the 1880s, and more than 100 foundations and ruins.
The Fort Davis project is a huge undertaking and will help enlarge our understanding of frontier military history and of the Buffalo Soldiers who served at the fort. Beyond the restoration efforts, Fort Davis also shared Buffalo Soldier history in 2009 through an educational program broadcast to classrooms throughout the nation. This project involved the National Park Foundation, the Junior ROTC from Ysleta ISD of El Paso, educators throughout Texas, the National Park Service and the African American Experience Fund.
The town of Fort Davis—population 2,600—has even more to offer. An 1883 home houses the Overland Trail Museum, sharing the story of the southern Overland Trail—the San Antonio-El Paso Road. The town is also home to more than 15 businesses with historic ties. These include the first ranch in Jeff Davis County to be family owned and operated for more than 100 years, the 1886 H.E. Sproul Ranch; the 1896 Prude Ranch, a working cattle and guest ranch that also offers a summer camp for kids; a working broom shop that makes late 1800s-style brooms, the Davis Mountain Broom Shop; the 1912 Hotel Limpia; and the 1883 Veranda Historic Inn, an e-shaped hotel that is the oldest continuously-operating hotel in all of West Texas.
Unique local events include a cowboy poetry gathering and Trappings of Texas, featuring cowboy gear and art, held in February, and in September, the Mountain Man Rendezvous, a black-powder living history event, and Old Fort Days, with butter churning, 1840s baseball and a historic weapons demonstration at the fort. (Old Fort Days is in addition to the fort’s regularly-scheduled “Living History Days,” in which people dressed in period clothing teach the tools and trade of the fort.)
The frontier fort is the heart of Fort Davis. The partnerships forged between local citizens and numerous preservation groups have helped this town keep its treasures intact.