Built between 1820 and 1825, Fort Snelling served as one of several Army outposts during Euro-American settlement of the nation’s western frontier. When the frontier passed the Fort, the property was sold and stood empty between 1858 and 1861. It was pressed back into service during the Civil War, providing a base for training and equipping over 22,000 soldiers from the Upper Midwest region. New barracks, barns, warehouses, and kitchens were built outside the stone walls of the original fort.
After the Civil War, the federal government designated the fort as headquarters for the Department of Dakota, which administered the expansive Dakota Territory to the west. The fort was also a staging point for military campaigns against Native American tribes, a tragic chapter of our nation’s past. The fort’s expanded role launched an extensive construction campaign, producing dozens of new buildings for training, supplies, and administration.
Fort Snelling grew during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to meet military needs within and outside of U.S. boundaries including Word War I. Life was more leisurely during the 1920s and 1930s, when officers played polo on one end of the parade grounds and golf on the other, giving the fort its reputation as “the country club of the army.” After America’s entry into World War II, the fort’s induction center was again filled with new recruits—over 300,000 men were processed by a permanent staff of 1,000. After the war, though, the Army found the fort of little strategic value. It was decommissioned and turned over to the Veterans Administration in 1946.
The nearby restored 1820s historic fort is a popular destination for regional school groups and families, and tourists. The Upper Bluff fort area, on the other hand, is overlooked by most people, although it played the primary role in the fort’s history for three-quarters of a century. While sports fields have been added to the parade grounds and the golf course remains in use, visitors have little other incentive to explore the area and its decaying buildings.
However, that is soon changing. A proposed development led by Dominium would turn the 26 historic buildings at the Upper Post into workforce housing. This tour could be the last one before that transformation, scheduled to begin construction in 2020, is complete.
The tour will include access to select buildings and will be less than one mile walking. The tour guides are Larry Peterson of the DNR; John Stark AIA of BKV Group, and Kelly Mastin AIA and Chuck Liddy FAIA of Miller Dunwiddie Architecture.