History

Historic Texas Fort is a Must-see: Rescuing Fort Chadbourne

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Anyone on a Texas history tour should consider Fort Chadbourne a must-see. Garland and Lana Richards are painstakingly restoring this historic fort located between Abilene and San Angelo. Though the military use of the fort ended in 1873, the mission of today’s Fort Chadbourne honors military service in ways that would have pleased those long-ago soldiers.

The Richards’ efforts link the fort’s identity to family, persistence, hardship, and ultimately preservation. However, an unexpected personal twist also added to our appreciation of the fort.

Built in 1852 as one of a chain of military posts along what is now the Texas Forts Trail, Fort Chadbourne served as a buffer between settlers and Native American tribes. It also served as a stop for the Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach on its way west to San Francisco. Today, it’s one of the only restored stage stops in Texas. Both Confederate and Union forces occupied the fort during the Civil War until it was eventually abandoned in 1873. After that, time and the Texas elements steadily clawed back what the fort’s builders had created of sandstone and adobe.

Historic Texas Fort is a Must-see: Rescuing Fort Chadbourne

Photo: John Spaulding. Soldiers’ barracks housed up to 100 men. Shown: original and restored.

The fort’s first “rescue” cost $500 in gold. In 1877, Garland Richards’ great-great-great-grandmother Lucinda Odom purchased the 320 acres that included the remains of the fort. For 140 years, it has remained in the Richards family.

As a child, Garland’s imagination ran wild among the ruins of Fort Chadbourne, thinking that every boy had his own real fort in the backyard. He also saw the structures continue to deteriorate; he decided that if he ever had the chance, he would do something about it. That chance came when his father passed away in 1998 and Garland made sure his 9,000-acre portion of the inheritance included the decaying fort. It was a perfect fit for the television series “Strange Inheritance,” which featured it in 2016.

Historic Texas Fort is a Must-see: Rescuing Fort Chadbourne
Photo: John Spaulding. Visitors begin their fort tour in the recently built center.

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