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.

Despite the historic value, no government assistance has been requested or received. The restoration has proceeded with the help of friends, volunteers, and financial supporters. The visitor’s center, recently built with a generous grant, displays dioramas, interactive kiosks, and artifacts that continue to turn up on the property. Archeological excavations continue.

Today, the fort boasts an array of vintage cannon, an authentic stagecoach, and everyday items used by soldiers, civilians, and native tribes. Its antique firearms collection is one of the largest in the country. For more about the fort’s role in history, visitors can take their seats on antique saddles or a buffalo hide-covered bench to view the 2011 Emmy Award-winning documentary, “The Lost Fort.”

The new pavilion hosts events throughout the year, and visitors to the grounds are likely to see reenactments of battles staged by costumed volunteers. Volunteers find restoring the history a labor of love. One volunteer was so dedicated to the fort’s continuing restoration that after his death, he was granted a wish for his ashes to be shot out of one of the period cannons on the parade grounds.

United States Medal of Honor recipients are honored in a separate section, and outside is a newly built memorial to Gold Star families (those who have lost a loved one in military service). One of the Richards’ sons, Cody, a Purple Heart recipient who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, currently works on the property. Walking through the museum, visitors realize the fort has taken on a sense of purpose for the present as well as the past.

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

Photo: John Spaulding.

And that unexpected personal twist? My wife found that her father, Lawson Odom Dailey, was indeed related to one of the many Odoms who lived and worked in the vicinity, such as cattle rancher Garland Odom, one of Garland’s forebears. It also meant she is related to the fort’s owner and preservationist himself.

Genealogy aside, you don’t have to be related to visit “the friendly fort” as Lana calls it. Garland and Lana’s hospitality means you’ll be treated like family. Tour the fort at no charge, but donations to the fort (a nonprofit organization) are appreciated. Meet this couple who has decided to keep the spirit of this place alive for future generations to enjoy.

Visit their website here! 651 Fort Chadbourne, Bronte, TX 76933. Phone: 325-743-2555