Lone Survivor: Kansas Civil War Blockhouses

The Civil War ended in April of 1865, and during the next year or so the United States War Department demobilized the “Union” forces and materials of war throughout the country. Reducing the manpower, or number of soldiers, was relatively easy in that they were discharged and sent home. The mammoth amount of the materials of war was another matter, especially in the Quartermaster Department. There, there were thousands of wagons, wheels, tools, horses, mules, boxes, barrels, railroad boxcars, engines ships and vessels of all shapes and sizes, buildings and blockhouses, etc. to be disposed of.

In Fort Scott, Assistant Quartermaster Theodore C. Bowles sold off all the excess U.S. government and captured Confederate property in a series of public auctions which also included the four blockhouses and their surrounding palisades. Lunette or Fort Blair is the only one of these “local blockhouses” that has survived to the present day and it is the only existing military structure of many that were constructed during the Civil War. Therefore, it is the “Lone Survivor” which was in fact saved by many people and organizations from its original sale until today. However, before addressing the preservation odyssey of Fort Blair, the following is a brief summary of what happened to the other three Fort Scott Blockhouses.

* Fort Lincoln: Was sold at public auction, disassembled and removed from its location on the west side of Fort Scott overlooking “Happy Hollow.”

* Fort Henning: Was sold at public auction and for a short time was used as the first “County Jail” because of its proximity to the first “County Courthouse” that was located on the southeast corner of Second Street and National Avenue where the public library is today. After its use as a jail, the blockhouse was sold privately, disassembled and removed from its original location.

*Fort Insley: Was sold at public auction and because of its rectangular shape, was probably used as a private residence on the point of “Red Hill” overlooking the KATY Railroad and the Marmaton River immediately north of what is now Fort Scott National Historic Site. The Fort Insley “Blockhouse” existed for another 11 years until it was razed as described on Page 4 in the Nov. 25, 1875, edition of the Fort Scott Daily Monitor newspaper:

“The old blockhouse on the ‘point’ is being torn down. Some of our citizens call it ‘the old fort’ and think it is the old landmark of the town and that it ought, therefore, to be preserved sacred to the memory of the early days.

Such is not the fact. It is simply one of three blockhouses built during the war. The other two stood one on Jones Street (Fort Henning) south of Dr. Baldwin’s house and one on Scott Avenue, (Fort Blair). It is, therefore, not so much a destruction as was supposed.”

* The Odyssey of Fort Blair: The blockhouse was sold at public auction described as follows;

“Office of Depot Quartermaster, Fort Scott, Jan. 10, 1866. This is to certify that the bearer William Smith has this day purchased of me at an authorized sale of government property the following described article to wit: Fort Blair for $50.00.

Theodore C. Bowles

Capt. and Assistant Quartermaster

Per. A. Griffire, Clerk.”

* 1st Move: William Smith moved Fort Blair to the back of his property on Scott Avenue and used the blockhouse as his carpenter shop. It remained on this location for 40 years.

* 2nd Move: In 1906 the Ohio Block was constructed on Second Street and Scott Avenue and the blockhouse was purchased by Dr. W.S. McDonald and moved to his property at 102 S. National Ave., immediately north of the current Post office.

* 3rd Move: In 1924, the Molly Foster Berry Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution purchased the Blockhouse and had it moved to the south side of Carroll Plaza because Dr. McDonald had sold his property to the Western Automobile Insurance Co. for the location of its new building and at this time the insurance company adopted the blockhouse as its logo.

* 4th Move: Sometime before the 1950 the blockhouse was moved to the northeast corner of Carroll Plaza.

* 5th Move: In early 1958, the city of Fort Scott passed a municipal bond to fund the construction of “Blair Park” where the blockhouse was moved to in May of 1958. “Blair Park” was located immediately behind Officers’ Row on what is now Fort Scott National Historic Site.

At this time the blockhouse was in very poor condition and it was reconstructed by the Western Insurance Co. in August of 1959 under the direction of Clifton C. Otto and E.C. Gordon Sr.

* 6th Move: In the late 1970s, Fort Blair was moved to its present location on old Fort Boulevard under the direction of T.M. Mayhew and H.E. Duvall of the Western Insurance Co. This was done because the blockhouse was part of an 1863 Civil War fortification that was constructed after the existence of the original 1842-1853 fort to which Fort Scott National Historic Site was being reconstructed.

In 1999, once again, the blockhouse needed repairs and the Historic Preservation Association of Bourbon County requested assistance from some former Western Insurance Co. employees. A Blockhouse Committee was organized and with contributions were received from former employees, agents, business firms and friends of The Western a new roof and siding were installed and a new permanent cannon carriage was acquired.

So ends the “odyssey” of Fort Blair, which has been preserved through the efforts of William Smith, Dr. W.S. McDonald, the Molly Foster Berry Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, the citizens and the city of Fort Scott, the Western Insurance Com. and its former employees and the Historic Preservation Association of Bourbon County. Without the efforts of all these citizens and organizations, Fort Scott would not have the “Lone Structural Survivor” of the Civil War.

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