Fort Gibson Stockade to Reopen to the Public
FORT GIBSON, OKLA. — After three years of restoration, the Oklahoma Historical Society is pleased to announce the reopening of the stockade at Fort Gibson. “The staff of the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS) is excited to welcome the public back into the stockade at Historic Fort Gibson,” said Executive Director Bob L. Blackburn. “The public is invited to the ceremonial ribbon cutting on Friday, April 22, at 1 p.m. The program will be held on the stockade parade grounds located at 110 E. Ash in Fort Gibson,” continued Blackburn. Activities will include presentation of the colors, brief remarks and the firing of cannon. Refreshments will be served following the ceremony.
According to David Fowler, OHS regional director, “The log stockade closed to the public in the spring of 2013 for extensive restoration. Restoration work ultimately took three years and totaled more than $1.5 million. This work was critical to save this National Historic Landmark for future generations.”
“Staff members from across the state have worked very hard on the restoration,” said Kathy Dickson, OHS director of museums and historic sites. “While much of the work was contracted some work, such as the necessary grading and drainage work, was taken on by staff members. We have an incredibly dedicated and talented staff. They have been digging ditches and hauling rocks to make this project possible with our limited funds”
“Approximately 100 reenactors will be calling the fort home for the weekend as the Frontier Battalion holds its spring muster on Saturday, April 23, and Sunday, April 24,” said Fowler.
It is fitting that Fort Gibson once again is welcoming visitors in 2016, since this year marks the 50th anniversary of passage of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Fort Gibson received federal designation prior to the preservation act. Fort Gibson and Fort Sill both were named National Historic Landmarks on the same day in 1960. The National Park Service (NPS) also marks its 100th anniversary in 2016. The “Find Your Park” promotion launched by the NPS provides an opportunity to focus attention on these important places.
“Many Oklahomans don’t realize we have 22 National Parks and National Historic Landmarks in our state,” said Blackburn. “Promotion of the ‘Find Your Park’ initiative can help increase public awareness of what is right in our own backyard. We hope people will visit the National Landmarks that OHS owns and share their visitor experiences through social media, including findyourpark.com.”
Fort Gibson served a pivotal role in the political, social and economic upheaval that marked the westward expansion of the United States. Fort Gibson was established in 1824 to keep the peace between the Osages and Cherokees. It figured prominently in the Indian removals, and was home to many of our nation’s leaders during the 1840s and 1850s. During the Civil War it was renamed Fort Blunt and was the Union headquarters in Indian Territory. Abandoned in 1890, the fort later served as the headquarters for the Dawes Commission for their work enrolling members of the Five Civilized Tribes. At Fort Gibson the Commission members focused their attention on Cherokee Freedmen.
The stockade was reconstructed under the Works Progress Administration beginning in 1937, and since that time has been operated by the state of Oklahoma under several different agencies. In 1983 the Oklahoma Historical Society assumed operation of the stockade in addition to the properties it owned on Garrison Hill. The stockade was in poor condition when the Oklahoma Historical Society assumed management, a situation that only grew worse as the agency endured 11 budgets cuts during its 33 years of management. Vital repair and maintenance funds were sacrificed during these cuts, worsening the downward spiral of the structures.
A grant through the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s TEA-21 program provided the biggest single source of funding. Fort Gibson was eligible for the funds due to its importance in regional transportation. The fort served as a crossroads. Built at the critical crossroads of the Three Forks where the Arkansas, Verdigris and Grand Rivers converge south of the Ozark Plateau, Fort Gibson was key to river navigation. It also served as an outpost on the Texas Road connecting settled Missouri with the new country of Mexico after independence from Spain in 1820. Other federal project funds included a Save America’s Treasures grant from NPS. The grants, with matching state funds, made it possible to complete what was ultimately $1.5 million in restoration work.
Work continues on restoration at the fort. The first and second phases of restoration work on the 1872 hospital building will begin shortly. This project is made possible by funding through the Long Range Capital Planning Commission under the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
Fort Gibson Historic Site is a division of the Oklahoma Historical Society. The mission of the Oklahoma Historical Society is to collect, preserve and share the history and culture of the state of Oklahoma. Founded in 1893 by members of the Territorial Press Association, the OHS maintains 30 museums, historic sites and affiliates across the state. Through its research archives, exhibits, educational programs and publications the OHS chronicles the rich history of Oklahoma. For more information about the OHS, please visit www.okhistory.org.