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Fort Riley, Then and Now

By April Blackmon

Fort Riley Chapel

Photo by April Blackmon

Main Post Chapel: Constructed in 1897-98, the chapel was erected to better serve the religious needs of the soldiers assigned to Fort Riley as part of the Cavalry and Light Artillery School.

The early history of Fort Riley is closely tied to the movement of people and trade along the Oregon and Santa Fe Trails. These routes, a result of the United States perceived "manifest destiny" in the middle of the 19th century, extended American domination and interests into far reaches of a largely unsettled territory. During the 1850s, a number of military posts were established at strategic points to provide protection along these arteries of emigration and commerce.

In the fall of 1852, a surveying party under the command of Capt. Robert Chilton, 1st U.S. Dragoons, selected the junction of the Republican and Smoky Hill Rivers as a site for one of these forts. This location, approved by the War Department in Jan. 1853, offered an advantageous location from which to organize, train and equip troops in protecting the overland trails.

Surveyors believed the location was near the center of the United States and named the site, Camp Center. During the late spring, three companies of the 6th Infantry occupied the camp and began construction of temporary quarters.

On June 27, 1853, Camp Center became Fort Riley - named in honor of Maj. Gen. Bennett C. Riley who had led the first military escort along the Santa Fe Trail in 1829. The "fort" took shape around a broad plain that overlooked the Kansas River valley.

The fort's design followed the standard frontier post configuration: buildings were constructed of the most readily available material - in this case, native limestone.

Fort Riley is open to the public. For more information on visiting these and other historical sites, log on to http://www.riley.army.mil, click on “Current News” then click on “Community Relations.”

Old Bill
Photo by April Blackmon

Old Bill: The Old Trooper has become a symbol at Fort Riley of the proud heritage of the Horse Cavalry. It is modeled after the drawing of "Old Bill," the cavalry soldier drawn by famous western artist, Frederic Remington. This sketch is displayed in the Cavalry Museum's Art Gallery. at the foot of the monument is the grave of "Chief," who died in 1968. He was the last cavalry horse to be carried on Army rolls. He is interred upright in a special casket constructed by the Post Engineers that allowed him to be buried in this manner.

Fort Riley Cemetery
Photo by April Blackmon

Post cemetery: The Post Cemetery is located on the southwest perimeter of Fort Riley off Huebner Road. It lies on the edge of the installation boundary as required by the Department of the Army. It is approximately 70 acres and is not on a flood plain. The first burial was in 1853, the same year the installation was established. The oldest part of the cemetery is near the Ogden Monument and contains mass graves of persons who died in two cholera epidemics, which struck the post in 1855 and 1867. Along the south wall is a specially marked grave, which is the burial site of Lewis Armistead’s second wife, Cornelia, who died in the 1855 epidemic. You will also find graves of Confederate soldiers who were imprisoned here in 1862 as well as German and Italian prisoners of war from WWII. The Post Cemetery is a peaceful setting and provides an opportunity to reflect upon persons who have served and lived at Fort Riley.

MuseumPhoto by April Blackmon

Museum: Building 205 on Main Post is home to the U. S. Cavalry Museum. Originally built in 1855 as the post hospital, this building was converted to post headquarters in 1890. In 1957, it became home to the U. S. Cavalry Museum.

Great War Memorial, Fort Riley
Photo by April Blackmon

Great war memorial: This memorial honors soldiers who trained at Camp Funston for WWI. It was erected within a month following Armistice Day in November 1918. An enscription on the monument reads, “To the men and women who trained at Camp Funston for the Great War 1917-1919.”

Historic Home
Photo by April Blackmon

Historic home: Several historic homes are occupied today by officers and their families stationed at Fort Riley. The bulk of homes and buildings were constructed in the late 1800s and early 1900s. All were made of native limestone. This particular home, Quarters 100, was built in 1887 for the artillery post commanding officer. The quarters were constructed at a cost of nearly $8,500. The third-floor balcony in this home gave the commander a clear view of his troops drilling on the parade field.

SDummerall Hall
Photo by April Blackmon

Summerall Hall: This building was used as the post hospital from 1888 to 1948. In 1948, the building was remodeled and became the post headquarters. In 1956 it was named in honor of Gen. Charles Summerall, who commanded of the 1st Infantry Division three times: July-Oct. 1918; Sept. 1919 to April 1920; and July 1920-21. He later became the army’s Chief of Staff.

St. Mary's
Photo by April Blackmon

St. Mary’s Chapel: Completed in 1861, this is the first stone chapel erected in Kansas. St. Mary’s saw use as a depot during the Civil War and later a school. In 1938, it became a Catholic Chapel and is still in use today.

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Last Updated April 6, 2009
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