Positives: Beautiful setting, significant history, many intact buildings
Negatives: Out of the way, limited operating hours
I've known about Fort Reno nearly forty years but until recently had never taken time to visit. That was a mistake!
My wife and I decided to correct that oversight by spending a Saturday afternoon touring the place. Another mistake, as there was more to see than we'd allowed time for.
Abundant History -
This fort served several missions before closure in 1952. An Indian Agency representing the US government to Arapaho and Cheyenne nations opened at nearby Darlington in 1874. The next year a full-fledged fort was authorized and Fort Reno was constructed. Soldiers garrisoned here were instrumental in keeping the peace in Western Oklahoma in the latter 1800s.
Surrounded by abundant grasslands, the post was an ideal place to raise livestock. It became a "remount station", providing horses and mules to all branches of the military until the mid-20th century. Today, the US Department of Agriculture conducts research on over 6,700 acres of pasture, much formerly used by the Army.
While open, this post was home to many significant residents. African-American "buffalo soldiers" served here from until the mid-1880s. German prisoners of war were kept here during World War II.
Favorably Impressed -
We were amazed to see so many original structures in salvageable condition. Most facilities of this type decayed into dust years ago. (Their web site says 25 buildings remain.)
Remaining structures come in many shapes and sizes, including officer's quarters, a guard house, enlisted quarters and an impressive brick commissary.
The visitor's center is nicely restored inside and out. It features an eclectic collection of authentic uniforms, old publications, art works and more. Upstairs, you'll get a good sense of what it was like to live in one of the nicest buildings on the post as an officer or member of his family.
One of the newer buildings, a church constructed by German prisoners during World War II, is arguably the most interesting. It follows Gothic design but adobe walls give it a certain "southwestern feel." Inside, the decor is strictly Old World, with heavy studded doors, rich wood and fine craftsmanship.
Most buildings sit along the perimeter of the original quadrangle. Only the Visitor's Center and church are open to the public but others appear in generally good condition from the outside.
A non-profit agency operates the facility; it'd be nice if they can raise enough money to restore and open other structures in the future.
Several agricultural buildings sit behind the quadrangle. I'm not sure how many are original to the institution, but most are quite old and make interesting photographic subjects.
The Bottom Line -
We had a great time visiting this attraction, but wish we weren't so rushed. Fortunately we live relatively close so can easily return during different seasons. At $2.00 per person ($1.00 for children and seniors) admission is not just inexpensive...it's cheap.
The fort is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, the heat of the day if you visit during the summer.
We plan to return in the autumn. Late September and October are often good touring months in Oklahoma. Temperatures moderate, colors are still vivid, sun angles are good (for pictures), and best of all, few thunderstorms occur during the fall.
For sightseers and history buffs, the fort is worth visiting any time of year. If you're a local resident, or plan travel through the area, don't make the same mistakes we did...include this historical site in your plans and allow enough time to savor the flavor of the location.
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