Administrative History
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vistior center
Figure 8. In April 1959, the permanent visitor center was to be completed.
The sign in front of the building again indicated that the MISSION 66 program played a significant role
in the development of Fort Union National Monument.
Courtesy of Fort Union National Monument.

The rehabilitation and preservation of the ruins of Fort Union have been extremely difficult tasks. Unlike the stirring campaign to secure the legal title to the land, the tedious daily routines to keep the ruins in optimum condition for the public have required more effort and resources. After acquiring Fort Union in 1956, the National Park Service promptly developed it into an active national monument to greet interested visitors. Since then the Park Service Southwest Regional Office has devoted a considerable amount of money and manpower to the preservation of the remaining structures in order to keep deterioration to a minimum. As a faithful caretaker for 36 years, the National Park Service has done an admirable job in rehabilitating and preserving the historic site of Fort Union.

A few months before Fort Union joined the national park system, the Region Three Office (the present day Southwest Regional Office) had already started the development of the proposed national monument. On December 6, 1955, Kittridge A. Wing of Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico took up residence in Las Vegas as a Park Service representative. From there he personally supervised the construction of the entrance road, which was the first project at the monument. Twelve days later, he accepted appointment as acting superintendent of Fort Union National Monument and converted his rented residence into a temporary office. [1] At the end of 1955, Floyd Haake Construction Company of Albuquerque began to build a 7.6-mile road from U.S. Highway 85 to the fort. [2] Because of "perfect weather conditions," the construction progressed rapidly. By March 1956, the two-lane road across the prairie, with a concrete bridge over Wolf Creek and two cattle underpasses, was ready for surfacing. It took several more months to complete the paving. The Park Service accepted the road in early June.

While the new road was traversing on the prairie toward Fort Union, administrators at the regional office in Santa Fe labored at their plans for the physical development of the monument. A few of the major issues were the placement of buildings and utilities, the layout of trails, and the stabilization of the ruins. The Park Service first contrived to erect living quarters. On March 1, 1956, the fort received two house trailers from the Public Housing Administration of Piketon, Ohio. Before the Mora Electrical Cooperative extended service to the fort, Wing arranged to temporarily connect the trailers to utility lines at the nearby Needham Ranch owned by the Union Land and Grazing Company. [3] On May 5, he moved from Las Vegas and occupied one of the trailers at the fort. For the first time, the Park Service had a representative living close enough to monitor the fort daily. During that same month, Fort Union also obtained a 16'x20' wooden cabin from Los Alamos to serve as the temporary office and visitor center. [4]

In addition, Wing brought Clifford W. Mills, a seasonal ranger, from Los Alamos to assist him. The two immediately began work on a tentative visitor trail, which they finished within a month. Although Fort Union now had a visitor center, an interpretive trail, and living quarters, all of them were temporary. The physical development of the monument was just beginning.

Despite the few service facilities available at Fort Union, the Park Service was anxious to open the site to the public. On June 8, 1956, after two months of careful planning by Wing and Ross Thompson, the monument held a ribbon-cutting ceremony. In the morning, a sixty-piece band from New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas welcomed more than six hundred people. A rostrum and red ribbon straddled the new road about a mile southwest of the fort. Cutting the ribbon with a nineteenth-century cavalry saber donated by Harry and Sam Wells, Governor John F. Simms officially opened the monument. [5] Speakers congratulated those who had brought the plans for the establishment of the monument to a successful conclusion. After that, most of the crowd jumped into their cars and formed a motorcade of 150 vehicles behind the governor's sedan, and drove to the monument. At the end of the program, Fort Union, Inc., treated everybody to a luncheon. [6] The opening ceremony, as Wing said, began "Fort Union's new life."

In reality, Fort Union's "new life" meant a full-scale effort toward rehabilitation and development. As soon as the honeymoon was over, the monument entered the first period of intensive construction, which focused on service facilities and ruins stabilization. Preventing the entry of cattle onto the site was one of the Park Service's main concerns. On June 29, 1956, Steve Franken of Las Vegas received a contract for $5,048 to fence both parcels of the monument (the Third Fort and the Arsenal). [7] Franken completed the perimeter fencing of the Third Fort area in less than a month. In early August, he enclosed the Arsenal. The completion of the fencing marked "the final exclusion of stock and the beginning of recovery of the grasses from recent overgrazing." [8]

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Last Updated: 22-Jan-2001