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Fort Douglas Museum expansion tells stories of past

Published June 23, 2008 12:23 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Early in the 1870s, red sandstone was hauled from Red Butte Canyon to build permanent barracks for U.S. Army soldiers pulling duty at Fort Douglas, situated on the mountain bench overlooking Salt Lake City.

The two U-shaped barracks - now a museum - were not far from a log cabin where wives slept and did laundry for the companies.

The men's quarters and the long demolished wives' shack are depicted in an 8-by-20-foot stained-glass window, recently installed in one of the two historic barracks as part of a $4.3 million expansion project under way at the Fort Douglas Museum.

The project is in its early stage. Construction has begun on the barracks to the west, where the window is located. A new addition has been added to the U-shaped building, covering the courtyard and protecting what had been exterior walls. During the next phase, a visitors center will be built, connecting the two barracks into a single museum campus.

"It was an honor to install a glass window in a building of this significance," said stained-glass artist Kristin Gerde, of Mount Hood, Ore. "In our design, we wanted to construct windows within a window, depicting the magnificent buildings and people who were part of the fort's history."

The window's barracks scene was pieced together from gold-pink glass, made from a laborious hand-rolled technique and containing real gold. Photographs incorporated into the window's design were created by a sandblasting or etching process in which the glass is brushed with enamel paints before it is fired, "giving the imagery a beautiful, old feeling," said Gerde in a Saturday telephone interview.

She and sister Karen Mannix, of Alaska, created the windows in Gerde's Oregon studio. Their father, Gil Iker, donated the windows to the museum.

"I have a nostalgia for Fort Douglas and, architecturally, it's unique in the military system," said Iker, of Salt Lake City, who served in the Navy, Air Force and Utah National Guard.

Iker tells the story of the 19th-century soldiers quarrying the stone, supplementing their Army pay of $13 a month by 3 cents for each day they labored. Daily pay for skilled soldiers laying the stone was 13 cents.

New additions will provide an additional 10,000 square feet of space, adding research facilities, artifact storage, classrooms, theater and an event center.

"The existing museums facilities weren't adequate," said museum Director Robert Voles. "And the historic buildings needed several upgrades."

The expanded museum will tell an in-depth story of Fort Douglas, named in honor of Abraham Lincoln's political rival, Sen. Stephen Douglas. It was founded in 1862 by the 3rd California Volunteer Infantry to guard the Overland Mail route and telegraph lines.

Its history includes the arrival of the "Rock of the Marne" 38th Infantry Regiment, whose men helped protect Paris in the final German offensive of World War I.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Fort Douglas was headquarters for the 9th Service Command Center, which was moved inland from the Presidio in San Francisco. The fort also served as an induction center for the Rocky Mountain region, where recruits were sworn in, outfitted and received their assignments. Returning soldiers were discharged here before going home.

And during the 2002 Olympics, about 4,000 athletes, trainers and officials were housed at the fort.

Still, Iker is partial to the fort's early history.

"At times the commanders found themselves defending the Mormons against the political establishment in Washington and other times they participated in actions against the Mormons," he said. "In all, it's a treasure."

dawn@sltrib.com

Building additions

This is chatter for the infobox. It can be as long as needed. More infobox information can go in here.

* An addition to the east barracks covers the building's courtyard, providing research facilities, artifact storage and space for traveling exhibits.

* A similar addition will be built around the Kaufman barracks to the west.

* A visitor center also will be built, connecting the two historic buildings.

* $1.4 million must be raised from the public.

New exhibit

* Exhibit name: "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon"

* What: Rare cavalry uniforms, weapons and saddles, 1857 to 1943

* When: Noon to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Ends Aug. 16.

* Where: Fort Douglas museum east barracks, 32 Potter St., Salt Lake City.

* Cost: Free.

* For more information, visit http://www.fortdouglas.org.