Some see Fort Douglas today as a few old-looking buildings amid fields of grass. For others, it is still an active Army Reserve base.
In its 150-year history, the fort has undergone major transformations from being a vital western Army base, to a looking glass into the past.
Next weekend, Fort Douglas kicks off its 150th anniversary celebration on the grounds. Friday will feature an old-fashioned military ball, where people will don clothes from different historical periods. On Saturday, a military camp will depict scenes dating back to the Civil War through Vietnam. A large collection of World War I memorabilia will be brought down from an Idaho farmer's private collection. Also, refurbished tanks and other old war vehicles will be brought in from a collector in Tooele.
All events Friday and Saturday are open to the public and free, except for concessions.
"Everybody is excited," said Fort Douglas Military Museum Director Robert Voyles. "Almost all of us who work here are part-time or are volunteers, so we have a sort of fire in our bellies for this place."
Voyles, who retired from the National Guard after 35 years, said the fort is more than just a military relic to Salt Lake City.
"It's a great mirror toward social issues here," Voyles said. "There are so many folks who have a connection to the fort. We get people all the time coming in here and saying their dad was stationed here when they were kids. There are a lot of memories not just with the soldiers."
The fort was first established in 1862 under the name Camp Douglas with orders to protect the Central Overland Route to the West Coast from Native-American attacks. As a side order, Col. Patrick Connor was also instructed to keep a watchful eye on Brigham Young and his growing Mormon religion.
"The fort itself was seen as a symbol of authority," Voyles said. "Up until Utah's statehood , it was seen as a sore in the middle of Salt Lake City."
In the 1890s, the fort was home to the 24th Infantry, a regiment made up of 800 to 900 African-American soldiers. The regiment increased the African-American population of Salt Lake City by four or five times, Voyles said.
In World War I, the fort served as a POW camp for German sailors. Then in World War II, it served as a headquarters for Japanese internment camps and as a coordination center to outlying camps in the desert.
After the war, the Army began a slow divestiture of land to the neighboring University of Utah in an agreement with Congress that turned the base over to the state. It continued as a staging center for Vietnam, as young men reported for the draft at the fort.
In 1985, the reduction of the base began and a year-by-year transfer of acreage to the U. began. Some of that land was used for the 2002 Winter Games' athletes village.
Today, the Army is not completely gone the reserve still owns a small part of the fort and the National Guard operates the museum.
Voyles said the museum hopes to expand into nearby historical buildings owned by the university.
"We have some big ambitions," Voyles said. "We want to preserve a sample of these historical buildings before they go away."
He said the cost associated with obtaining the surrounding buildings and refurbishing them into part of the museum would cost a few million dollars. He added that it all depends on the U.'s master plan and where the museum fits into those plans.
"We're going to take those opportunities as they pop up," Voyles said.
In the short term, Voyles is hoping to build a connection between the museum's current two buildings to serve as a visitors center.
The 150th anniversary is officially Oct. 26, the day Col. Connor established Camp Douglas. Voyles and his staff hope to have Gov. Gary Herbert declare it "Fort Douglas Day."
Fort Douglas anniversary
Friday • 7-9 p.m.: Civil War Ball
Saturday • 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.: Civil War encampment, vintage military vehicle and equipment demonstrations, cannon firing and more.
The Fort Douglas Military Museum is at 32 Potter St. For more information, http://www.fortdouglas.org or 801-581-1251.