The historic site at Fort Richardson State Park has been around for decades, but many people outside of Jacksboro have never visited the site. If you like history or just want to get outside for the day, the fort can be a great way to spend the afternoon.
Why was a military fort built here? After the Mexican-American War ended in 1848, more opportunities opened up for settlement on the Texas frontier. Settlers built homes, cleared land for farms, and set up storefronts and other businesses. Communities and small towns began springing up across the plains, but the big problem moving here was the constant threat of Indian attacks.
To protect the growing population, the military established a line of forts along the Texas frontier. On the northern front, Fort Richardson was established on a 300-acre site outside of Jacksboro in 1867. The site was an ideal location to build an army post. Lost Creek and its surrounding springs guaranteed a never-ending water supply for the soldiers. As years went by, the fort grew to over 600 troops at one point and became one of the largest forts in the United States. It closed in 1878 when Indian attacks were no longer a threat, and a military presence here was no longer needed.
The site is now part of Fort Richardson State Park. Many of the original buildings from the fort have been restored and available to see on a walking tour. There are also hiking trails to explore near the fort, and the park includes a small lake stocked with bass and catfish. No fishing license is required to fish the lake, so you don’t have to pay extra to fish. RV camping, tent camping, and small cabins can be reserved for overnight trips.
Fort Richardson State Park is located inside the Jacksboro city limits on the south side of town. The park entrance is right off Highway 114 and nested between a local business and a personal residence. It’s easy to spot off the highway, but it comes up on you rather quickly. The state park is 60 miles away from downtown Fort Worth and 65 miles from Denton.
Park Headquarters and Quarry Lake
The Park Headquarters is just a short distance from the highway after you enter the park. Here you pay your entrance fee and can pick up the brochure for the walking tour. Rangers are also available to answer any questions you have.
Quarry Lake is a small lake behind the Park Headquarters building. It’s on the south side of the building and not immediately visible when you first enter the Park. You’ll see it right after you pay your entrance fee and continue driving past the Park Headquarters.
Most first-time visitors skip Quarry Lake because they’re eager to drive straight to old Fort Richardson or the campgrounds. But it’s worth stopping by here at some point during your trip. Take a walk along the shoreline and admire the calm waters and peaceful countryside. The lake is stocked with bass, catfish, and even trout in the winter. No fishing license is required to fish the lake, so you don’t have to pay extra to go fishing.
Fort Richardson Historic Buildings
The historic buildings of Fort Richardson are just down the road from Quarry Lake. There are dozens of buildings to see on a walking tour of the fort grounds. Six of the stone buildings have been restored to their original condition. Two of wooden-framed barracks have also recreated where they once stood. The buildings are spread out across the Parade Ground, an area where soldiers drilled and trained for battle. It’s a flat and wide-open space, making it easy to get around and locate the sites you want to see.
Self-guided tours are available Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Ranger-guided tours are available Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Some of the buildings like the Post Hospital have lots of artifacts and interesting displays to check out.
An important thing to remember, you can only see the inside of the buildings during official walking-tour hours. Otherwise, the doors will probably be locked and inaccessible.
When you arrive at the old Fort Richardson historic site, the Interpretive Center should be your first stop. It’s the building closest to the parking lot when you arrive. The Interpretive Center is a recreation of one of the officer barracks. The original construction built in the 1860s contained 4 separate units. Each unit had its own entrance, sort of like a quadruplex you might see today.
There are no dividing walls inside the building. Instead, it’s one large room filled with displays about the Fort and the soldiers who served here.
A park ranger should be on-site to answer all your questions. If no one is available, the ranger is probably helping other visitors or guiding a tour. Feel free to call the Park Headquarters at (940) 567-3506 and ask for help. They can check on the availability of the ranger or send another park employee over to assist you.
The Post Hospital
The Post Hospital is the largest building and the main attraction on the fort grounds. It’s easily recognized by its size and huge wrap-around porch.
The rustic hardwoods, vaulted ceilings, and authentic artifacts give you a real sense of what life was like here a the fort. It’s like stepping back in time to the 1800s when you first walk through the doors.
The medical care the soldiers received seems really primitive, but this was a modern hospital back when the fort was constructed in 1867. Sick and wounded soldiers were housed and treated in a single large room. With the open floor plan, nurses could easily monitor and attend to each patient. The room contains the original metal bed frames used when the fort was active.
A wood-burning heater is found in the middle of the room. Its exhaust pipe curves around in two places before running out the west wall. According to the park ranger, these bends in the pipe were used to slow down the heat from escaping and keep the room warm.
The wooden barrel and metal cups on the table were used for drinking water. There was a big problem though, the same drinking cups were used for all patients. So nurses were unknowingly spreading germs to every patient in the hospital.
Medicine and other remedies were kept down the hall in a separate room. Here you can see vintage medicine botels and nineteenth-century medical devices. Some of the items include a blood transfusion device, antique crutches, and wooden leg braces.
The most peculiar medical device might be the Davis & Kidder’s Patent Magneto Electric Machine for Nervous Diseases. A patient would hold a metal cylinder in each hand while the doctor winds the crank. An electric shock would then be sent through the patient’s body to rid the “nervous” disease.
A separate room with a large stove was used to prepare meals for both the patients and the hospital staff. The wood-burning stove doubled as a heater in the winter.
The larger room on the west side contains displays about Fort Richardson and what it was like to serve here as a soldier. One of the cased-in displays has a complete and authentic uniform of a soldier who actually was stationed here. There’s also a scale model of the fort, showing what the fort looked like back in 1876.
The Morgue is a stone-throw away behind the hospital. There was no cemetery at the Fort. The park ranger here said bodies were prepared and shipped by wagon back to the soldier’s family for burial. Inside is a large, well-lit room that showcases a nineteenth-century style wooden casket.
The Bakery once contained a large oven that baked bread for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Working here was tough, the cooks literally had an entire army to feed. There wasn’t much ventilation, and it would get extremely hot inside. Park employees said the building is empty, so it remains locked most of the time.
Ruins of the GuardHouse is just past the Bakery. During fort times, it served as the local jail for lawbreakers and soldiers who were caught deserting. The original structure contained 4 cells made of stone.
The Magazine building was designed to store gunpowder and explosives. The walls are over 3-feet thick. If the gunpowder ever ignited by accident, the walls were built thick enough to contain part of the blast. This structure is located at the far southwest corner of the fort grounds.
Enlisted Men’s Barracks
One of the barracks has been reconstructed at its original location. You’ll find this building at the center of the Parade Grounds. In the late 1800s, there was an entire row of these barracks. These buildings are where the enlisted men (non-officers) slept and kept their personal belongings.
Inside are bunk beds and refurbished metal bed frames, the original ones from the fort. A replica gun rack also sits at one end of the building.
Commanding Officer’s Quarters
The Commanding Officer’s Quarters is two stories and includes multiple rooms with fireplaces. For unknown reasons, the State Park has allowed a small tree to continue to grow in front of the house. In any case, it’s a remarkable home and a popular attraction at the park. It sits close to the Interpretive Center and the visitor parking lot.
The home features an amazing front porch that stretches the entire width of the home.
Some of the rooms inside are staged with antique furniture to make the house appear more authentic. Most of the rooms contain fireplaces, a luxury the other soldiers didn’t have. Throughout the house, most of the original hardwood flooring remains.
At one time, the home was occupied by Col. Ranald Mackenzie. In 1871, a wagon train traveling near Fort Richardson was raided and massacred by Indians. Mackenzie was then ordered to lead a series of attacks against the Indians in North Texas. This included a battle with Comanche warriors, led by the famous chief Quanah Parker.
The Commissary was used as a warehouse to store supplies for the soldiers. Everything from clothing to dry goods were inventoried here. The building can be found on the far east side of the fort.
Other Buildings and Structures
Other historic structures in the state park were constructed after Fort Richardson closed. Some of the land was used by a railroad company and later by the city of Jacksboro.
Chicago Rock Island & Train Depot
After the fort closed, the Rock Island Rail Road
The Trestle Bridge is a towering train bridge that once crossed over Lost Creek. It was also built by the Rock Island Rail Road company. The bridge was replaced with a newer model and was moved here sometime in the early nineteenth century. It’s remained in the same spot ever since.
The Nature Center has various mounts of animals and birds you might see in
Camping at Fort Richardson State Park
If you’re looking to make Fort Richardson an overnight trip, there are quite a few options for camping out. Most of the campsites can be found along a paved road that runs parallel with Lost Creek. Restrooms and showers are also located on this road. There are dozens of campsites, including RV camping, cabins, and tent camping sites.
The one-room cabins are “limited”, meaning they have heating and air-conditioning but no indoor plumbing. Here’s a picture of one so you’ll know what they look like. Restrooms are located on each end of the road.
The park pavilion provides a shaded area for visitors to relax. It’s close to most of the campsites and available for anyone to use. If you walk further down the sidewalk, there’s also a playground area and picnic tables out in the open and surrounded by trees.
Nearby hiking trails are maintained by Texas Parks & Wildlife. The most popular trails are the Lost Creek Nature Trail and Rumbling Spring Path. Both trails run along Lost Creek and are a short distance from the campgrounds.
More Information about the Fort Richardson Historic Site
|Cost:||Free if under 13,|
$3.00 for 13 and over
|Address:||228 State Park Road 61|
Jacksboro, TX 76458
|Hours:||Ranger-Guided Tours are Monday – Friday, 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.|
Self-Guided Tours are Saturday and Sunday, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.