Fort Churchill

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Fort Churchill (1860-1871) - A U.S. Army post established in 1860 during the Pyramid Lake Paiute War and just before the start of the U.S. Civil War by Captain Joseph Stewart (Cullum 1128), 3rd U.S. Artillery, in Lyon County, Nevada. Named for Colonel Sylvester Churchill, Inspector General of the US Army. Abandoned in 1871. Also known as Churchill Barracks.

Officers Quarters Ruins at Fort Churchill
Post Headquarters Ruins at Fort Churchill
Barracks Row Ruins at Fort Churchill

Fort Churchill History

Fort Churchill Hospital Ruins
Fort Churchill Laundress Quarters Ruins
Replica Post HQ Office in the Visitor Center

Captain Joseph Stewart and his Carson River Expedition were ordered to establish a permanent post on the Carson River during the Pyramid Lake Paiute War. Construction started 20 Jul 1860.

The post was built as a permanent open plan installation with adobe buildings erected on stone foundations in the form of a square, facing a central parade. The north end of the parade was lined with six sets of officer's quarters, very comfortable quarters for the time. The west side of the parade was lined with enlisted barracks and messing facilities while the east side contained the post headquarters, the quartermaster and subsistence storehouses, and the hospital. The south end of the parade contained the powder magazine and the guard house. Average strength of the post was about 200.

Construction began in mid-summer 1860 and civilian labor was employed along with military troop labor to complete the quarters and necessary support buildings before the harsh winter weather arrived. Silver had been discovered nearby and prospectors flooded the region, driving up the price of labor and everything needed to build the fort. The cost of building the fort was initially estimated at $192,556, a considerable sum for the time and ten times above what it cost to build some comparable posts in other parts of the country. Efforts to reduce costs significantly were not successful because of the high labor, transportation and materials costs and the need to complete quarters before the onset of winter. Twenty one permanent buildings were eventually constructed with 20 inch thick adobe walls and 12 foot ceilings.

Before the start of the U.S. Civil War, Fort Churchill guarded the Pony Express run and other mail routes and hundreds of soldiers were based here between expeditions against hostile Indians. The Civil War made the fort an important supply depot for the Nevada Military District, and a base for troops patrolling the overland routes. Following the end of the war the Indian troubles abated, the railroads replaced the immigrant wagon trails and the telegraph followed the train routes so there was little need for the remote Fort Churchill. The fort was ordered abandoned on 29 Sep 1869 but the last troops did not leave until 15 Jun 1871. The removable structures and fixtures were auctioned for only $750. In 1884, the remains of solders buried in the post cemetery were moved to Carson City. The post property passed through the hands of several private owners and was used for a variety of purposes.


Current Status

Visitor Center/Museum at Fort Churchill
DAR Plaque at Fort Churchill

The State of Nevada took custody of 200 acres of the original 1384 acre military reservation 6 Oct 1932. Nevada in turn deeded the land and buildings 30 Apr 1934 to the Nevada Sagebrush DAR Chapter to hold in trust. On 16 Feb 1961, the title of Fort Churchill was reconveyed to the State of Nevada. The National Park Service made restoration plans, and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) renovated what was left of the fort. It was the CCC who build the Visitor Center in the style of the original barracks buildings.

The fort was again abandoned during WWII, falling victim to vandals and weather. Interest renewed in the 1950s and the fort became a part of Nevada's State Park System in 1957. The buildings that remain are in ruins; others simply no longer exist, and only markers tell where some structures once stood. The Division of State Parks maintains these ruins in a state of arrested decay.

The visitor center contains many displays and descriptions of fort activities including a model of the fort as it was built. At one end of the visitor center are two rooms outfitted to represent the post headquarters office and a prisoner cell. Two field mounted 3" ordnance rifles are on display next to the visitor center. The visitor center is placed on a rise overlooking the fort and offers a great view of the site. The post cemetery is at the entrance to the visitor center.



USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) Database Entry:

  • Name: Old Fort Churchill Type: Historical Class: Military ID: 1681361
  • Location: Lyon, Nevada, US, FIPS Code: 32019
  • Latitude: 39.2927778, Longitude: -119.2700000, Elevation: 4255 Map: Churchill Butte
  • As Of: 1 Jan 1991
Source: U.S. Board on Geographic Names

Location: Eight miles south of Silver Springs on Fort Churchill Road off Alt. U.S. 95, Lyon County, Nevada

Maps & Images

Lat: 39.2925 Long: -119.27056

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Visited: 18 Mar 2014

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