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Fort Larned carpenter recalls restoration
new slt fort Main
Mildon Yeager is shown with his collection of photos showing the restoration of Fort Larned. - photo by Susan Thacker/Great Bend Tribune

Centennial celebration planned

The National Park Service turns 100 next month, and Fort Larned will take part in the celebration. Re-enactors will bring the fort back to life on Saturday, Aug. 27. The public is invited to bring a picnic lunch and stay for the day. There will also be re-actors at the fort on Labor Day Weekend, Sept. 3-5.
The park is open seven days a week from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and admission is free. The park is located 6 miles west of Larned on K-156.

LARNED — When visitors step onto the grounds of the Fort Larned National Historic State today, they see it as it appeared in the 1860s during the Indian Wars. Mildon Yeager – a retired carpenter who worked at the site for 20 years – also sees years of restoration that took place in the 20th century, and continues to this day.
Yeager has compiled a notebook filled with photos from his time at the fort, from 1972-1992. It represents the work of many park employees and volunteers.
In 1883, Fort Larned military reservation was transferred from the War Department to the General Land Office, U.S. Department of the Interior. After the fort closed, the buildings and land were sold at public auction in 1884, and over the next 80 years the property remained privately owned. Some of the changes were dramatic, including changing a roof line by adding a hayloft to one building.
Even before Fort Larned became a national historic site and part of the National Park System in 1964, there was local interest in preserving its history.
Park Superintendent George Elmore said the Pawnee County Historical Society – later renamed the Fort Larned Historical Society — opened a gift shop in the barracks in the 1950s. The buildings then appeared has they had since the property’s farming era of 1921, Elmore said.
Larned resident Yeager, 89, was just one of many park employees and volunteers involved in the later restoration of the buildings.
“We put Fort Larned back together again,” he said.
For years, he took photographs before, during and after the restoration of nine buildings. In 1983, for example, the barracks were restored. This also required the construction of bunk beds like the ones soldiers slept in at the fort. The Volunteers in Parks program made it possible to finish the work. Young men from the Youth Center At Larned helped with the work.
Building by building, the work continued.
“We overhauled it to make it look new again,” Yeager said. “There’s a lot of work that went into those buildings.”
They constructed new window frames to replace those with rotten wood, put up walls that had been moved, installed flooring and restored the roof which had been raised by its farmer owners to its original lines. These were not always ordinary carpentry projects. An article from a 1984 edition of The Larned Tiller & Toiler notes that park employees found a sketch showing how a porch was originally put together. They found they had done it differently and had to start over.
The restoration continues to this day. Elmore said the next building project will be the interior restoration of the Commanding Officer’s Quarters. Meanwhile, exhibits that are 40 years old are being updated in a project that is expected to continue through 2017.