Camp Douglas was established in October 1862 as a small military garrison about three miles east of Salt Lake City, Utah, for the purpose of protecting the overland mail route and telegraph lines along the Central Overland Route. In 1878, the post was renamed Fort Douglas. The fort was officially closed in 1991 and most of the buildings turned over to the University of Utah. A small section of the original fort is used by the Army Reserve and includes the Fort Douglas Military Museum.
The increasing threat of violence was caused by the withdrawal of Federal troops from the West for action against the Confederacy in the Civil War. Colonel Patrick Connor was selected to establish a military presence in the Utah Territory and selected a site east of Salt Lake City, where Camp Douglas (named after Stephen A. Douglas by Abraham Lincoln) was officially established on October 26, 1862. And Colonel Connor had brought volunteer troops from California and Nevada to Camp Douglas. During the Civil War, the post served as the headquarters of the District of Utah in the Department of the Pacific.
Regular Army arrives, 1866â74
Between 1866 and 1898, Fort Douglas was part of the Department of the Platte. The Fort's importance grew when the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads joined rails at Promontory Summit, Utah, on May 10, 1869, completing the Transcontinental Railroad.
Through the efforts of Utah's U.S. Senator Thomas Kearns, Fort Douglas became a regimental post.
World War I
During World War I Fort Douglas was used as an internment camp for Germans living in the U.S. and also to house German naval prisoners of war. One of the crews was from the SMS Cormoran, which set sail from Tsingtao, China, and took refuge from the Japanese at Guam in December to refuel and take on provisions. Denied the fuel and provisions they requested, the Germans submitted to detention rather than return to sea. They became prisoners of war and were shipped to Fort Douglas when the U.S. declared war on Germany in 1917.
In 1922, Fort Douglas became the home of the 38th Infantry. The 38th remained at Fort Douglas until August 1940.
World War II
Fort Douglas then became an Army Air Field and was home to the 7th Bombardment Group (B-17s). Fort Douglas reverted to an Army base after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when fears of a Japanese attack of the U.S. mainland caused the 9th Service Command Headquarters to be moved to Fort Douglas from the Presidio in San Francisco. The most famous person to be stationed there was probably Samuel Moore Walton, founder of Walmart who served his military career there from 1943 to 1945.
Final years, 1945â1991
After World War II, the Army began a slow divestiture of its lands at Fort Douglas to the University of Utah, which is located directly adjacent to the Fort. However, the Fort maintained busy Reserve functions for several more decades, notably with the 96th ARCOM under the command of Maj. Gen. Michael B. Kauffman, who had spent much of his Army career at the Fort and was instrumental in keeping the Fort alive well past its announced closing in the 1970s. The Military Museum at Fort Douglas is housed in a building named after General Kauffman, who founded the Museum and built it into one of the United States' premier military museums featuring exhibits from all branches of the Armed Services.
On October 26, 1991, Fort Douglas officially closed, though the Utah National Guard maintained control of the Military Museum and the 96th ARCOM received the parts of the Fort which were not deeded to the University of Utah.
During the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, much of Fort Douglas was used as part of the Olympic Village for the participating athletes.
A cemetery was established in 1862 about a mile south of the original parade grounds. In 1864, the soldiers at the post significantly improved the cemetery. They erected a monument in the center dedicated to the memory of the men killed at Bear River. They also constructed a red sandstone wall around the cemetery, with a steel gate located at the north end. The following year, a smaller monument was added for Utah Governor James D. Doty following his death and burial in the cemetery. Later, the cemetery was expanded to accommodate a larger number of burials, not only from Fort Douglas but also from Fort Cameron following its closure. A special section of the cemetery was also added for the German prisoners of war who died here during World War I.
The Fort Douglas Cemetery continues to be an active federal military cemetery, actively maintained. A list of cemetery burials is available through the Utah History Research Center's cemetery database.
Preservation and Museum
A majority of the fort was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1975.
Through the efforts of Maj. Gen. Michael B. Kauffman, a museum was established in 1976 inside one of the old stone barracks. Today, the Fort Douglas Military Museum is administered by the Utah National Guard and supported by the Fort Douglas Foundation, endeavoring to tell the story of the post, and Utah military history in general, through artifacts and photographs.
In June 2008, the museum is amidst a $4.3 million expansion.