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Fort Douglas In Utah Protected Stagecoach Routes, Watched Mormons With AM-Base Closings, Bjt

December 29, 1988

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ The decision to close Fort Douglas, a 119-acre Army installation built in 1862 to protect stagecoach routes from Indians and keep an eye on Mormon settlers, came as little surprise Thursday.

The once-strategic post in the Wasatch Mountain foothills east of downtown Salt Lake City had long been criticized in Congress as contributing little to national defense.

The government commission that put the fort on a list of installations to be shut down or scaled back estimated that closing Fort Douglas - a collection of parade grounds, barracks and other brick and whitewashed buildings, some dating from the 1920s and 1930s - would save $1.4 million over 20 years.

Members of the Utah congressional delegation expressed conditional support for the decision. The commission called for the reassignment of most of the fort’s 640 full-time employees to other Utah military installations.

Rep. Wayne Owens, a Democrat whose district the fort is in, ″won’t stand in the way if the decision was arrived at fairly, and if indeed it will save more money than it costs to implement,″ said Owens’ spokesman Art Kingdom.

Kingdom said Owens would introduce legislation to turn over the property to the University of Utah. Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, also said he would propose such a bill.

″I’m sure there’s going to be people disappointed who work here,″ said Maj. Bill Auer, fort spokesman. ″One of the things we have to contend with is 44 of our buildings here are also registered national historic landmarks.

″Some of these buildings are quarters that military personnel live in,″ he added. ″Personally, at this point, we’re kind of curious as to what and how they’re going to do this.″

Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, said he would support the fort’s closing if convinced it is a cost-effective move for the Army. He said he understood the installation’s historic sites and buildings will be preserved.

″I am pleased that the proposed impact on Utah is minimal, because it is a clear affirmation of the efficiency and value of Utah’s military installations and personnel and the contribution they make to our national security,″ Garn said.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he understood only 77 civilian jobs will be lost as a result.

While Salt Lake City has no plans for the land and buildings, Mayor Palmer DePauli believes it would ″be perfect for an Olympic village″ if the city succeeds in its bid for the 1998 Winter Olympics, said chief of staff Mike Zuhl.

While officially built as an Indian post, the fort’s first commander, Col. Patrick Conner, acknowledged that he chose the foothills overlooking Salt Lake City so he could keep an eye on Brigham Young’s polygamy-practicing Mormon pioneers.

Connor referred to the settlers, who had arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, as ″a community of traitors, murderers, fanatics and whores″ who also were too friendly with the Indians.

Tensions ran so high that when troops fired the fort’s cannon to salute Connor’s promotion to general in 1863, the Mormons assumed it was an attack. A thousand or more Mormon ″minutemen″ quickly assembled to protect the city, but hostilities were avoided.

Relations between the government and Mormons were strained when Conner tried to force merchants to take an oath of loyalty to the United States as a condition of selling goods at the fort. The crisis abated after Conner’s departure.

The church dropped polygamy in 1890, and Utah became a state in 1896. From that point, the Army and city got along well.

In modern times the fort’s personnel have been assigned a variety of missions. The base gives logistic and administrative support primarily to reserve units, but also active units, in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming.

It also is headquarters for Pentagon recruiting efforts in the region and is the reserve pay office for 14 states. More than 2,300 reservists with the Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard train at the fort each year.

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