Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Abandoned Nineteenth-Century Fort in Iowa: Fort Atkinson

A bit north of 42N country, near Decorah and Spillville, Iowa is a bluff that overlooks a river. Here (43.14 N, 91.93 W) in 1840 the feds built a fort to house a garrison of a couple hundred troops needed to patrol the newly created neutral ground (not the neutral zone for all you trekkies) between displaced Winnebago natives (from Wisconsin) and their traditional native enemies. After Fort Atkinsonwas abandoned a small town was established named after the fort. Recently the 42N staff made a quick visit noting to return another time.

During its offical service the fort saw no armed fights take place either here or in the vicinity.

Fort Atkinson received its orders from Fort Crawford at Prairie du Chien, WI, 50 miles away. In 1849 the garrison was ordered to serve in the Mexican-American War and the fort was abandoned. Today in a building on the northern wall of the fort a museum store is now housed.

The State reclaimed the fort in the 20th century and has transformed it into a preserve. Re-enactment actors periodically camp here and help visitors understand the time period and mission of the Iowa 1st dragoons.

In the fort's powder room interior square air vents where offset aligned with exterior wall vents to keep the powder dry and to prevent any sparks causing direct ignition. Bathroom privies were located a few feet away from this door.

Outside the walls of the fort immediately to the north were stables, housing for married men's family who often followed their spouse, a blacksmith shop and farms. Located about a mile northwest of the fort was a cemetery.

Periodically the site's ground is probed to learn how its inhabitants lived. Pottery, clay pipes, glass bottles, imported china, game pieces and small musical instruments have been found along with a few military items.

If you are looking for forts where fighting took place check out other sites around the country. So far there have been no reported battles at or near the Fort Atkinson.


  1. Interesting. If walls could talk, I wonder what those would say. My brother is an avid metal-detector guy; he'd love poking around a place like that.

  2. I love going through forts and castles. The architecture, the little buildings, the strange cut outs in the walls - everything is just fascinating. Thanks for the mini tour.

    Kristin - The Goat

  3. These are really great shots of the fort. Being from the NE, we have forts and whole villages turned into historical preserves and reenactments daily in the summer. Nice to see this kind of thing in the midwest.

  4. I was thinking a lot like Cheryl - but I'm in the west where I can remember exploring the ruins of forts and outposts as a child. Now I live in Sacramento where the park around Sutter's Fort was my favorite lunchtime spot.

    Preserving our history has become a favorite cause of mine so I am grateful to see Midwest forts that are available to the public.

    Loved your post on this Saturday Sampling!