• Riverside homes among post’s oldest

  • To make room for the prison, the post quartermaster depot moved into the space vacated by the arsenal and the USMP took its place.

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  • Quentin Schillare | Special to the Fort Leavenworth Lamp
    In 1874, the Army realized that using prison labor at Rock Island Arsenal, Ill., to work on ordnance was not prudent and Army leaders moved the Fort Leavenworth Arsenal to Rock Island and established the U.S. Military Prison in its place. To make room for the prison, the post quartermaster depot moved into the space vacated by the arsenal and the USMP took its place.
    Work began immediately on converting the existing warehouses and shops of the old quartermaster depot into a confinement facility. Buildings today numbered 466 (completed in 1860), 473 (1863), 472 (1872) and several other structures long since demolished formed the basis for the Army’s newest jail. Other buildings joined the original structures in the 1870s and 80s inside the walls. Military appropriations were scarce in the 1870s, so most of the construction on Fort Leavenworth then was related to the move.
    USMP construction included barracks for the guard force and housing for the officers, noncommissioned officers and civilian staff. The former quartermaster depot commander’s house, building 357 built in 1840, became the USMP commandant’s house but new construction was needed. One consideration was locating near the prison. A brick double set of officer’s quarters in an Italianate style, today’s building 18, was completed in 1878 replacing an earlier frame dwelling at the northeast corner of Main Parade near the Rookery. Others were constructed down the hill east of the commandant’s house.
    Riverside housing area consists of seven sets of wood frame officer’s quarters — five were completed in 1875 in time to welcome the first inmates and the last two three years later. There are three pairs of quarters on the outside of the bend in Riverside Avenue and one single structure inside the bend. All were constructed under contract in the style of the day — two stories with a porch and a basement.
    When they were finished, all seven were numbered 172-178 in keeping with the post numbering scheme to number buildings consecutively as they were completed. However, in the 1880s post leaders realized that this made for an unmilitary numerical jumble and a more rationale system was instituted. Buildings associated with the USMP were renumbered in the 400s.
    Going down the hill the first pair, buildings 432 and 433 built in 1875 from the same plans, are the largest, designed as wood-frame duplexes. Constructed in a similar Italianate style as building 18, they each have a bay window on the first floor. They sit on a rise back from the road with an imposing porch that covers the entire front.
    Next down the hill, buildings 434 and 435, are in a gable-front with wing style finished in 1878 (some sources say 1881) as single officer’s quarters. More deep than wide, they sit quite close to the road. Going down the hill, buildings 437 and 438 occupied in 1875, are also single officer’s quarters, but are constructed from a slightly different plan than their uphill neighbors although in the same gable-front style.
    Page 2 of 2 - The only house on the inside bend is building 436, a two-story T-shaped gable-front with wing single family quarters completed in 1875 (some sources say 1885) near the bottom of the hill. The original porch is on the right front. The porch on the left side is a modern addition.
    Hidden down a hillside from the mostly brick structures on the rest of Fort Leavenworth, these seven houses taken together seem more rural and represent an earlier era on post when for the most part quarters were made of wood. Riverside was originally occupied by USMP officials, such as the adjutant, chaplain, chief clerk, commissary, provost marshal, quartermaster and surgeon.
    When rail service was extended to post in 1869-70, the Missouri Pacific Railroad built a small depot at the foot of Riverside Avenue. Even though it was private property, the post constructing quartermaster identified it as building 168. The initial structure and its several successors were a reason to travel down the hill and admire the yellow-painted wood frame houses along the way.
    In 1915, public law established the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks system with three locations — the main DB at Fort Leavenworth, the Pacific Branch on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay and the Atlantic Branch in Castle Williams on Governors Island in New York Harbor. The U.S. Military Prison was renamed the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks. The USDB is the only one of the three still operating.
    Today, the Riverside housing area is the oldest group of quarters on post built at the same time, still occupied 142 years after they were constructed.
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