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Fort Dalles Surgeon’s Quarters

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1857, Louis Scholl; Capt. Thomas Jordan, builder. Garrison St. between and W. 15th and W. 16th sts.

The Surgeon’s Quarters is the lone surviving major building of a frontier U. S. Army outpost built at The Dalles in 1856. The fort, located along the Columbia River in northern Oregon, was an important waystation for American settlers traversing the Oregon Trail. The location was first settled in 1838 by Methodist missionaries, who called the area Wascopan after the local Wasco Indians. To safeguard the mission station, in 1850 the U.S. military established Camp Drum (later Fort Drum) on a bluff overlooking the river; this was the only U.S. Army outpost on the Oregon Trail between Fort Laramie and the British Fort Vancouver. In July 1853 the outpost was renamed Fort Dalles.

In 1856, Fort Dalles was the main military depot for supplies shipped upriver by steamboat. Assistant Quartermaster Captain Thomas Jordan began constructing new fort buildings with the assistance of his civilian clerk, Louis Scholl, who had studied engineering and drafting in his native Germany. Scholl drew up plans for barracks, stables, outbuildings, and even a guardhouse, all completed in Andrew Jackson Downing’s trademark picturesque architectural style. The buildings formed an octagon around a central grassy parade ground. Of particular note is the Surgeon’s Quarters, which was closely adapted from Downing’s published house designs.

The Surgeon’s Quarters is a remarkable example of a frontier adaptation of a then popular house design, Downing’s House No. 3, published in The Architecture of Country Houses (1850). Like the published design, the Surgeon’s Quarters is a rectangular longitudinal block with a centered entrance surmounted and sheltered by a large, bracket-supported, second-floor dormer. The exterior is sheathed in vertical board-and-batten siding. As in Downing’s prototype, the pair of slightly projected window bays have small shed roof caps over which the battens continue. The windows are diamond-pane glass, but, in an effort to economize, the arched windows shown by Downing are simplified to use pointed, 45-degree, straight board lumber construction. Even so, Jordan was criticized by his superiors for providing facilities considered too extravagant for this remote western post. This building thus provides intriguing documentation of an antebellum period in which individual army post commandants obtained their own architectural plans for their assigned posts, rather than executing federally mandated designs, as would later be the case.

Fort Dalles was abandoned in 1867, and the property sold in 1877. By that time, fires had destroyed three of the larger officers’ residences, and the remaining structures were in poor condition. In 1904, the Oregon Historical Society assumed responsibility for the site, and authorized the Old Ford Dalles Historical Society to establish a museum. Dedicated volunteers stabilized the Surgeon's Quarters, filled it with pioneer artifacts and memorabilia, and, in 1905, opened it to the public as one of Oregon’s first history museums. The Surgeon’s Quarters is now property of Wasco County, and offers exhibits on early settlement of the area and the military history of Fort Dalles. Aside from the Surgeon’s Quarters, the only other surviving antebellum fort structure is the restored gardener’s cottage.

References

Hoagland, Alison K. Army Architecture in the West: Forts Laramie, Bridger, and D.A. Russell, 1849-1912. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004.

Horner, John B. Oregon: Her History, Her Great Men, Her Literature. Portland, OR: J. K. Gill Company, 1921.

Knuth, Priscilla. Picturesque Frontier: The Army's Fort Dalles. 2nd ed. Portland: Oregon Historical Society, 1987.

McArthur, Lewis A., and Lewis L McArthur. Oregon Geographic Names. 7th ed. Portland: Oregon Historical Society, 2003.

Robert B., Roberts. Encyclopedia of Historic Forts: The Military, Pioneer, and Trading Posts of the United States. New York: Macmillan, 1988.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Leland M. Roth
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Data

Timeline

  • 1857

    Built
  • 1867

    Abandoned
  • 1905

    Opened as museum

Citation

Leland M. Roth, "Fort Dalles Surgeon’s Quarters", [The Dalles, Oregon], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/OR-01-065-0004.

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