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The strains of "To The Colors" couldn't drown the squeaking pulleys as soldiers dressed in uniforms from the Civil War era to the recent days of Desert Storm lowered the flag that flew over Fort Douglas.

After the Stars and Stripes was folded into a neat triangle packet, it was marched off to the museum of the 129-year-old military installation."This is the end of an era. The era of a Cold War that spanned several decades. A war our country won," Brig. Gen. Thomas H. Needham said Saturday, moments before four cannons blasted an 18-gun salute.

But winning that war meant losing some military establishments around the country - including local landmark Fort Douglas. About 1,200 civilians and military personnel gathered under cold, gray skies to witness the military ceremony of deactivating Fort Douglas - 129 years from the day the fort was officially established.

In 1988, Fort Douglas was among dozens of bases around the country declared surplus and ordered closed.The deactivation ceremony Saturday was followed by the activation of the new Stephen A. Douglas Reserve Center, on the south end of the former Fort Douglas.

While the Reserve Center commander, Maj. Gen. Donald M. Bagley Jr., pointed out a new flag fluttering above the Reserve Center's buildings to the south, it couldn't hide the fact that the military presence overlooking Salt Lake Valley will not be the same.

"A great sense of disappointment. It's an emotional moment," Fort Douglas commander Lt. Col. Jerold L. Jensen said when asked how he felt as the flag over the parade grounds was retired.

Even newly appointed University of Utah President Arthur K. Smith sensed some loss, although the U. will receive 51 acres of Fort Douglas as part of the closure approved by Congress last year.

"I felt a bit of (the loss) myself," said Smith, a Naval Academy graduate. "There was a great sense of history here today."

There was also a tinge of animosity. In his remarks, Jensen mentioned the frustration and disappointment of the military personnel who were against closing the historical installation and transferring half of it to the U. The move displaces almost 300 civilian employees and military personnel.

But the expression of mixed feelings was nothing new. In October 1861, when Col. Patrick E. Connor marched his California Volunteers through Salt Lake City and up to the east foothills to set up camp, feelings between the military and the local settlers weren't cordial either.

The garrison would not only overlook Salt Lake Valley to protect the overland mail route, but Connor also would keep watch over the Mormons, whom he disliked, historians say.

Connor also staked out 530 acres of the U.'s 560-acre campus as part of the 2,560-acre Camp Douglas. On Oct. 26, 1861, Connor officially laid claim to the area as Camp Douglas, after Sen. Stephen A. Douglas, who ran for president against Abraham Lincoln in 1860.

Despite ill will between locals and the military, the installation proved an economic boon to the valley. The fort's personnel also became involved in the community, as Connor helped establish mining in the area and published the first daily newspaper. Families of those stationed at Fort Douglas have attended local schools and churches.

Jensen, the fort's last commander, is a Utahn and now plans to retire here. And with Saturday's closure complete, the U. has retrieved almost all of the land that fell within its original boundaries.


(Additional information)

Fort's future

While they won't serve the same purpose, the buildings of Fort Douglas will remain standing. University of Utah President Arthur K. Smith is awaiting recommendations from his staff on how to preserve the buildings and parade grounds of Stilwell field, while incorporating them into university use.

Buildings on the south end of the installation will make up the new Reserve Center.