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Group giving new life to Fort Douglas house

Building 55 will soon return to original condition

The commander's quarters, the oldest building at Fort Douglas, has survived 141 years and is getting new life, thanks to a group of Civil War re-enactors, the 3rd California Volunteers.

The group, named after the Army unit that came to Salt Lake City in 1862 to keep an eye on the Mormons and establish Fort Douglas, is carefully restoring the house, known as Building 55, to its original condition with volunteer labor and funds.

An open house at the house east of Officer's Circle was held Saturday in honor of President Abraham Lincoln who was president while the house and fort were built. Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was read, a toast to him and to members of today's armed forces was given and pieces of cake preferred by Lincoln and made from the original recipe were served.

While restoring the six-room house, a dugout believed to be the only one still existing in the state was discovered under the floor of the original kitchen, said tour guide Patrick Mahoney, a member of the re-enactment group. "We have not been down there yet, but we've put a camera down there, and it appears to be empty except for some shelves."

Contrary to longstanding rumors, there appear to be no tunnels leading from the house to anywhere else in the fort, he said.

Other surprises were found during initial phases of remodeling, including four layers of flooring under the master bedroom.

Except for the commander's house, all the original buildings in the fort were torn down in about 1875, Mahoney said, adding the present kitchen is believed to be the parlor of the fort's surgeon. It probably was rolled down to the commander's house on logs and attached permanently.

Although the 3rd California, which uses the building as its headquarters, hopes to have the work done by October in time for the annual Fort Douglas anniversary celebration, work proceeds only as fast as money and workers come in. Mahoney expects the group will spend between $25,000-$30,000 in all on the project, not counting the funds needed to restore an 1847 square grand piano in the house.

Tax-deductible donations to the project can be made through the Fort Douglas Military Museum Association, 32 Potter St., Fort Douglas, UT 84113. For more information, call Mahoney, 801-250-9419.