Fort Atkinson has a rich history that begins with Corps of Discovery Expedition in the early 1800s. During the Expedition, William Clark journaled that this area provides a great location for a fort, and just over 10 years later Fort Atkinson was established. During its heyday, the fort houses 1,200 U.S Army soldiers, roughly one-fourth of the entire defense sect.
According to the Nebraska Games Park, “The fort protected the growing western fur trade, and as the only governmental authority in the vast territory west of the Missouri, it also enforced peaceful relations between traders and the Indian tribes of the region. It operated from 1820 to 1827.”
In the late 1900s, visitors would find a far-different Fort Atkinson than today. Addison Erwin Sheldon wrote in 1913 that visitors would “pass through the little village of Fort Calhoun, 16 miles north of Omaha, and find the rebuilt Old Fort Atkinson. The summit of the Council Bluff may still be traced to the parade ground, the place where the flagstaff stood, the rows of cellars where once were the officers’ quarters and the barracks where the soldiers lived. The ashes and broken brick where the great fireplaces were may still be found, as also the powder vault and the road running down Hook’s Hollow to the boat landing on the river.”
As time pressed-on and the United States saw its Manifest Destiny come to life, the Army moved its forces south and Fort Atkinson was abandoned. Before long it turned to farmland. In the second half of the 20th century, public efforts resolved to restore the area, and in 1963 The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission purchased. Twenty years of restoration gives Fort Atkinson the character that it has today.
Today the Fort has been re-created to be authentic in every detail and features displays, artifacts, a theater and historical re-enactments the first weekend of every month during the summer and fall. The town of Fort Calhoun also features the Washington County Museum. Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuge Center is nearby.
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