Looking back through Fort Riley history: Building 205
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

The Fort Riley Cavalry Museum, which is under renovation, is a place for Fort Riley Soldiers and their families to take a step back into Fort Riley History. What some may not know; however, is they are not only taking into account the history the museum provides, but also the history of the building itself.

Maj. Edmund Ogden came to Fort Riley in 1853 when it was still Camp Center, said Bob Smith, Fort Riley Museum director. He was charged with the construction of new buildings with his first being Building 205. This building would serve as the first post hospital.

"In August of 1855 ... just after (they started) the permanent construction, he contracted cholera and died in August," said Smith. "He died within 24 hours, so he never saw the completion of the building.

The stonemasons who built the building quarried stone from across the river, he said.

The hospital was separated from most of the parade field and fenced in. The front lawn served as a burial ground for dismembered arms and legs from some of the patients.

"When they did the archaeological dig, they found a number of whiskey bottles thrown into the latrine," Smith said. "There was a latrine dig that was done in the 80's by K-State archaeological people and they found a fabulous amount, I think over 10,000 artifacts that had been thrown into that latrine. We had a display at the old museum on that. But I wondered when we started talking about it, why there were so many whiskey bottles."

After much research, Smith said they discovered the story behind the whiskey bottles. Soldiers would come to the hospital with colds, but the medicine they had to take was highly distasteful. They would be offered a shot of whiskey to help the medicine go down.

"The problem was they had Soldiers all showing up to get that shot of whiskey," Smith said. "So in the 1880's the Army had to change the medicine because they were going through a lot of whiskey."

In the 1890's building 205 became garrison headquarters.

"And that's when they did the major remodel on that building where you have both the smoother and the rough stone," he said. "They took a single-story building and added three floors … then they added to it. We have photographs with the clock and the chimes and the bell tower."

The bell tower, he said, is believed the have been the garrison commander's office. He would have had a great view of the parade field, with eyes on everything.

In 1957, according to the Fort Riley Walking Tour guide, the building was converted into the Cavalry Museum. It took up "10,000 square feet of exhibit space displays examples of the American horse soldier's material culture -- from the Revolutionary War to 1950 when the cavalry branch ceased to exist."