Fort Stanton, situated along the Bonito River in picturesque south-central New Mexico, is largely considered one of the most intact 19th century military forts in all of the United States. Originally built in 1855 as a home base for US military men sent west to keep the newly arriving settlers safe from the indigenous Mescalero Apache Indians, the site has served many purposes over the years.
In the early part of the Civil War, the Union ceded Fort Stanton to the Confederates, and although they tried to burn it down as they left it behind, a rainstorm squelched the fire. The Confederates also attempted to destroy the site when they left after only a short time, but the sturdy buildings, built of locally quarried stone were easily rebuilt following the war. The fort returned to the Union after only a month of Confederacy occupation under the command of Christopher “Kit” Carson.
Fort Stanton is comprised of 88 buildings including officers’ quarters and barracks, a hospital and morgue, nurses’ quarters, a guardhouse, a dining hall, a chapel, a power plant and laundry, a gymnasium and pool, a fire station, horse stables and a U.S. post office, although many of these buildings do need preservation and restoration work. Rebuilt after the Civil War, Fort Stanton has served New Mexicans over the years as Merchant Marine Tuberculosis Hospital, a WWII internee camp, a training school for the mentally disabled and most recently as a low security women’s prison and has housed various juvenile, drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs.
For the perfect weekend trip, include the Merchant Marine Cemetery at Fort Stanton, with its perfect rows of white crosses, and the Lincoln Historic Monument which only a few miles away on US 380. There are tons of activities and day trips in the surrounding local area including hiking trails, camping, and horseback riding. Fort Stanton is a great family getaway with the ideal balance of historical and cultural significance, gorgeous landscapes, and nearby outdoor activities.