HOW SOON WE FORGET
Museum History

T

he US Army Field Artillery & Fort Sill Museum was established by direction of the Chief of Field Artillery on December 10, 1934 and formally opened in January 1935.  The dual mission of preserving the history of both the Field Artillery and of Fort Sill was identified from the beginning.  Captain Harry C. Larter, a Field Artilleryman, military artist, and historian was the first curator. 

Larter made use of an old artillery teaching collection of military items which had been brought together at Fort Sill in 1919 and stored in a warehouse for a number of years.  Captain Wilbur S. Nye was given the task of compiling and writing the history of Fort Sill as a joint action.  The old guardhouse was selected as the building to house this material for interpreting the history to the public and it served as the main museum building for many years.                                            

Guard HouseBy 1941 over 50,000 visitors came to the museum annually and the number of exhibits and donations grew steadily.  This necessitated the acquisition of other buildings to accommodate the expanding museum and on 4 October 1958, the Quartermaster Corral was added to the complex.  Exhibits within included a replica Trader’s Store, a Wichita grass house, and a Conestoga wagon.  The Comanche County Historical Society also set up frontier displays in this facility until 1961 when it relocated to Lawton and became the Museum of the Great Plains.

Ariel view of Corral

 


During the 1960s the QM Storehouse, then known as Hamilton Hall, was opened featuring artillery exhibits from the Revolutionary War period to 1900.  The adjacent Commissary Storehouse building, then known as McLain Hall, exhibited the history of the US Artillery from 1900 through the Korean Conflict.  In addition, the “Cannon Walk” was created as an outdoor display of U.S. and foreign artillery pieces.

By the 1970s, the museum had grown to include several additional buildings such as the first headquarters for the School of Fire for Field Artillery, a small frame building on the southeast corner of the Quadrangle.  This was the initial location of the US Army Field Artillery School established in 1911. Captain Dan T. Moore, the school’s first Commandant, had his office in this building.

School of Fire old photoOne of the two original Infantry Barracks was decorated as the “Hall of Flags” and was a popular exhibit building for many years.  The museum administrative offices were also located in this building.  The original Post Headquarters building constructed in 1870 housed the museum collection offices and archival records during the 1970s.  Finally, the first Post Chapel, situated in the northeast corner of the Quadrangle, was also assigned to the museum during this time to protect it from over-development.

The Field Artillery and Fort Sill Museum was certified for the first time by the US Army Center of Military History in 1985 recognizing the museum met professional standards.  Several additional facilities of the original historic post were added to the museum during the 1990s, including a second Infantry Barracks on the southwest corner of the Quadrangle Admin Buildingthat had previously served as a Childcare Center; three cavalry barracks and associated outbuildings on the west side of the Quadrangle that were previously used by the Army Field Printing Plant; and the only surviving balloon hangar on Fort Sill. 

As these and other changes took place in the 1990s, the museum continued to shift its vast holdings and functions to more appropriate facilities in order to continue meeting the required standards of the museum profession.  However, it was evident that the basic requirements of sturdy floors and wide doors in facilities for displaying artillery, was not being met in these historic buildings.  Most of the artillery collection was either displayed outside or was in deep storage where the public could not see it.

By 1998 a new initiative known as “Project Millennium” was developed to prepare for the upcoming 21st century.  Project Millennium established new objectives for the entire museum well into the first decade of this century and included the construction of a new and separate Field Artillery Museum facility.  From the very beginning, museum personnel worked closely with the Oklahoma Centennial Commission to include this new facility in the planning for the upcoming centennial celebration of statehood in 2007.

After a lot of hard work to elevate the attention of this project and secure the necessary funding for the FA Museum, the funding was insufficient to initiate the project.  Museum personnel overcame this obstacle by designing new construction around two existing facilities located southeast of the museum and seeking additional funds from the Department of Defense and the Department of Interior. This action was successful resulting in the first dedication ceremonies in November 2007.  Construction was not completed until spring 2008 and preliminary exhibits were installed by the early winter of that same year.  

A new “Artillery Park” was also designed by museum staff as part of Project Millennium in 1998 to replace the aging “Cannon Walk” in the historic landmark area.  The new park would include all of the equipment in the old outdoor display plus others that were obtained for this purpose such as the “Crusader” and the 175mm SP Howitzer.  After 12 years, construction is now underway on that project across the street from the new FA Museum.

Plans were developed to separate the two missions of the museum (Field Artillery and Fort Sill) and a new Director/Curator of Field Artillery was hired in December of 2008 to assume responsibilities for the new museum. The development of new exhibits continued and a formal opening was held in June 2009.  The staff of the Fort Sill Museum turned their attention back to the historic post area and new developments continue in this area at the present time.   

With the onset of the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC) in 2006, decisions were made to relocate the Air Defense Artillery mission from Fort Bliss, Texas to Fort Sill and planning began to accommodate the museum of that branch to include facilities, collections and personnel.  Arrangements are still underway to establish this school museum adjacent to the Field Artillery Museum.

By the fall of 2009, a major change occurred with the creation of a new Museum Directorate under the Fires Center of Excellence to include the three museums:  the Fort Sill National Historic Landmark Museum; the Field Artillery Museum; and the Air Defense Artillery Museum.

Today, the Fort Sill National Historic Landmark Museum occupies 27 buildings in the historic complex where its vast collections are both stored and exhibited.  The museum has an active volunteer program and conducts several educational programs annually.  Training, education, and research projects are ongoing.