By Worcester P. Bong
If you’ve visited the Bob Stump VA Medical Center campus (formerly Fort Whipple) in Prescott the past few years, you probably noticed a flurry of ongoing construction. This is not the only time significant construction has taken place.
Fort Whipple, founded in December, 1863, was one of 14 posts founded or reconstructed after the 1898 Spanish-American War. In 1902, Fort Whipple was inactive and inspections concluded that a few buildings were worth rehabilitating. The fort was reactivated on April 29, 1902, and plans were made for new construction.
In December 1902, Major Charles C. Walcutt, Jr., Constructing Quartermaster in charge of the work, was given responsibility for submitting plans and suggestions for reconstruction. With modification, the Secretary of War approved the plans, with work beginning in 1903.
Construction contracts were opened in May 1905 for 24 buildings. Of these, 10 new ones were officers’ quarters. Originally, all 11 of the officers’ quarters were to be constructed of brick. Building 1, built in 1903, was made of brick; however, due to problems supplying acceptable quality bricks in a timely manner, the remaining 10 officers’ quarters were constructed of concrete block on locally quarried granite foundations.
Building 11, currently Fort Whipple Museum, was among six lieutenants’ quarters built. Its foundation was started in April 1906, and it was occupied in late 1908. It housed officers through 1913, when the fort was again abandoned. Reopened as a U.S. Army Hospital in 1918, the quarters housed officers and medical staff. It continued housing medical staff for the Veterans Administration (medical managers, doctors) until its renovation to become Fort Whipple Museum in 2004.
Floorplans for the officers’ quarters were originally thought to be designed by Stanford White, an American architect who designed many houses for the rich, as well as numerous public, institutional and religious buildings. His design principles embodied the “American Renaissance,” a period of American architecture and arts from 1876 to 1917, characterized by renewed national self-confidence and a feeling the United States was heir to Greek democracy, Roman law and Renaissance humanism.
In a December 19, 1975 letter to the Yavapai Heritage Foundation, the Veterans Administration (VA) reviewed this claim and found no evidence that Mr. White or his architectural firm was involved. Further research determined that floorplans of the officers’ quarters were developed under U.S. Army Family Housing Standardized Plans and were designed by the Quartermaster General’s Office (QMGO), the primary construction agency of the U.S. Army, during the second period of standardization (1890-1917).
Standardized Housing Plan #153, designed in June 1902, was used for the lieutenant’s quarters. The plan required three stories plus basement with brick construction. The architecture reflected a nationwide trend to the more conservative revival styles: Classical, Greek and Georgian. Interior features included ornamental carvings for staircases, redwood beams, heavy-duty pocket doors, hard maple floors and Italian tile work on fireplaces.
Other buildings constructed included a double barracks, single barracks, field officers’ quarters, four non-commissioned officers’ quarters, guard house, administration building, bake house, post exchange, coal shed, ordnance house, oil house and wagon shed. The QMGO developed standardized plans for these various types of buildings.
On August 25, 1908, Major Walcutt, Jr. announced that over $568,000 had been spent at Fort Whipple, and that the extensive improvements were nearing completion. By October 18, 1908, the contractor finished the construction of 23 buildings. In November 1909, an agreement commenced between the government and Prescott Electric Company to provide electrical power for lighting at Fort Whipple.
Fort Whipple transitioned over the years to become the current modern healthcare facility. It had several other periods of construction, but 1905-1908 accounts for the most visible structures at this historic site.
“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at https://www.sharlothallmuseum.org/articles/days-past-articles.l. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles and inquiries to email@example.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 2, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org for information or assistance with photo requests.