Fort Lancaster has to be one of the coolest places we stopped at during our 2016 Road Trip. It is in the middle of nowhere but well worth the detour and stop. You can choose to either walk the grounds or take one of the golf carts that they have available for use. We chose the golf cart =).
Don’t expect to see fully intact buildings as most of it is just ruins, however, there are a couple where there is enough intact that you can definitely imagine what it looked like.
Fort Lancaster History
Fort Lancaster Historic Site is an 82-acre site that is the remnants of one of four posts along the Western Texas frontier erected to protect the overland mail route. Established in 1855 as Camp Lancaster it had 25 permanent buildings including officer’s quarters, barracks, a blacksmith shop, hospital, sutler’s store and bakery.
On August 21, 1856 it became a permanent infantry fort. The original structures were temporary structures with canvas roofs, however, by 1860, most of the buildings were reconstructed with local stone and adobe brick.
Fort Lancaster was one of the most isolated posts in Texas. The only civilian contact was a sutler and a stage stop for mail. Soldiers were in charge of maintaining the post and patrolling and protecting the road.
During the Civil War, the U.S. government relinquished the fort and confederate troops occupied Fort Lancaster until 1862.
In 1867, Fort Lancaster was reoccupied by the U.S. Army as a sub-station to Fort Stockton. During December of that same year, the 9th Calvary defended the post (successfully) against a much larger force of Kickapoo and Lipan Apache Indians. Fort Lancaster is the only Texas military fort that sustained a direct attack against Native Americans.
In 1874, Fort Lancaster was abandoned for good and most of the buildings were dismantled for use of nearby buildings in nearby Sheffield.
Fun Fact: Unlike most forts that get their name from officer’s who have died during a battle, Fort Lancaster was named after Job Roberts Hamilton Lancaster. Lieutenant Lancaster was killed in Florida by a bolt of lightning while returning from a scouting mission along the Crystal River.
There are a total of 14 building ruins to visit which include the Commanding Officer’s Quarters, Officer’s Quarters, Cemetery, Hospital, Commissary, Sutler Store, Lime Kiln, Company K Enlisted Men’s Barracks, Company H Enlisted Men’s Barracks, Kitchen & Mess Hall, Laundresses’ Quarters, Quartermaster’s Storehouse, Granary, & Corral, Guardhouse, and Bakery.
You can still see wagon ruts, where wagons once traveled down to Fort Lancaster if you are traveling up Lancaster Hill on Highway 290 and look to the west.
Fort Lancaster is a State Archaeological Landmark and listed in the National Register of Historic Places. According to the Texas Historical Commission website, archaeological excavations from 1966 and 1971 yielded the discovery of artifacts indicating that prehistoric Native Americans lived at the site around 1,000–8,000 years ago.
Our Thoughts & Tips
Stop at the overlook. If you are coming in from the east side of the fort (the road to get to the fort is actually a loop) there is an overlook. It’s absolutely stunning! The overlook is also a great place to sit and each lunch as well!
Take your time and visit the inside museum as well (included with admission) before heading outside to the fort grounds. You will learn a wealth of information about the Fort and Western Texas frontier life that will help you put everything into perspective when visiting the ruins.
Bring Water. If touring the grounds by foot, it’s great exercise, however, bring plenty of water especially during the hotter months. Otherwise, take one of the golf carts (free).
There is a small gift shop, support the Fort by buying something. I mean who doesn’t want souvenirs from their trip!?
Our Thoughts: This truly was one of our favorite forts that we visited. Even though it is just ruins, you really are able to imagine what life would be like back then as a soldier stationed at this fort. When we visited we had the entire grounds to ourselves for the two hours we were there! We loved the old wagon that they had on display for photo ops (yes you can get in the wagon)!
Fort Lancaster Information
Address: 629 Fort Lancaster Rd. Sheffield, TX 79781
Adult Group Tour: $3
Ages 6-18: $3 per person
5 and under: free
School Groups*: $1 per student
*Reservations required for group tours.