United States Disciplinary Barracks

Project: Former United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth Military Post
Client: Various Architectural/Engineering Firms- BIBB & Associates, GLMV Architecture, and Yaeger Architecture
Services by Spencer Preservation: Preliminary Historic Assessment of USDB, Historic Survey Reports of seven USDB Buildings, and Historic Consulting services on six individual building rehabilitation projects
Date: 2005 – 2012

Fort Leavenworth is the oldest active Army post west of the Mississippi River founded by Colonel Henry Leavenworth in 1827 with the initial function of protecting trade routes and facilitating western expansion. 

By the mid-1870s, the missions of Fort Leavenworth changed as the focus of the Plains Campaigns shifted farther to the west.  The establishment of a central U.S. Army prison at Fort Leavenworth in 1874 is an important component of the national significance of the post, interpreting the U. S. Army’s noteworthy late-nineteenth-century efforts to consolidate missions and installations following a period of westward expansion.  The facility also reflected a significant change in the army’s treatment and care of prisoners which mirrored trends in prison reform that began in the mid-nineteenth century and continued into the early decades of the twentieth century. 

The historic USDB complex is located on the northeast corner of Fort Leavenworth, north of the Main Parade Grounds.  The 12 ½ acre walled prison complex included 26 buildings dating from 1840 to 1972.  The wall surrounding the complex, parts of which were constructed of native stone quarried by fort prisoners, and later of concrete block, varies in height from 15 to 41 feet.

The majority of buildings built for the prison date to the late-19th and early-20th centuries.  Included in the existing buildings are three of the original Quartermaster Depot buildings that were converted for prison use in 1874-75.

The majority of buildings built for the prison date to the late-19th and early-20th centuries.  Included in the existing buildings are three of the original Quartermaster Depot buildings that were converted for prison use in 1874-75.  The radial cell house, the main prisoner domicile known as the Castle, was constructed between 1909 and 1921.  It was demolished following relocation of the prison to the new facility in 2002. 

Following a diversion for use as a civilian prison (1926-1940), the United States Disciplinary Barracks was reestablished in November 1940 and continually served as a maximum-security disciplinary barracks for Army and Air Force personnel until 2002.  A new USBD facility was completed at Fort Leavenworth in 2002, bringing to a close the one hundred and thirty-year history of Fort Leavenworth’s original military prison.

In 2007 an assessment was conducted to evaluate the condition and historic integrity of the remaining buildings and their potential for reuse to meet the need for classroom and administrative space on base.  Spencer Preservation participated on the design team for rehabilitation of six of the historic USDB buildings to date, projects funded by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and/or Fort Leavenworth.  The scope of work for the building rehabilitations generally involved converting the vacant, mothballed buildings to classroom and/or administrative use.  The design team is typically charged with the task of balancing the user needs and varying project requirements while retaining and preserving those materials, features, finishes, spaces, and spatial relationships that, together, portrayed the property’s historic character.  This task is more challenging with military projects when buildings are required to meet anti-terrorism/force-protection guidelines, strict federal energy mandates, and military requirements such as proscriptive functional standards that are designed for new construction.   

Since 2007, six of the buildings have undergone complete rehabilitation and now contribute to a campus setting that houses classroom and administrative space for the Civilian Education System and other educational and training functions.  In addition to the rehabilitation of individual buildings for specific education and administrative functions, the improvements have included construction of a parking lot to serve the campus functions, opening of “The 12th Brick” a restaurant catering to the influx of students and workers in this area of the post, and rehabilitation of the central green space that includes interpretive plaques that share the buildings’ histories and a new monument that features a ghost image of the former “castle.”

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