The nationally significant Fort Yellowstone-Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District is in the northwestern portion of Yellowstone National Park on an old hot springs formation. The buildings on this plateau represent the first development of administrative and concession facilities in the park.
For the decade after 1872 when Yellowstone National Park was established, the park was under serious threat from those who would exploit, rather than protect, its resources. Poachers killed animals. Souvenir hunters broke large pieces off the geysers and hot springs. Developers set up camps for tourists, along with bath and laundry facilities at hot springs. Civilian superintendents were hired to preserve and protect this land from 1872 through 1886. The good intentions of these early administrators, however, were no match for their lack of experience, funds and manpower. Word got back to Congress that the park was in trouble and legislators refused to appropriate any funds for the park’s administration in 1886.
Yellowstone National Park turned to the U.S. Army for help. Invoking the Sundry Civil Act of 1883, the Secretary of the Interior called upon the Secretary of War for assistance in protecting the park. The Army came to the rescue and in 1886 men from Company M, First United States Cavalry, Fort Custer, Montana Territory under Captain Moses Harris came to Yellowstone to begin what would be more than 30 years of military presence in Yellowstone.
When Company M arrived in August 1886, they lived in temporary frame buildings at Camp Sheridan, established at the foot of the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces. After enduring five cold, harsh winters, the cavalry realized there was no end in sight to this assignment. Therefore, in 1890, Congress appropriated $50,000 for a permanent post. So the days of Fort Yellowstone began.
The first buildings of Fort Yellowstone were finished by late 1891. As more troops were needed, more buildings were constructed: officers’ quarters, guard house, headquarters, barracks for enlisted men, stables for their horses and non-commissioned officers’ quarters. In 1909, Scottish masons began constructing sandstone buildings here – among them the Albright Visitor Center (then the Bachelor Officers’ Quarters) and the administration building (then a two-troop barracks for 200 men). The Chapel, the final building constructed during the Army’s tenure, was also constructed of native sandstone. The stone from these buildings was obtained from a local quarry between the Gardner River and the Mammoth Campground.
In 1910, at the height of the Army’s presence in Yellowstone, there were 324 soldiers stationed here – plus some families and numerous civilian employees. These troops staffed not only Fort Yellowstone, but were stationed throughout the park in small details at various outposts.