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Originally published Tuesday, March 17, 2009 at 12:59 PM

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Restoration of post trader's house proceeds at Fort Steele

In 2005, the post trader's house at the Fort Fred Steele Historic Site was crumbling and open to the elements.

The Rawlins Daily Times

RAWLINS, Wyo. —

In 2005, the post trader's house at the Fort Fred Steele Historic Site was crumbling and open to the elements.

Now, it has a roof, new walls, a hardwood floor, windows and heat, all very welcome for the men working in it on a cold, blustery March day.

The difference in the tumbledown wreck of the "before" building and the interpretive center that'll be ready for use in May are downright amazing.

Fort Steele Superintendent Steve Horn said "we have heat and we have lights. It's not the building it used to be."

What used to be called the Chatterton House is now the post trader's house. Horn said, "It's being turned into an interpretive center that'll become the main focal point of the site" after work is finished in May.

Horn hopes to have the post trader's house ready to open to the public by May 1, when Fort Steele reopens for the summer, but he'd be satisfied if it's ready by Memorial Day.

"I hope the post trader's house will help pull more people off the freeway," Horn said. "We're trying to give tourists a little more reason to hang around this area."

Horn and Assistant Superintendent Gary McFerrin have been working for two years to build a shell within three of the four rooms of the old post trader's house. Those rooms are to become an interpretive center for the fort, which was built in 1868 and used through 1886.

"We essentially built a building within a building because the (existing) structure wasn't strong enough to hold a roof," Horn said.

They first hired a Salt Lake City firm to stabilize the crumbling concrete of the house with a glasslike liquid that is absorbed and prevents the concrete from crumbling any more.

A fire destroyed the floor and roof of the house long ago. Horn said the old-fashioned concrete made of round cobbles crumbles so easily that it flaked off at a touch before it was stabilized.

Horn and McFerrin did the rest of the work themselves with some help from work crews from other Wyoming state parks.

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They are restoring the three rooms that were the most complete, but leaving the main room unrestored so visitors can get a feel for the condition of the structure before reconstruction. This main room, with its interesting fireplace and coal chute, are to be left accessible to the public for exploration.

To help with the interpretation, some of the original structure is being left visible inside the center, including doorways and a section of original stucco wall with a huge nail in it. Horn said these areas give visitors a sense of the building's construction. They'll be enclosed in plastic panels to protect them.

The trader's house continued to be used for supplying the tiny town of Fort Steele, which was the landing site for ties floated down the North Platte River from the mountains and a small stop on the Lincoln Highway, until the community faded away in the 1940s.

___

Information from: Rawlins Daily Times

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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