By MAUREEN ROSE
Gold Standard Acting Editor
“We shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us,” said Winston Churchill, prime minister of England during World War II.
A restoration project at Fort Knox of a 1940 building reinforces Churchill’s sentiments.
Fort Knox’s building 7050—like many others—was constructed in 1941 as a barracks to house the troops being added to the Army’s manpower in preparation for what was deemed an inevitable reality—entry into the war that was already being waged in Europe.
Although it was constructed as a temporary structure, building 7050, and the others like it on Fort Knox, were still in use by armor Soldiers training for World War II, Korea, or Vietnam. Most of the wooden barracks had fallen into disrepair and were being torn down in phases that began in the 1970s. However, the last of the white wooden barracks on Fort Knox, building 7050, was still used as a training site for urban clearing exercises, just weeks before the final demolition of the old wooden structures.
The remaining barracks will not suffer the same ignoble demise as its companions; it was moved seven miles across the post to the Patton Museum campus where it will be restored to its earlier configuration.
“The fact that it’s even standing is a testament to the good materials and good work ethic of those construction workers,” said retired Col. Mike Weaver, the restoration project manager and long-standing member of the board of directors for the Patton Museum Foundation.
Not only is it standing, but some of the building’s original interior remains. The stairway to the second floor was still intact; its steps were made of red oak, a particularly rugged and now hard-to-find hardwood.
“Those steps are now concave from the 40 plus years of traffic from thousands of combat boots worn by young Soldiers who traveled up and down those stairs,” Weaver said.
Even though they’ve worn thinner in the center, the red oak steps are still sturdy. The rest of the flooring in the barracks was white oak. All the flooring was stamped where it was manufactured—Corinth, Miss.,—and enough flooring planks were salvaged from other barracks of the same era to ensure that building 7050 will feature the historic oak flooring after the individual planks are restored with sanding and planing.
While the building was solid, the roof and other parts of the barracks didn’t fare so well.
Weaver said the leaky roof allowed damage to the rest of the building, so shingles, felting, insulation and all the drywall partitions had to be removed.
However, before any serious work could be done, lead paint abatement had to be applied and a safety inspection secured to allow workers to enter the building. Then a new roof was needed to ensure any further work wouldn’t be undone by more leaks. A professional contractor donated the shingles and another contractor provided the labor to install the shingles, while a third negotiated the inspection. Once those were accomplished, Weaver’s crew was ready to begin.
Much of the labor for the recent interior work was volunteered by Bluegrass ChalleNGe Academy cadets. Fourteen cadets provided more than 560 man-hours over a 10-day period.
“We took out 90 cubic yards of debris,” Weaver said, explaining that everyone wore masks to protect them from the dust and fine particulates.
Tearing down the interior partitions that had subdivided the formerly open bays, the work crew discovered a surprise. Tucked behind a wall were some well-preserved illustrations of the original barracks floor plan—dated May 1940—plus a diagram showing the proper arrangement for contents of a Soldier’s footlocker.
Drivers who pass Fort Knox on Highway 31W may notice the old building sitting near the museum.
“It might appear that nothing has been done (on the building), but 80 percent of the work will be on the inside of the barracks,” Weaver explained.
In spite of the work that essentially has gutted the interior, there’s still work to do. He said the windows, hardware, wood, subfloor as well as the flooring will all need to be replaced. In addition, furnishings—like cots and footlockers—are being sought to ensure the finished product will be historically accurate.
“The most important thing to remember is that no money is being spent by the Patton Museum or the Army on this project,” Weaver said. “All material has been donated and all labor has been volunteered.”
No completion goal has been established because so much depends on the availability of labor.
Although the building has an historic value, Weaver said whenever he speaks to local civic groups, he always encounters those who remember the old barracks.
“Either they lived in the barracks as a young trainee, or they had a relative who trained here,” Weaver added. “Some worked in the barracks, selling papers or shining shoes. One man told me that he made more money shining shoes in the barracks than his father had made during the depression. There are many connections and memories of the old barracks in this community.”
It would seem the barracks indeed shaped the lives of many living in the Fort Knox communities.
Anyone interested in helping or hearing more about the restoration project should contact Weaver at email@example.com or call him at (270) 307-8774.