Fort William Henry Harrison
46°37'14.83"N 112° 6'1.44"W
1894 - Today

Postcard featuring Fort Harrison, published by Helena's A. P Curtin Co., circa 1900


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Located about four miles northwest of Helena, Fort William Henry Harrison was authorized by an act of Congress in 1892. The Fort was originally named Fort Benjamin Harrison in compliment to the then President. The name was changed in 1906 to eliminate duplication with a fort in Indiana.

The military reservation was acquired by donations through the efforts of Col. C.A. Broadwater (who owned the nearby Broadwater Hotel and Natatorium), the local Optimist Club, and interested private parties.

The Fort was built from 1894 to 1896. In 1895, a detachment of the Hospital Corps from Fort Assinboine south of Havre and several small military posts, which were scheduled to close in the Dakotas, began training at the post. The Montana National Guard began utilizing Fort Harrison for training in 1911, after abandoning Fort Ellis near Bozeman.



Fort Harrison, About 1910

 


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Soldiers' Quarters


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Soldiers' Quarters, Looking Southeast


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Soldiers' Quarters, Looking Northwest


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Fort Harrison Band Quarters, Bowling Alley and Post Exchange


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Post Exchange


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Rare Token from the Fort Harrison Post Exchange



"NCO Row" Housing, Early 1900s


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These buildings still stand on Middle Road, just northwest of the V. A. Hospital complex...

 


Fort Harrison Band


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Fort Harrison 14th Infantry Orchestra


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Sixth Infantry March, 1909

It is not known if the following three photographs of Fort Harrison troops show the August 1909 march, but they appear to be of that period, and the country shown could easily be on the route described in the Anaconda Standard piece...

Troops and Wagons on a Hillside Road


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Possibly what is now Chevallier Drive, northwest of Helena


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Riverside encampment


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Fort Harrison was abandoned in 1913 and left in the charge of a caretaker by the U.S. Army. The Montana National Guard occupied the Fort in September 1915, beginning the development of the military post we see today.

In June 1916, the Montana National Guard was notified by the War Department to mobilize to guard the U.S.- Mexican border. With the start of World War I, the Guard was again trained and mobilized in 1917 to protect major railroad and industrial facilities, until they could be dispatched to eastern camps and eventually overseas.


Montana National Guard Troops, about 1917


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Troops on Parade at Fort Harrison, circa 1917


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Troops Parading North on Main St., Spring of 1917
Taken from what is now known as the Iron Front Building


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After World War I, the fort became a Public Health Service hospital and eventually a Veterans Administration medical facility (No. 72). During its first years in that capacity, it was designated as a tuberculosis hospital and expanded to 300 beds. In 1925, the designation was changed to a general medical and surgical hospital.

For a time, there was trolley service between Helena and the fort, with a connecting line running north on Spring Street, in the Seymer Park Addition, between the Broadwater Hotel and the fort.

 

Montana National Guard Encampment, June 1927


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Fort Harrison Hospital, ca. 1928


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New Hospital, 1932
Bricks Were Made Just One Mile Away • Granite Quarried at Clancy

 

1932 Hospital - East Side


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The hospital was damaged by the 1935 earthquakes. It reopened in 1937.


1st Special Service Force Training, 1942-43

During the Second World War, the U.S. Army assumed control of Forth Harrison, and used it for very new and distinctive military units. These units included the 1st Special Service Force, the 474th Quartermaster Truck Regiment, and the War Dog Training Center (Camp Rimini).


First Special Service Force Shoulder Patch

The Devil's Brigade (also called The Black Devils and The Black Devils' Brigade), officially the 1st Special Service Force, was a joint World War II American-Canadian commando unit organized in 1942 and trained at, and in the vicinity of, Fort William Henry Harrison near Helena, Montana in the United States. The brigade fought in the Aleutian Islands, Italy, and southern France before being disbanded in December 1944. The modern American and Canadian Special Forces units trace their heritage to this unit.

 

1st Special Forces Ceremony at the Fort, 1943

 

On April 6 1943, the First Special Service Force paraded down Main St., on their way to the European front...


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Documentary Film "Devil's Brigade - To Helena and Back"

Documentary about the US-Canadian First Special Service Force in WW2. Specifically about many of the men that returned to live in Helena, Montana after the disbandment of the Force and the end of the war. Written, produced and directed by Ray Ekness.

 

 

"Devil's Brigade - To Helena and Back" - Part 2

 

 

"Devil's Brigade - To Helena and Back" - Part 3

 

 

Fort Harrison Hospital Buildings and Campus, 1940s


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Souvenir Ashtray, 1940s



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Souvenir Printed Silk Pillow Sham, 1940s


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Actor Robert Young Visits Fort Harrison, 1943

 

 

Aerial View of Fort Harrison, July 1947, Showing Wartime Configuration


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Machine Gun on Fixed Display at the Fort, 1940s


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This gun was on the south side of the circular drive which runs through the campus. Your editor remembers it from the mid-1950s

 

Early 1950s Hospital Complex Configuration


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The maze of white red-roofed frame buildings was dismantled beginning in 1961 to make way for construction of the present hospital. Some of the buildings were moved and put to other uses.

 

Veterans Bedside Radio Network Studio, 1950
PHOTOS FROM THE COLLECTION OF KENNON BAIRD


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Fort Harrison had one of 165 Bedside Radio Network "radio stations", which piped information and entertainment to the nation's Veterans Administration hospital wards. Along with the original programs produced in the hospitals, commercial broadcasts from outside were also provided. For more about how the system operated, please see the March 1954 Popular Mechanics Magazine article linked to below.

These photos of the Fort Harrison studio were taken in 1950; the nationwide service began in 1946.

 

Veterans of Foreign Wars Dignitaries in the Studio, 1950


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The man wearing the bow tie is VFW commander in chief Clyde A. Lewis, from Plattsburg, NY. The metal plaque on the front of the desk reads:

Donated by
Ladies V. F. W. Auxiliaries
Department of Montana
Record Cabinet, Announcers Desk 1948-1949
Filing case, Tape Recorder, Record Cabinet 1950

 


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Singer Nelson Eddy Visits Fort Harrison
Broadcasts Over Bedside Network, 1950

 

The Bedside Radio Network Story
Popular Mechanics Magazine, March 1954



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New Hospital and Other Upgrades


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Since 1947, the Fort has been used for training by numerous active and inactive combats, support and combat service support units. Numerous major improvements and increased training facilities were completed at Fort Harrison in 2001.

Fort Harrison is the site of the Montana State Veterans Cemetery, and the home of the Montana Military Museum.