After leaving Charleston, there was one place I really wanted to visit, which I thought would look neat in the thick fog that was still hanging around. That place was Ft. Chaffee, which is still used by the Arkansas National Guard but was once a large army base. It was established just before the start of World War II as a training facility for soldiers and also as a POW camp, housing about 3,000 German soldiers. In 1958, the fort was the temporary home of Elvis Presley, who had his first army haircut there.
The main part of the base that you would always see from the road was the huge number of army barracks - you'd pass by rows and rows of old barracks and buildings while driving toward Fort Smith. In the 1990's, the government gave the base to the state, which declared the old barracks and land to be excess property. They had been sitting empty since World War II, used occasionally as processing centers for Korean and Cuban refugees. The old buildings were also used as the backdrop for the movie Biloxi Blues, which was filmed there.
All of the old buildings are slated to be demolished, but that has been delayed since they contain asbestos and lead paint. The land they sit on is now a redevelopment district, with a proposed freeway near the old base. A large fire last year destoyed a lot of the old buildings, about 150, and is thought to have been caused by high winds knocking down a power line. The high winds carried the flames from building to building, and now all that remains of them are brick chimneys. Luckily, the building where Elvis got his haircut did survive the flames, but a good number of the old barracks are gone.
With the desire to develop this land for commercial purposes, the future of the rest of the base is in doubt. I'd love to see the state step in and preserve some of the buildings as some sort of museum, preserving just a bit of what remains. It'd be a shame to lose these great historical buildings so they can only be replaced with strip malls and gas stations in the name of "progess."
But anyways, the fog that morning was still thick, which gave the ghostly ruins of the burned and still-standing buildings an eerie look. The overgrown grass had a sheen of frost on them. Looking at the charred chimneys and old buildings, it felt more like I was taking pictures of Dresden during World War II or Atlanta after the Civil War instead of an old army base in Arkansas.
The old buildings that still stand are fenced off with signs saying something like "hazardous material, do not enter." I was tempted to jump the fence to get some pictures inside the buildings, but thought I could get in trouble for it, since it's still next to an army area.
These were taken at the edge of the base, near some buildings that had been rennovated and converted to commercial use. They housed a few random buisnesses, like a pest control company and even a massage place. As I was out there taking pictures, a large dog let it be known that it did not like me being there. It barked loudly and started to get walk closer. But as it got close, it decided I wasn't a threat and that I was its new best friend. It tried to jump up and lick my face. After that it stood nearby on guard duty, wagging his tail and happy to next to a new friend who would tell him it was a "good dog" and pat it on the back.
The cold icy weather left some frost on all the plants out there. This tree branch was covered in frost.
The ruins of Fort Chaffee still stand, but who knows for how much longer. I hope that the remaining buildings here will be preserved somehow. It is a shame that we allow so many of our historic buildings to be torn down and destroyed, only to replaced with parking lots and empty fields. The soldiers and heroes who lived and trained here deserve better than that.