FORT RIDGELY CLOSES
As the frontier moved westward, Fort Ridgely's importance declined. Troops were withdrawn on May 22, 1867, but the buildings and land remained the property of the federal government. Settlers pillaged the fort, carting off stone, wood, and other materials. Squatters turned the commissary into a barn, and even the massive stone barracks—more than 200 feet long and two stories high—was torn down. Ignoring the army's threats to remove them, the illegal homesteaders eventually petitioned the federal government for ownership of the lands they occupied. Legal title was granted in 1874.
The Minnesota Historical Society began archaeological excavations at Fort Ridgely in 1936. Eight building sites were uncovered, and visitors can now see the exposed stone foundations. Site excavations also revealed a long history of Indian occupation prior to the fort's construction. After the excavations were completed, the commissary was rebuilt and used as a museum and assembly hall.
Pillaging the Remains
On one day, no fewer than 100 teams were seen hauling away materials. According to The History of Renville County,
The settlers were all busily engaged picking out the particular material they desired, when word came that a government officer was approaching. One old settler says he never saw anyone move as quickly as did the men there in unloading their wagons and disappearing on the horizon.
Minnesota Historical Society