In its heyday, the fort that was Fort Oglethorpe boasted 1,600 buildings. Except for the barracks on Barnhardt Circle and a handful of buildings on Lafayette Road, most of the structures were torn down and their materials auctioned off when the fort was decommissioned for the last time in the late 1940s.
Among the structures that once dotted the military training grounds were small wood guard shacks. Just one of them remains. It now lives at The History Company on Lafayette Road in Fort Oglethorpe.
The History Company owner, Louis Varnell, tells the story of how he came to own Fort Oglethorpe’s last guard shack:
"This particular shack was at the gate to the POW compound. When the post closed after the war, the civilian employees were told if they wanted anything to take it. Well, one of them wanted the guard shack. He cut it in two, moved it across what is modern Battlefield Parkway and placed it behind his house as a shed. There it remained until a few years back when an insurance company said they wanted it torn down. Luckily, the family knew they had a unique piece of local history. We were able to get it moved, thanks to a contractor who donated his time and equipment."
Varnell bought the old McDonald’s building on Lafayette Road in 2012 and has remodeled and expanded it, closing in the former playground and giving the entire building an Old West look. The back part of the building houses the Southeast Veterans Museum that, says Varnell, "allows us to tell the story of America's military. Uniforms, helmets, vehicles, etc., are all part of what we use for interpretive programming in the museum."
Varnell’s Southeast Veterans Museum predates his business as a supplier of re-enacting supplies and military memorabilia and equipment by five years. "The museum was originally located downtown at Chattanooga Ducks." When Varnell opened The History Company in 2010 just south of Chickamauga Battlefield, he moved his museum to the new location. He moved it again, when he relocated to the north side of the Battlefield, where he is now.
The museum contains a number of items from Fort Oglethorpe’s days as a fort, including some bars from the fort’s jail that will soon be on display.
The old guard shack will become a part of the growing museum. "We’ve started the restoration on it," says Varnell. "Step one will be stripping and repainting the outside. Eventually, we’ll move it nearer the front door and plans are to restore the inside with an exhibit so people can see what it might have looked like back in the day. There’s a lot of work ahead, but the plan is for this old soldier to guard The History Company and help tell the story of our local installation back when Fort O was Fort Oglethorpe."
The Southeast Veterans Museum is supported by sales from Varnell’s store and by donations. Admission is free.
The History Company and Southeast Veterans Museum
2949 Lafayette Road, Fort Oglethorpe
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 5:30 p.m.
On Facebook: facebook.com/The-History-Company-125374650839879