The Fort, an adobe restaurant just south of Morrison, was modeled on historic Bent’s Old Fort and built using traditional Hispano methods and materials. Designed by William Lumpkins, an architect internationally known for his work in the adobe and Pueblo Revival styles, the Fort served as a significant example for later adobe buildings, including the reconstruction of Bent’s Old Fort by the National Park Service in 1975–76.
Samuel and Betty Arnold built the Fort in 1962–63. After deciding to move from Denver to the foothills in 1959, they researched adobe designs and found two historic drawings of Bent’s Old Fort. The original Bent’s Fort, an important trading post on the Santa Fé Trail near La Junta from 1833 to 1849, was then in ruins. The Arnolds traveled to the site, measured what was left of the walls, and decided to model their house on the old fort’s design.
The Arnolds hired Lumpkins to design the building. Originally from New Mexico, Lumpkins played a leading role in the revival of adobe architecture in New Mexico and across the Southwest. He traveled to Colorado to inspect the Arnolds’ building site and to study the remains of the original Bent’s Fort. In early 1962 he completed a draft that modified the plan of Bent’s Old Fort to comply with modern building codes.
To construct the Fort, Samuel Arnold hired craftsmen from Taos, New Mexico, who had experience working with adobe. Starting in the spring of 1962, the team of Hispano workers began a massive adobe brick-making operation at the building site. Eventually more than 80,000 of these adobe bricks went into the Fort. Other Taos craftsmen carved wood for the interior.
When the cost of the building became overwhelming, the Arnolds decided to add a restaurant downstairs to make the Fort financially feasible. Construction of the building finished in early 1963, and the Fort restaurant opened in February of that year with a menu focusing on historic Western cuisine.
After the Fort opened, its design and construction methods influenced later adobe reconstructions. It even played a role in the rebuilding of its own model, Bent’s Old Fort, in 1975–76. By that time, the chief architect of the National Park Service, which managed the Bent’s Fort site, had visited the Fort in Morrison. He took extensive notes on the building, according to Samuel Arnold, and asked Arnold questions about its adobe bricks and construction techniques. When construction began on the new Bent’s Fort, workers used many of the same traditional methods that had gone into building the Fort. This was in marked contrast to earlier adobe reconstructions at Fort Vasquez and Fort Garland, which involved little archaeological testing and used different construction techniques.
In 1974 Samuel Arnold sold the Fort to Jack Krohn, who changed the interior layout, failed to maintain the building, and eventually allowed the property to fall into foreclosure. Arnold regained control of the Fort in 1986 with his second wife, Carrie Arnold. He began to emphasize the educational aspects of the Fort, and he also became known for his research into the culinary history of the American west. He accumulated more than 3,000 historical cookbooks, which he used to devise drinks and other dishes based on authentic nineteenth-century recipes.
The Fort Today
The Fort continues to operate as a western-themed restaurant today, more than fifty years after it opened, and has served locals and Denver visitors. Perhaps most famously, the restaurant played host to President Bill Clinton’s state dinner during the June 1997 G8 summit of world leaders in Denver.
Samuel Arnold’s daughter, Holly Arnold Kinney, spent part of her childhood at the Fort in the 1960s and returned in 1999 to become part-owner of the restaurant. After Samuel Arnold’s death in 2006, she took over full ownership and management of the Fort.
In 1999 Samuel Arnold and Holly Arnold Kinney partnered with Samuel Arnold’s sister, Dr. Mary Arnold, to launch the Tesoro Cultural Center, a nonprofit educational organization devoted to using public lectures and living history programs to introduce students and the community to the Bent’s Old Fort period of Colorado history. The Fort itself was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. It now hosts school tours and Tesoro Cultural Center events during the daytime and restaurant diners at night, fulfilling the Arnolds’ original vision for the building as a living history museum with a restaurant to pay expenses.