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Fort Vancouver

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Entrance to the Fort Vancouver palisade (bobcat)
Settlement house, Fort Vancouver (bobcat)


This historic settlement was established at the beginning of 1825 under Hudson's Bay Company Chief Factor Dr. John McLoughlin. At that time, this was part of the Oregon Country, occupied jointly by the United States and Great Britain under an 1818 convention. British interests in the vast Columbia District were represented by the Hudson's Bay Company at this district headquarters. While furs were the raison d'être for the fort's establishment, Fort Vancouver was set up in the heart of a fertile plain and actually exported agricultural products to Mexican California, Hawaii, and Russia.

John McLoughlin resigned from the company in 1846 and moved south to found Oregon City. He had gained a reputation as a facilitator as large numbers of Americans migrants arrived via the Oregon Trail. Also in 1846, the Oregon Treaty divided the Columbia District at the 49th parallel and Fort Vancouver found itself on American territory. A U.S. Army barracks was established above the Fort and, during the Indian Wars in the West, famous future military leaders such as Ulysses Grant, George Crook, Philip Sheridan, and Benjamin Bonneville were stationed here. Before World War II, George Marshall commanded the 5th Infantry Brigade based here. Fort Vancouver became a national monument in 1949 and the last barracks occupied by army reserve units were turned over to the National Park Service in 2012.

There is a $5 admission charge to the palisade, which exhibits a reconstructed blacksmith shop, bakery, fur warehouse, and kitchen among other buildings. On summer weekends, there are often historical reenactments and volunteers dressed in period costumes. The farm garden outside displays food plants grown at the settlement over 1,400 acres of "prairie" farmland. To the west are reconstructions of wood homes lived in by families of Hudson's Bay Company employees.

Up the hill is the Fort Vancouver Visitor Center, where there’s a monument to the three Japanese fishermen who were the survivors of a cargo boat that set sail for Edo (Tokyo) in 1832 and drifted across the Pacific to be found by a coastal tribe. The free Visitor Center displays historical exhibits, including a valuable ceramics collection.

As a diversion here after visiting the fort, take the path that leads east from the fort entrance and walk to the Pearson Air Museum, which has free entry and is now run by the National Park Service. Outside the museum, there's a 1975 monument in Russian and English to the three Soviet airmen, including pilot Valery Chkalov, who flew over the North Pole in 1937 in an ANT-25. The headquarters of Pearson Field is here, with a sign commemorating the 321st Observation Squadron, 1923 - 1941, which mainly dealt with forest fires. The museum formerly displayed numerous privately-owned antique aircraft, but these were removed in 2013 following the termination of the museum trust's agreement with the National Park Service. Displays now focus on the history of aviation in the area.

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