Fort Vancouver National Historic Site's military and commercial roots date back to 1824, but 163 years of U. S. Army activities at the post have come to an end with the transfer of the East and South Vancouver Barracks to the National Park Service.
The fort's story began with a British component in 1824, when the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) established a fur trading post and supply depot at the site. The post became the company's headquarters and principal supply depot for operations west of the Rocky Mountains, and during the 1830s and 1840s, Fort Vancouver was the largest Euroamerican settlement in the Pacific Northwest.
A Long History with the U. S. Army
In 1846 a treaty between Great Britain and the United States established the northernmost boundary of the United States at the 49th parallel, placing Fort Vancouver in U.S. territory. The U.S. Army established a post at the site in1849 to defend settlement of the Oregon Territory, and a military presence continued until 2011. Over the years, the post was known by several names: including Camp Vancouver (1849-1850), Columbia Barracks (1850-1853), Fort Vancouver (1853-1879), and finally Vancouver Barracks (1879 to present).
The NPS entered the scene in 1948, when Congress established Fort Vancouver National Monument, to "preserve as a national monument the site of the original HBC stockade (of Fort Vancouver) and sufficient surrounding land to preserve the historical features of the area." The new park was adjacent to but didn't include the East and South Vancouver Barracks, which continued under Army ownership.
In 1961 the park was re-designated as a national historic site, and the authorized boundary was expanded by 130 acres to include the East and South Barracks and other adjacent parcels. That brought the total acreage within the authorized boundary to about 209 acres, but the Army retained control and use of a number of structures within the area, including the Barracks.
The "Post to Park" Transition
As a result of recommendations by the Department of Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission, the Army has now ceased its operations at Fort Vancouver and relinquished ownership of the East and South Barracks to the NPS. The transfer was formally recognized in a day-long "Post to Park" event on May 28, 2012.
The end result for the park is a significant increase in responsibility for an additional 33 acres of land with a variety of cultural and natural resources.
"Caretaking" Gets Underway
One of the first steps for the park in its expanded role is what's dubbed "caretaking" procedures for the historic buildings. The goal of the projects underway this summer is to "preserve and protect the historic buildings and landscape of East and South Vancouver Barracks."
"The first order of business is to preserve and protect these wonderful assets that have been placed in our trust from further damage while at the same time laying the groundwork to actively begin the longer process of rehabilitation and occupancy," explained Ray Cozby, project manager. "It is a privilege to be part of this exciting project which ultimately will bring a new, incredible vibrancy to this national park." So, what is "caretaking"? According to a park spokesperson, the process "includes both temporary and permanent measures aimed at preserving this recent addition to the National Park System
First Steps in a Long Process
Employees from a local construction company have been implementing several temporary changes aimed at historic building preservation and ensuring building security, including plexiglass window coverings, color-coordinated door covers, and site-wide lighting repairs."
"This work helps begin to bring the vision for the East and South barracks to life," said Tracy Fortmann, park superintendent," as it protects and preserves the buildings and landscapes for future use, as necessary infrastructure work is developed to move forward the public vision for the site as described in the master plan."
"Since at least the 1980s, it has been recognized that temporary measures to care for buildings are crucial for their preservation," said Doug Wilson, Archaeologist and Director of the Northwest Cultural Resources Institute. "The National Park Service, with the assistance of the U.S. Army, has documented the architectural and historical significance of the buildings and their condition, has secured them to prevent damage from vandals and natural disasters, and is providing adequate ventilation to the building interiors to prevent damage from moisture," Wilson continued. "The efforts of many talented professionals will ensure that these structures and the grounds around them will be preserved while the upgrades to utilities and infrastructure are made."
More to Come
Permanent improvements and caretaking measures will also take place in upcoming months, including design work to upgrade the road system and aging utility infrastructure, painting of buildings, and grounds and landscape improvements.
Concurrent with this work, the park is involved in a planning process for future use of the newly acquired land and structures, and a draft Master Plan and Environmental Assessment for the East and South Vancouver Barracks has been completed. If you're interested in what lies ahead for the newly acquired property, you'll find copies of those documents and other planning information for the park at this link.
Information to help plan a visit to Fort Vancouver National Historic Site is available on the park website.