Western Trips

Western Trips

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Officers Row / History of Fort Vancouver

officers row at fort vancouver
Ulysses S. Grant House on Officers Row
Our western road trip takes us to the beautiful American Northwest. The area of Oregon and Washington states is unsurpassed in it's natural beauty. If you have the opportunity to visit this part of the country whether on a vacation or for other purposes, you won't be disappointed. If you're also looking for historic sites, this is where you want to plan your American Northwest vacation. After all, it was this part of the country where the earliest of pioneer settlers journeyed to. The official end of the great Oregon Trail is found at Oregon City, just a few miles south of Portland. A mixture of great scenery and great history.

Officers Row

Straight across the Columbia River from Portland Oregon is Vancouver Washington. One of the popular sites at the old Fort Vancouver is "Officers Row". Officers Row is found on the northern boundary of Fort Vancouver. Officers Row consists of twenty-two restored nineteenth century homes. These homes cover an area of twenty-one acres just north of the Vancouver Barracks Parade Grounds and the Visitors Center. The homes are located on Officers Row street. These are beautiful homes and several are open to the public for tours. These include the Marshall House and Ulysses S. Grant House. We were fortunate to tour both. The Grant House has a very fine restaurant and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Patio dining is available weather permitting.

general george c marshall house
General George C. Marshall House
Fort Vancouver and the Hudson's Bay Company

The history of Fort Vancouver dates back to 1814 and the Hudson's Bay Company. Although the U.S. took possession of the region in 1846, the Hudson's Bay Company didn't officially leave the area until about 1860. The Hudson's Bay Company traded with the local Indians. The Hudson's Bay Company traded with goods sent to them directly from Britain. An interesting fact, according to historic information published by the National Park Service, was that when an order for goods to trade was sent to Britain, it could take up to two years for the order to be filled. Almost inconceivable when you consider that today's media mail takes about ten days. During the early 1800's all communications went by sea and that meant months. In those days there was no Panama Canal. Ships between the American west coast and Britain would travel either via Cape Horn or across the Pacific to the Indian Ocean and then on to the Atlantic Ocean.

Two additional Western Trips articles and photos you'll want to see are Historic Oregon City and Astoria Oregon, the old Pacific Fur Company fort at the mouth of the Columbia River.

general o o howard house at fort vancouver
General O.O. Howard House
The Many Names of Fort Vancouver

The United States Army eventually took over the fort and renamed it Columbia Barracks in 1849. In 1853 it was renamed Fort Vancouver and in 1879 was renamed again, this time to Vancouver Barracks. It also was referred to at one time as Camp Vancouver. It site remained an important military base for many years and it was said that a stint of duty at Vancouver Barracks was very good for one's military career. The homes on officers row were built in the 1800's. The Ulysses S. Grant House was built in 1849. Grant served as quartermaster at the fort from 1852 to 1853 and of course went on to become a U.S. President. The General George C. Marshall House was constructed in 1886. The general and his wife occupied the home from 1936 to 1938. Marshall served as Chief of Staff for the Army during World War Two.

Another interesting house is the General O.O. Howard House. The house was built in 1878 and was once considered the finest house north of the Columbia River. The house today is the headquarters of Fort Vancouver National Trust.General Howard was at one time the commander of the army's Department of the Columbia based at Vancouver.  He was also the founder of Howard University.

marshall house interior on officers row
Marshall House interior
Vancouver Barracks was the very first U.S. Army post in the Pacific Northwest. The base was important as a supply depot during the Civil War and also as a command headquarters during the Indian War years. Vancouver Barracks also went on to play a role during both World War One and World War Two.

During the First World War the base was the headquarters for the Army's Signal Corps' Spruce Production Unit. In 1925, the army constructed Pearson Field which gave it an early role in military aviation. You'll see Pearson Field along the south side of the Historic Site. Today, Pearson Field has the distinction of being the oldest operating airfield in the United States. During the 1930's, Vancouver Barracks was a district headquarters for the Civilian Conservation Corps. During the Second World War, Vancouver Barracks served as a training center and staging area for the Portland Subport of Embarkation.

Visit Officers Row

Officers Row is both a very historic place and today is also the home of area businesses. Several of the homes are leased to businesses. When you enter the 366 acre Fort Vancouver Historic Site you want to begin your tour at the Visitors Center. From there you can obtain a tour map of the entire fort area including the restored stockade fort south of Officers Row. The tour can be a walking experience or you can drive to several of the sites shown on the tour map. Ample parking is available. The Visitor Center address is 1501 E. Evergreen Blvd., Vancouver, WA.

(Photos are from author's private collection)
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