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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Fort Vancouver, Washington ... History"
Includes ... Fort Vancouver History ...
Image, 2006, Palisades and Bastion, Fort Vancouver, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Fort Vancouver, Washington. Image taken August 27, 2006.


Fort Vancouver ... History ...
Fort Vancouver was established in 1825 by the Hudson's Bay Company, at Jolie Prairie, part of the floodplain of the Columbia River. Fearing Indian attacks, the Fort was first built away from the Columbia, on the bluff overlooking the river. Today this is the location of the Washington School for the Deaf, located at the intersection of Evergreen Boulevard and Grand Avenue.

Simpson's early correspondence refers to Jolie Prairie as "Belle Vue Point" apparently in the mistaken belief it was the same point of land named by Lieutenant Broughton of the British navy, when he surveyed the river in 1792. Broughton's "Belle Vue Point" is located downstream on the eastern tip of Sauvie Island.

In 1829 the Hudson's Bay Company moved the Fort to a lower location, known as "Jolie Prairie".

"... In 1829, with no significant threat materializing from the Chinook, the initial palisade was abandoned and a new site for the palisade was selected on the river plain known as Jolie Prairie and later as Fort Plain. Driving the move was the decision by HBC Governor George Simpson to make Fort Vancouver the headquarters for the HBC Columbia Department. The Fort Plain site provided open land with rich soils suitable for cultivated fields and pasture, close to the river for access to fresh water and transportation, but above the flood zone. The dense conifer forest to the west and north provided a ready supply of timber, while the freshwater pond near the shore became the nexus for building and other industrial activities. Six miles to the east, streams provided a power source for the first grist and saw mills in the Pacific Northwest. ... At the height of its development on Fort Plain, 1844-1846, Fort Vancouver included the palisade at its core, with other landscape features radiating out from this center. Cultivated fields, with prairie or pasture beyond, surrounded the palisade to the south, southeast, east and northeast. Directly north and west of the palisade were extensive gardens and orchards. Further to the west and southwest extended the employee village (Village), also known as Kanaka or Company Village, where numerous small dwellings and outbuildings housed the Company's employees. ..." [U.S. National Park Service website, 2005, Fort Vancouver]

This second Fort became the headquarters and principal supply depot for the Hudson Bay Company's "Department of the Columbia" and the center for the Northwest fur trade. It also became the western terminus of the Oregon Trail. The freshwater ponds have long since disappeared and the location of the sawmill is now the location of the Vancouver Trout Hatchery.

In 1849 the Hudson's Bay Company transfered its headquarters from Fort Vancouver north to Fort Victoria in Canada, leaving behind a small contingent of men. A U.S. Army post was established in May 1849 next to the Hudson Bay Company "fort". This new Army Post was called "Columbia Barracks" until 1853 when it was renamed "Fort Vancouver". In 1879 the Army Post was again renamed, this time to "Vancouver Barracks".

In June 1860 the British totally abandoned the Fort Vancouver and moved, leaving the fort and village to the Americans. The Army occupied some of the buildings, but fire destroyed all visible traces of the establishment by 1866.

Between 1933 to 1942, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) used the Kanaka Village area of Fort Vancouver as a regional training facility and headquarters. The CCC was responsible for many regional public works projects, such as Timberline Lodge at Mount Hood and many improvements along Oregon's Columbia River Highway, today known as the Historic Columbia River Highway.

In 1966 Fort Vancouver National Historic Site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (Site - #66000370).

Today Fort Vancouver is a National Historic Site and part of the Vancouver National Historic Reserve. Archaeological digs and Fort restoration have taken place, allowing the public to "see" again the Fort.


[More Images]


Image, 2006, Fort Vancouver, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Fort Vancouver, Washington. Image taken August 27, 2006.


More ...


History ... Journals and Notes

  • 1825 to 1828 ...
  • 1829 ...
  • 1835 ...
  • 1836 ...
  • 1841 ...
  • 1845 ...
  • 1845 and 1846 ...
  • Other Forts ...


1825 to 1828 ...
Between 1825 and 1828 Fort Vancouver was located "about three-quarters of a mile from the river on the edge of a terrace", 60 feet above the floodplain of the Columbia River. Today this is the location of the Washington School for the Deaf, located at the intersection of Evergreen Boulevard and Grand Avenue.

In 1841, Charles Wilkes of the U.S. Exploring Expedition wrote about the location of the First Fort Vancouver:

"... In one of our rides we visited the site of the first fort at Vancouver: it is less than a mile from the present position, and is just on the brow of the upper prairie. The view from this place is truly beautiful: the noble river can be traced in all its windings, for a long distance through the cultivated prairie, with its groves and clumps of trees; beyond, the eye sweeps over an interminable forest, melting into a blue haze, from which Mount Hood, capped with its eternal snows, rises in great beauty. The tints of purple which appear in the atmosphere, are, so far as I am aware, peculiar to this country. This site was abandoned, in consequence of the difficulty of obtaining water, and its distance from the river, which compelled them to transport every article up a high and rugged road. The latter difficulty was encountered in the first location on the upper prairie, because it was said that the lower one was occasionally flooded; but altho this may have happened formerly, it is not found to occur at present. ..."
Fort Vancouver was established in 1825 at Jolie Prairie, part of the floodplain of the Columbia River. Simpson's early correspondence refers to Jolie Prairie as "Belle Vue Point" apparently in the mistaken belief it was the same point of land named by Lieutenant Broughton of the British navy, when he surveyed the river in 1792. Broughton's "Belle Vue Point" is located downstream on the eastern tip of Sauvie Island.

The U.S. National Park Service website on Fort Vancouver (2005) gives a description of the early development of Fort Vancouver.

"... The site of Fort Vancouver, called Jolie Prairie, was located near a Chinook Indian village named Ske-chew-twa that was located on the site of the W.W.I. Kaiser Shipyards. Jolie Prairie was later named Fort Plain by the Hudson's Bay Company, and became the core of Fort Vancouver. The first stockade, which operated between 1825 and 1828, was located about three quarters of a mile from the river on the edge of a terrace. This location, sixty feet above the low-lying river plain, offered protection from floods and served as a strategic defensive position from the undetermined threat of native Chinook Indians. The naturally occurring plain provided open land for agriculture, and grass for livestock pasture. The coniferous forests surrounding the plains provided a ready supply of timber for fuel and building materials. The streams on Mill Plain, six miles east of Fort Plain, provided a power source for both a grist mill and a saw mill. ... At its height, development at Fort Vancouver was located in three large prairies called Fort Plain, Lower Plain and Mill Plain, and five smaller prairies to the northeast called the Back Plains (First Plain, Second Plain, Third Plain, Fourth Plain, Fifth Plain and Camas Plain). ..."

A nice description of the Fort can be found in the History of the Pacific Northwest, Oregon and Washington (1889, Vol.1):

"... Fort Vancouver (the site of the present city of Vancouver, and the United States military depot) was established in 1824 by Dr. John McLoughlin, manager of the Hudson's Bay Company trade on the Pacific coast. The post was inclosed in a stockade, two hundred yards by one hundred and seventy-five yards, defended by bastions at the southeast and northwest angles, on which bastions were mounted heavy guns. In the inclosure were the residence of the chief executive officer, two buildings occupied by clerks, a row of buildings for residences of families, five large two-story houses, with a number of offices. The original site stood upon high ground a half mile back from the river. Outside was a huge warehouse, and a salmon house on the banks of the Columbia river. Near the fort was a village of cabins affording dwellings to numerous Kanakas, Canadians and servants of the company. A grist-mill was erected in 1836, and the company also established a saw-mill, which was prevented from running at high stages of water. Several tracts of land were occupied and cultivated by servants. Fort Vancouver was the headquarters of the Columbia district, which included all the territory west of the Rocky Mountains. The returns from all the posts in Oregon were made to this point; and from here all accounts were transmitted for settlement. The chief factors were located at this post, and a very large business was transacted. ..."

Image, 2006, The First Fort Vancouver, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Sign, The First Fort Vancouver, Washington. The first Fort Vancouver was located at the location of today's Washington State School for the Deaf. Image taken March 12, 2006.


1829 ...
In 1829 the Hudson's Bay Company moved the Fort to a lower location, known as "Jolie Prairie".

"... In 1829, with no significant threat materializing from the Chinook, the initial palisade was abandoned and a new site for the palisade was selected on the river plain known as Jolie Prairie and later as Fort Plain. Driving the move was the decision by HBC Governor George Simpson to make Fort Vancouver the headquarters for the HBC Columbia Department. The Fort Plain site provided open land with rich soils suitable for cultivated fields and pasture, close to the river for access to fresh water and transportation, but above the flood zone. The dense conifer forest to the west and north provided a ready supply of timber, while the freshwater pond near the shore became the nexus for building and other industrial activities. Six miles to the east, streams provided a power source for the first grist and saw mills in the Pacific Northwest. ... At the height of its development on Fort Plain, 1844-1846, Fort Vancouver included the palisade at its core, with other landscape features radiating out from this center. Cultivated fields, with prairie or pasture beyond, surrounded the palisade to the south, southeast, east and northeast. Directly north and west of the palisade were extensive gardens and orchards. Further to the west and southwest extended the employee village (Village), also known as Kanaka or Company Village, where numerous small dwellings and outbuildings housed the Company's employees. ..." [U.S. National Park Service website, 2005, Fort Vancouver]

This second Fort became the headquarters and principal supply depot for the Hudson Bay Company's "Department of the Columbia" and the center for the Northwest fur trade. It also became the western terminus of the Oregon Trail. The freshwater ponds have long since disappeared and the location of the sawmill is now the location of the Vancouver Trout Hatchery.


1835 ...
From the "History of Clarke County Washington Territory.", Published by The Washington Publishing Company, 1885:

"... OREGON IN 1835. Fort Vancouver on the Columbia, under charge of Dr. John McLaughlin, was established in 1824, and consisted of an inclosure by stockade, thirty-seven rods long by eighteen wide, that faced to the south. About one hundred persons were employed at the place, and some three hundred Indians lived in the immediate vicinity. There were eight, substantial buildings within the stockade, and a large number of small ones on the outside. There were 459 cattle, 100 horses, 200 sheep, 40 goats and 300 hogs belonging to the company at this place; and, during the season of 1835, the crops produced in that vicinity amounted to 5,000 bushels of wheat, 1,300 bushels of potatoes, 1,000 bushels of barley, 1,000 bushels of oats, 2,000 bushels of peas, and garden vegetables in proportion. The garden containing five acres, besides its vegetable products, included apples, peaches, grapes and strawberries. A grist mill, with machinery propelled by oxen, was kept in constant use, while some six miles up the Columbia, was a saw mill containing several saws, which supplied lumber for the Hudson's Bay Company. Within the fort was a bakery employing three men, also shops for blacksmith, joiners, carpenters and a tinner. ..."

Rev. Samuel Parker (published 1838) wrote about the Fort Vancouver of 1835.

"... In the year 1835, at this post, there were four hundred and fifty neat cattle, one hundred horses, two hundred sheep, forty goats, and three hundred hogs. They had raised the same year five thousand bushels of wheat, of the best quality I ever saw; one thousand three hundred bushels of potatoes; one thousand of barley, one thousand of oats, two thousand of peas, and a large variety of garden vegetables.. This estimate does not include the horses, horned cattle, &c. and produce raised at other stations. ..."

1836 ...
William Henry Gray (published in 1870) wrote about the Fort Vancouver of 1836:

"... Fort Vancouver was a stockade, built with fir-logs about ten inches in diameter, set some four feet in the ground, and about twenty feet above, secured by pices of timber pinned on the inside, running diagonally around the entire stockade, which at the time covered or inclosed about two acres of ground. The old fort, as it was called, was so much decayed that the new one was then being built, and portions of the old one replaced. The storehouses were all built of hewn timber, about six inches thick, and covered with sawed boards one foot wide and one inch thick, with grooves in the edges of the boards, placed up and down upon the roof, in place of shingles; of course, in case of a knot-hole or a crack, it was a lieaky concern. All the houses were covered with boards in a similar manner in the new quarters. The partitions were all upright boards planed, and the cracks battened; floors were mostly rough boards, except the office and the governor's house, which were planed. The parsonage was what might be called of the balloon order, covered like the rest, with a big mud and stone chimney in the center. The partitions and floors were rough boards. There were but two rooms, the one used for dining-room and kitchen, the other for bedroom and parlor. The doors and gates of the fort, or stockade, were all locked from the inside, and a guard stationed over the gate. In front of the governor's house was a half semicircle double stairway, leading to the main hall up a flight of some ten steps. In the center of the semicircle was one large 24-pound cannon, mounted on a ship's carriage, and on either side was a small cannon, or mortar gun, with balls piled in order about them, all pointing to the main gate entrance; latterly, to protect the fort from the savages that had commenced coming over the Rocky Mountains, a bastion was built, said to be for saluting her Majesty's hips when they might arrive, or depart from the country. ..." [W.H. Gray, 1870]

1841 ...
In 1841 Charles Wilkes of the U.S. Exploring Expedition wrote:

"... We came in at the back part of the village, which consists of about fifty comfortable log houses, placed in regular order on each side of the road. They are inhabited by the Company's servants, and were swarming with children, whites, half-breeds, and pure Indians. The fort stands at some distance beyond the village, and to the eye appears like an upright wall of pickets, twenty-five feet high: this encloses the houses, shops, and magazines of the Company. The enclosure contains about four acres, which appear to be under full cultivation. Beyond the fort, large granaries were to be seen. At one end is Dr. M'Laughlin's house, built after the model of the French Canadian, of one story, weather-boarded and painted white. It has a piazza and small flower-beds, with grape and other vines, in front. Between the steps are two old cannons on sea-carriages, with a few shot, to spead defiance to the natives, who no doubt look upon them as very formidable weapons of destruction. I mention these, as they are the only warlike instruments to my knowledge that are within the pickets of Vancouver, which differs from all the other forts in having no bastions, galleries, or loop-holes. Near by are the rooms for the clerks and visiters, with the blacksmiths' and coopers' shops. In the centre stands the Roman Catholic chapel, and near by the flag-staff; beyond these again are the stores, magazines of powder, warerooms, and offices. ..."

1845 ...
Joel Palmer visited Fort Vancouver in December 1845:

"... From Fort Vancouver, for several miles down upon the north side, the country is sufficiently level to make good farming land; and the Hudson's Bay Company, or members of the company, have extensive farms, with large herds of cattle. Fort Vancouver is one of the most beautiful sites for a town upon the Columbia. It is about ninety miles from the ocean, and upon the north side of the river. Large vessels can come up this far. The banks of the river are here about twenty-five feet high. Much of the bottom land about the fort is inclined to be gravelly, but produces well. ..."

"... the fort stands upon the north bank of the Columbia, six miles above the upper mouth of the Willamette, and about four hundred yards from the shore. The principal buildings are included within a stockade of logs, set up endwise close together, and about twelve feet high; the lower ends of the timbers being sunk about four feet in the ground. A notch is cut out of each log near the top and bottom, into which a girth is fitted, and mortised into a large log at each end, the whole being trenailed to this girth. I judge the area contains about four acres. The first thing that strikes a person forcibly upon entering one of the principal gates upon the south, is two large cannons, planted one upon either side of the walk leading to the Governor's house, immediately in front of the entrance. Many of the buildings are large and commodious, and fitted up for an extensive business, others are old fashioned looking concerns, and much dilapidated. East of the fort and along the river bank there is a grassy prairie, extending up for about three miles; it has been cultivated, but an unusually high freshet in the river washed the fence away, and it has since remained without cultivation. The soil is gravelly. North of this, and extending down nearly even with the fort there is a handsome farm, under good cultivation. North of the fort there is a beautiful orchard, and an extensive garden, with several large blocks of buildings. Below the fort, and extending from the river for half a mile north, is the village; the inhabitants of which are a mongrel race, consisting of English, French, Canadians, Indians of different nations, and half breeds, all employ of the company. The buildings are as various in form, as are the characteristics of their inmates. ..."


1845 and 1846 ...
Artist Paul Kane was at Fort Vancouver in December 1846 and January 1847. He wrote about the fort in his Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North Amercia (1859):

"... Fort Vancouver, the Indian name of which is Katchutequa, or 'the Plain', is the largest post in the Hudson's Bay Company's dominions, and has usually two chief factors, with eight or ten clerks and 200 voyageurs, residing there. ... "


Other Forts ...
Other forts along the Columbia River, most affiliated with or associated with the Hudson's Bay Company or Vancouver Barracks:

  • Fort Astoria, at Astoria, Oregon, was the first Hudson's Bay settlement. A small reproduction bastion marks its location in today's downtown Astoria.
  • Fort Canby, near Ilwaco, Washington, was established as Fort Cape Disappointment, and renamed to Fort Canby in 1875. Along with Fort Stevens, Oregon, Fort Canby was built to guard the Columbia River during the Civil War.
  • Fort Cascades was completed in 1855 and built to guard the portage road around the Falls near present Bonneville Dam. A walking tour is available of the old fort site located on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land.
  • Fort Columbia (1896-1904) was established in 1899 during the turn of the century to compliment protection of the Columbia River at Fort Stevens and Fort Canby. It is now a Washington State park and includes original buildings, gun emplacements, and a museum.
  • Fort Lugenbeel, Fort Gilliam, and Fort Rains now exist only as archaeological sites on present U.S. Army Corp of Engineer land located west of Stevenson, Washington, near the Bridge of the Gods. Fort Rains was built in 1856.
  • Fort Dalles, at today's The Dalles, Oregon, was built in 1850, and was the principal U.S. Army post for the area above Great Falls in the Columbia River. One original building, a former surgeon's quarters which houses a museum, remains.
  • Fort Stevens, along with Fort Columbia, was built in 1853-54 to guard the mouth of the Columbia River and was occupied by U.S. Army unit 1947. It is now an Oregon State Park and includes original gun emplacements and a museum.
  • Fort Walla Walla was built in 1856-57 as a principal U.S. Army post east of Cascades Mountains. Several original buildings, parade ground, and the cemetery remain.


From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, November 4, 1805 ...
A cloudy cool morning wind from the West we Set out at 1/2 past 8 oClock [from their camp on the north side of Government Island, approximately across from Fisher's Landing], one man Shannon Set out early to walk on the Island [Government Island] to kill Something, he joined us at the lower point with a Buck. This island is 6 miles long and near 3 miles wide thinly timbered     (Tide rose last night 18 inches perpndicular at Camp) near the lower point of this diamond Island [Government Island] is The head of a large Island Seperated from a Small one by a narrow chanel [Lewis and Clark show two large islands on their maps, both in today's Government Island area], and both Situated nearest the Lard Side, those Islands [even today the Government Island reach is a complex of