Celebrating History. Inspiring Tomorrow.
The Military Post in Vancouver―from its founding in the mid-19th century to its restoration in the late 20th―has been a driving force in the formation of Vancouver as a community of people, not just a geographical location. For over a century, Vancouver Barracks was a place of critical importance to U.S. military efforts, to local and national industry and business, and to the progressive social milieu of the Pacific Northwest.
A Unique Experience in the Northwest
Through the influence of key leaders―and, equally, the influence of regular folks and families―Vancouver has been both a voice of awareness and a focal point of cultural struggle. Marshall’s work with the Civilian Conservation Corps, the impact of the Buffalo Soldiers, and the displacement of so many indigenous peoples are just a few examples of how the people passing through the Post across time have built Vancouver’s community.
This area is a focal point in the history of Vancouver, Washington and the Pacific Northwest. From the Grant House to the Post Hospital, these structures have been integral pieces of the the history that make this place so special.
By looking at the development process and architectural design of these sites throughout the course of their own history, there is an added context to the events around the development of what we now know as the Vancouver Barracks.
The Vancouver Barracks
Similar to ancient Rome, the Vancouver Barracks were not built in a single day. After being stationed at the Vancouver Barracks in the 1850’s, former President Ulysses S. Grant came back to visit the barracks again in 1879. His visit came at a very transitional phase for the Vancouver Barracks. In the years leading up to the late 19th century, the Vancouver Barracks functioned as a frontier military post in the West. By 1879, General O. O. Howard assumed command of the Department of the Columbia for the Portland region. However, instead of establishing a location in Portland for their regional headquarters, General Howard crossed the Columbia River and chose the Vancouver Barracks to settle in.
This marked the beginning of a major effort by the U.S. Army to expand the facilities of the Vancouver Barracks. With an increase in federal funding, new development efforts were focused on creating a series of new administrative, residential and medical buildings. This period of expansion lasted throughout the 1880’s and led to the construction of a hospital, hospital steward’s residence, infantry barracks, headquarters buildings, double officers’ quarters, and a mortuary. As the 1890’s came around and the economy faced a nationwide recession, further construction of the Vancouver Barracks began to slow.
Leading up to the 20th century, there was very little standardization in the construction of military administrative buildings and barracks. This was particularly the case with architectural design. However, by 1872, Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs created a more comprehensive design plan for Army buildings. While construction would eventually become much more standardized, these plans existed as a suggestive model on a more uniform building design based on the Greek Classical Revival style of the time.
In the Vancouver Barracks as we see it today, there is one remaining building that embraces these design plans. The Infantry Barracks, constructed in 1887, is a subtle variation of Meigs’ vision. Following the design plans, the Infantry Barracks consists of two stories, including a kitchen, washroom, library, non-commissioned officers’ quarters and a day room. While the design of an old building may not seem very historically relevant, the late-19th century design of the Infantry Barracks captures an important shift in the organization of the United States military in the West prior to the first World War.
The Infantry Barracks
The Infantry Barracks originally had a two-story porch that extended across the west side and facade, the second-story porch was replaced by a roof and cross bracing to the lower level by 1917. This was part of a second phase of development for the Vancouver Barracks. Beginning in the early 20th century, along with the assignment of the Twenty-Eighth Regiment to the Vancouver Barracks, more federal funding allowed the construction of new buildings along with renovations to pre-existing facilities like the Infantry Barracks. By 1907, there had been expansions to medical, residential and administrative facilities along with the construction of a gymnasium. By 1914, the Quartermaster’s Storehouse and the Mess Hall were constructed. With an intense pressure on resources from the conflicts of World War I, the Army established the Spruce Production Division to supplement soldiers as lumber workers to produce the lumber necessary to continue the war. At its peak, there were 30,000 soldiers of this division residing in the Vancouver Barracks. Lastly, by 1919, the American Red Cross had constructed and opened the Convalescent House.
As the first World War came to an end, so did new development efforts for the Vancouver Barracks for a while. There were a few maintenance projects that were pursued at this time, but no new construction plans were in motion. Eventually, new construction projects were in the works by the late 1930’s, when the Civilian Conservation Corps selected the post as their regional administration headquarters. The new development that followed focused primarily on expanding the residential facilities of the Vancouver Barracks.
Want to learn more?
Head down to the O.O. Howard House and take the tour!