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Fort Vancouver National Historic Site


Fort Vancouver is where it all began for the Pacific Northwest. Built in 1825 as the headquarters for the British-owned Hudson's Bay Company's fur-trading operation on the Pacific Coast, it became the economic, social, and cultural hub of the Oregon Country. Narcissa Whitman, who stayed in the fort along with her missionary husband in 1836, described Fort Vancouver as "the New York of the Pacific." The fort was named for the famous British sea explorer Captain George Vancouver, whose discovery of the Columbia River led to the establishment of the outpost. At its height in 1844-46, the fort included 22 buildings surrounded by a stockade of upright logs.

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site
©Library of Congress
Tour the historic buildings of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

A U.S. Army camp was established nearby in 1849, and soldiers relaxing between the Indian Wars played polo at the fort. The Treaty of 1846 between the United States and Great Britain left Fort Vancouver on American soil, and 14 years later, the Hudson's Bay Company moved out. The present Fort Vancouver is a reproduction of the original wooden fort, which burned to the ground in 1866. One hundred years later, after painstaking archaeological excavations revealed the site of the fort, the Park Service began to rebuild Fort Vancouver, which joined the National Park System in 1948.

Now a spiked wooden stockade surrounds six acres of buildings, including the blacksmith's shop, where iron and steel items needed for the fur trade industry were made; the bakery, where four men baked bread and biscuits for up to 300 people; and the Indian trade shop and dispensary, which housed the fur-trading operations, as well as the hospital and doctor's office and residence. The house of Dr. John McLoughlin, the administrator of the fort who later became known as the "Father of Oregon," is a roomy and elegant house with white-clapboard siding and a large front veranda. Costumed interpreters bring the fort to life, occasionally firing up the ovens and baking sea biscuits (rations for soldiers) or forming iron tools at the blacksmith's shop.

The visitor center has exhibits, a small store, and a film depicting the fort's early history. Near the fort is Officer's Row, a tree-lined street of 21 beautiful homes built between 1849 and 1906 for the officers of the fort. Two of the most impressive homes, the Marshall House and the Grant House, are open to the public. In 1996, the 366-acre Vancouver National Historic Reserve was established adjacent to the site. And in 2003, the McLoughlin House National Historic Site was added as part of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site Information

Address: 612 East Reserve Street Vancouver, WA
Telephone: 360/816-6230
Hours of Operation:

  • 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (winter)
  • 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (summer)

Admission: $3 per individual; $5 per family

Learn more about these other national historic sites:

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To learn more about national monuments, memorials, and historic sites, and other travel destinations in North America, visit:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Eric Peterson is a Denver-based author who has contributed to numerous guidebooks about the Western United States.