Heritage and Opportunity Intersect at Vancouver National Historic Reserve

The O. O. Howard House in Vancouver, Washington.
The O. O. Howard House in Vancouver, Washington.

The Vancouver National Historic Reserve is one of the most significant pieces of property in the entire Pacific Northwest. Reserve grounds are home to historic and cultural gems that include Fort Vancouver, Pearson Air Field and Museum, Vancouver Barracks and Officers Row and the Water Resources Education Center.

In addition, millions of artifacts that have been recovered during 50 years of on-site archaeological excavations, several parks, monuments and a waterfront trail along the mighty Columbia River may be found at the reserve, and there’s more to come.

No wonder its 366 acres hold so much interest for local residents and tourists alike, from American history buffs and archaeology lovers to U.S. military veterans and aviation enthusiasts.

Candlelight tours of Fort Vancouver – the fur-trading post established in 1825 by the British Hudson’s Bay Co. – and vintage baseball games played according to 1860s rules using period equipment and uniforms are among the exciting events and continuous improvements that ensure the park’s 800,000 annual visitors have plenty to do and see, says Elson Strahan, president and CEO of the Vancouver National Historic Reserve Trust, the official nonprofit organization of the reserve partnership, which includes the city, state, National Park Service and U.S. Army.

“Currently in development is renovation of the Visitors Center – a $5 million project,” Strahan says. “We have secured state and local support, and we’re working on additional funding. Construction should be well under way in two years.”

Also on the horizon is a $20 million project that will turn the West Barracks into a historic boutique hotel, slated to break ground in 2011.

Likewise, the Southwest Washington Center for the Arts has identified a site near the barracks as the preferred location for a long-awaited arts center to serve the region. Pending funding availability, construction will begin in 2011.

“The Army soon will transfer the East and South Barracks to the National Park Service – another major event that will affect long-term plans for adaptive reuse and restoration projects on the reserve,” Strahan adds.

Vancouver Barracks was the first U.S. military outpost in the Pacific Northwest.

The restored Victorian homes that line Officers Row once housed some of the Army’s top brass, including O.O. Howard, Omar Bradley, Ulysses S. Grant and George C. Marshall.

“The Marshall House was built in 1886. It is the most ornate house on the Row, and it’s open for tours free of charge,” says Susan Holton, communications manager for the Vancouver National Historic Reserve Trust. “The Grant House is the oldest – built in 1858 – and it is now a restaurant.”

One of the oldest continually operating airfields in the U.S., Pearson Field opened in 1905. Pearson Air Museum features vintage aircraft and exhibits focused on aviation from the early 1900s through World War II.

In addition to the permanent attractions, special events hosted by the reserve include brigade encampments, historic weapons and cultural demonstrations, the Marshall Lecture, a Fourth of July celebration and a Veterans Day Parade.

“The public is amazed at the potential here,” Strahan says. “Every time they visit, there will be something new and different to see.”

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