Opened on Nov. 29, 1880, the Vancouver Barracks Post Exchange Shoppette was the first store of its kind — a haven for servicemen and veterans to shop at deeply discounted prices. Yet the original shop that served as the prototype for the thousands of post exchanges that now exist worldwide may disappear.
Vancouver Barracks is home to about 850 Army Reservists. By summer 2011, plans call for all soldiers to be out of the barracks. Their missions include training potential soldiers through summer programs; supporting ROTC summer programs; providing drill sergeants for Army Basic Training; training prospective drill sergeants; and training medical professionals for wartime and peacetime duty. The tents you see near Fifth Street are for the medical professionals to train in a field-like environment.
They’re just across the street from one another, but the Post Hospital and the Red Cross building in the West Barracks are in two different worlds. One could be ready for a ghost movie, with broken windows boarded over and official “U.S. Property No Trespassing” signs posted. The other has been lovingly restored, with dozens of culinary and hospitality students streaming in and out daily. Weddings and other celebrations are regular events.
The active military has been gone from the Fort Vancouver National Site for 10 years. Today, just a handful of Reserve and National Guard units remain. They are soon to be gone too.
Looking at the charred spots left on the walls and the ceilings, National Park Service Archaeologist Bob Cromwell tilted his head up and said, “We’re lucky this building is still here.” The massive artillery Barracks, built in 1904 to house two full artillery companies on the Fort Vancouver National Site caught fire sometime in the 1930s, the historian said.
To the Fort Vancouver National Trust, the Red Cross Building is a shining beacon of what a vision — and a few million dollars — can achieve. Built in 1918 and 1919, it opened its doors as a convalescent ward for the thousands of returning World War I soldiers. Some suffered from physical wounds. Others were dealing with the mental trauma that can come from combat.
At one point, the Post Hospital at the Vancouver Barracks was the among the busiest Army hospitals in the country — thanks in no small part to the Spanish Influenza — with some 21,000 patients in 1918. Today, the 105-year-old building sees little more than a few maintenance workers — and looks like it’s ready for its close-up as the set of a horror movie.
"Although Vancouver Barracks seems a quiet military backwater today, in the 160-plus years since it was founded, its soldiers have participated in many Indian campaigns across the Pacific Northwest and other major conflicts such as the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II."
CreditsVancouver Barracks project team: Marsha Matta, Andrea Damewood, Tom Vogt, Steven Lane, Troy Wayrynen, Zachary Kaufman, Mark Bowder, Adam Coddington, Jeff Bunch, Robert Holcomb and Dave Kern