The Fort Vancouver Visitor Center Annex Building was transformed Saturday into a reenactment of the barracks in 1933 that housed enrollees of the Civilian Conservation Corps in celebration of the organization’s 90th anniversary.
Members of the Roosevelt’s Tree Army Living History Group filled the space with items used by members of the program, including clothes, tools, personal items and memorabilia. The Corps was created by President Franklin Roosevelt to solve two problems, said volunteer Baylor Blair. It created working opportunities for young men during the Great Depression and rehabilitated and preserved natural resources across the country.
Enrollees would be sent to the Vancouver Barracks for a conditioning camp, where they’d train for about six weeks before they were assigned to a different camp, Blair said.
“Most of these guys were not in any kind of shape to go do forestry work. For example, they’re not just untrained, unskilled, but a lot of them are malnourished because it’s the Depression and they haven’t had a reliable source of nutrition,” Blair said. “They get here, they get fed well, they get trained up, they get stronger, they learn some kind of basic job skills to help them out, and then they’re sent off to do their worst.”
As people traveled from near and far to spend the day at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, many came by the annex building and glimpsed the conditions at the site in the 1930s. They read lists of enrollees who arrived at the barracks on April 1, 1933, and heard music from the era.
Don and Karen Pilkington came from Memphis, Tenn., to stay with friends in Portland. Before going to Multnomah Falls for the afternoon, they came to Fort Vancouver and the reenactment.
“I’ve heard about the CCC from my mother,” Karen Pilkington said. “That was a neat surprise that they had that pop up while we were here.”
For Chris and Lindsey Orueta, the display was an opportunity to show daughters Olivia, 13, Cecelia, 9, and Giada, 5, some of their hometown history. Chris Orueta said the family has been to Fort Vancouver several times but it was a special treat Saturday to see that aspect of history brought to life.
One of the founding members of the Living History Group, Aiden Hlebechuk, said it was important to recognize the contributions the members made to so many area attractions on the program’s anniversary.
“It is really this wonderful thing that we can bring whole different groups of people together to sort of celebrate that history and acknowledge the huge impact that these guys left by building these state parks and improving these natural spaces for us to enjoy today,” Hlebechuk said. “We can go to Mount Hood today because of the CCC. We can go to Mount Rainier because of the CCC.”