The Administrative History of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site
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Chapter Three:

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site is within the Third Congressional District of Washington State. This political designation has worked to its advantage since the representatives elected from the Third District have been strong advocates of the fort since its creation, for subsequent appropriations of funds, and throughout the process of expanding its boundaries in 1961. From Russell Mack to Julia Butler Hansen, who became one of the most powerful women in Congress as chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, from Don Bonker to Jolene Unsoeld, representatives from Washington have supported the reconstruction and development of the site. Though this chapter will not detail all the legislative battles fought for Fort Vancouver, it will highlight some of the issues and personalities which have brought Fort Vancouver national attention.

Some might say the early legislative history of Fort Vancouver was filled with abortive attempts at establishing a monument or memorial. Between 1915 and 1948, no fewer than eight bills were introduced in Congress to reconstruct the stockade, some of the bills only a few years apart. At least three were signed into law, but never amounted to anything since they received no funding. Other bills simply died, but each attempt brought the site closer to development. [1]

It was not until 1947 that these efforts bore fruit. The Fort Vancouver Restoration and Historical Society, the Washington Historical Society, and Portland Chamber of Commerce joined forces to persuade Senator Guy Cordon from Oregon and Representative Russell Mack, from the Third District in Washington, to prepare initial legislation to authorize a monument at Fort Vancouver.

The States of Oregon and Washington also pressed for legislation. In February 1947, the Oregon State Senate passed a bill (House Joint Memorial 11) "memorializing congress to set aside tracts at Vancouver Barracks as a national monument under the direction of the national park service." The bill called for approximately 75 acres to be set aside and maintained by the National Park Service, including the old fort site and the old apple tree. [2] At about the same time, the Washington State Legislature passed House Joint Memorial No. 9 "urging Congress to appropriate adequate funds for the immediate acquisition, research, and construction of buildings constituting old Fort Vancouver." [3]

With pressure from both state legislatures as well as local historical societies and businessmen, Congressman Russell Mack introduced a bill on March 23, 1948, "To provide for the establishment of the Fort Vancouver National Monument, in the State of Washington, to include the site of the old Hudson's Bay Company stockade, and for other purposes." [4] The Committee on Public Lands and the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs supported the bill to set aside no more than 90 acres. The secretary of the Interior also promoted the bill, estimating that "the probable cost for administration, protection, and maintenance of the national monument will be approximately $35,000" for the following fiscal year. [5]

President Harry Truman signed H.R. 5957 on June 19, 1948, thus approving the official act of Congress which authorized Fort Vancouver National Monument. The act allowed the War Assets Administration to transfer surplus property in Vancouver Barracks to the secretary of the Interior without exchanging funds. But, because of complicated negotiations between the Park Service and the Army, the land transfer was not completed until 1954. [6]

On June 30, 1954, Fort Vancouver National Monument was officially established. The secretary of the Interior, Douglas McKay, whose ancestors had settled in or near Fort Vancouver, signed the departmental order (Dept. Order 19 FR 4204) which was published in the Federal Register July 8, 1954, passing administrative jurisdiction over 59.913 acres in Vancouver Barracks to the National Park Service. [7]

Ironically, even before the monument was established in 1954, the Park Service had reconsidered its position on the desired size of the site. A few interested parties, such as Burt Brown Barker, a prominent member of the Oregon Historical Society, insisted that the monument should include the site of the Hudson's Bay Company employee town, Kanaka Village, to the west of the fort. Based on local interest and Louis Caywood's archaeological findings, the Park Service regional office prepared a boundary study which prioritized parcels of land within the original Vancouver Barracks that were necessary to preserve and interpret Fort Vancouver. In October 1954, Secretary McKay formally requested that Senator Guy Cordon of Oregon introduce legislation to extend the boundaries of the monument by 136 acres. On January 16, 1955, Secretary McKay approved the proposal to extend the boundaries of the monument beyond the 90 acres "as a general planning objective." [8]

Subsequent legislation supported the policy of expansion. Fort Vancouver National Monument was enlarged by nearly 15 acres by departmental order published in the Federal Register on January 23, 1958. The General Services Administration, then in charge of the surplus property at the Vancouver Barracks, transferred 6.5 acres of river tract and 8.3 acres of railroad right-of-way that extended across the southern portion of the site to prevent future adverse effects to the scenic view of the Columbia River from the monument. [9]

The boundary study of 1955 also set parameters for legislation first introduced by Washington Representative Russell V. Mack in July 1958 to revise the boundaries and increase the acreage limitation for the national monument by 130 acres. [10] The bill was to expand Fort Vancouver National Monument to a maximum of 220 acres and allow for the Park Service to change the name of the monument to Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. After a year delay, Mack reintroduced the same bill on January 7, 1959. Though $500,000 had been allocated for the development of a museum and portions of the site, the money was withdrawn for development of campgrounds and facilities in other national parks. [11] Representative Mack's untimely death in 1960 left the Fort Vancouver bill on shaky ground, and all funding was withdrawn.

Julia Butler Hansen and Fort Vancouver's Ascendancy

Julia Butler Hansen had reached her early 50s, and had served for 20 years in the Washington State legislature, when she was elected to fill Russell Mack's seat in Congress. Elected from the Third District in 1960, at the beginning of John F. Kennedy's administration, she had significant support from both U.S. Senators Henry Jackson and Warren G. Magnuson, and established a close working relationship with National Park Service Director George Hartzog soon after he was appointed in 1964. She was also a powerful woman in her own right. Julia Butler Hansen's description of the new President's inauguration set the tone for her own tenure in Congress: "There was wind and snow and bitter cold, but President Kennedy's voice, firm, strong and clear, pledging his support to the search for peace, as well as giving his pledge to the defense of America, was unforgettable." [12] In her turn, Hansen pledged uncompromising support for Fort Vancouver.

Julia Butler Hansen quickly took up where Russell Mack left off and, with the support of the Department of the Interior, re-drafted the bill to extend Fort Vancouver's size. Citing the mid-1950 boundary study done by the National Park Service, George Abbott, the assistant secretary of the Interior, concluded that "certain of the adjoining tracts are essential to the fulfillment of the development and interpretive needs of the area, and that the existing acreage limitation is inadequate to meet those requirements." [13] In March 1961 the new secretary of the Interior, Stewart L. Udall, concurred with Abbott's recommendations.

Julia Butler Hansen introduced the Fort Vancouver bill in the House on January 25, 1961, the first bill of her long career. [14] Senator Henry Jackson introduced an identical bill in the Senate on March 2, 1961. Without any substantial opposition, the bill passed the House on May 1, 1961, and was referred to the Senate Interior and Insular Affairs Committee. The Senate passed the bill June 22, 1961.

Hansen's supporting statement cited both the historical significance of Fort Vancouver and the desire to stimulate "tourist development within our very beautiful state." [15] But rather than a purely political maneuver, her interest in Fort Vancouver seemed to come from highly personal reasons. Not only had she grown up in Cathlamet, a town founded by a former Hudson's Bay Company employee, but she also honored local history:

During the 30's I visited rebuilt Fort Nisqually and I began at that moment to work wherever I could--in the speeches I used to make relative to Northwest history and my book--to awaken public interest in rebuilding Fort Vancouver as a historical monument, particularly for young people who have no knowledge of the Northwest as it once was when it was actually the outpost and bastion of trade and civilization. [16]

As her son David Hansen recalls, when Representative Hansen was a young child, she also knew people who had once lived and worked at Fort Vancouver for the Hudson's Bay Company. [17]

The significance of the pending change of status also heightened the growing importance of Fort Vancouver to the local community. Though a "monument" was not much different than an "historic site" according to Park Service terms and policies, in the public's eye the latter was far more descriptive. In the 1940s and 1950s, Fort Vancouver was considered primarily an archaeological site, and thus to be commemorated as a monument to its past use as a fur trade post. The Historic Sites Act of 1935, however, encouraged the Park Service to interpret and develop entire cultural areas, which included not just historic buildings and objects of national significance, but also representative historic periods and cultural events. By redesignating Fort Vancouver a national historic site, it seemed to become more significant than a static landmark; its new status would make people in the community take notice and perhaps persuade Congress to fund the fort reconstruction and encourage future planning of the larger site. [18]

Both the House and Senate had approved the Fort Vancouver legislation and the bill (75 Stat. 196) went to President Kennedy, who signed it June 30, 1961. The act revised the Fort Vancouver boundaries, redesignated its status to national historic site, and increased the acreage limitation by 130 acres to a total of 220. The act also allowed the secretary of the Interior to "acquire in such a manner as he may consider to be in the public interest the non-Federal lands and interests in lands within the revised boundaries." [19] With several reasons to celebrate, Fort Vancouver hosted a dedication of the new legislation and the recently completed museum and Visitor Center on March 18, 1962.

Madame Chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee

By 1963, Congresswoman Julia Butler Hansen obtained a seat on the House Appropriations Committee. When she was appointed to the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee (chaired by Senator Alan Bible of Nevada), she was able to steer the course of development at Fort Vancouver as well as other Park Service projects. In July 1965, Julia Butler Hansen had arranged for Congress to appropriate $83,000 for the reconstruction of a portion of the fort stockade. [20] She envisioned a two year schedule for reconstruction including historical research, contracting, and construction. [21]

Besides her influence on the Park Service budget, Julia Butler Hansen maintained a close relationship with George Hartzog, director of the National Park Service from January 1964. "She and I always sat down together," Hartzog recalled in his recent book about the Park Service, "before she began to make changes in marking up the National Park Service portion of the appropriations bill, to discuss any items that may have surfaced during the hearing that were of further concern to her or members of the subcommittee." If Hansen taught Hartzog anything, it was that "there are really two Congresses--the House Appropriations Committee and the balance of Congress." [22]

George Hartzog and Julia Butler Hansen had many similar ideas about park policy and development. Hartzog, for instance, was interested in living history demonstrations as central to site interpretation. With Congresswoman Hansen's and Senator Bible's help, Hartzog was able to withhold "a small reserve from the management be used for program innovations, such as living history." [23] His interest in living history perhaps influenced the new direction that interpretation at Fort Vancouver took in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Julia Butler Hansen had an informal, can-do attitude with everyone at Fort Vancouver. Superintendent Eliot Davis recalls that she would visit the site every year and ask, "What do you need?" Davis would give her a minimum dollar amount because he was afraid that ad hoc appropriations would upset the Park Service budget. One year he decided to reply "Julia, we need a Master Plan." "What, you don't have a Master Plan?" she growled, "I'll go back and chew out the Director." "No, don't do that," Eliot Davis diplomatically suggested, "just ask them to see a copy of the Master Plan, and that should prod them to start the process." Within three weeks, Davis had architects, landscape architects, archaeologists and a budget. Once a Master Plan was in place in 1969, Representative Hansen could use that as a blueprint for appropriations instead of asking for funding piecemeal. [24]

She was especially supportive of the continued archaeological excavations at the fort site. In the summer of 1969, during a visit to Fort Vancouver, Julia Butler Hansen asked Dr. Robert Greengo of the University of Washington, and Paul Schumacher, Park Service chief of archaeological research, "how much additional archaeological research work was needed at Fort Vancouver." Schumacher estimated that the site needed about $500,000 for five years of intensive excavation to complete the research. Julia Butler Hansen simply added this amount to the National Park Service appropriation bill. [25] At a time when many park projects were being cut back and austerity was the by-word, Fort Vancouver benefited from the favor of the Appropriation Committee's "Madame Chairman."

The 5-year archaeological program in the 1970s laid the ground work for significant reconstruction of the fort site and Julia Butler Hansen set aside $2,400,000 for a five-year reconstruction project. [26] In order to start the reconstruction of Fort Vancouver, she executed another major coup in 1971 and 1972, by clearing the way in the Senate to fund the purchase of the Pearson Airpark property. [27]

But the congressional cornucopia was not necessarily bottomless. It was easy enough for Superintendent Donald Gillespie to assume in January 1974 that "$100,000 for final archaeological field work will be included in the 1975 National Park Service budget request." [28] But, Julia Butler Hansen was fast approaching her retirement from a long distinguished career of public service. In one last gesture of support, she left Fort Vancouver with a nest egg of $500,000 for the 1975 fiscal year to continue the reconstruction of the fort. [29] She showed her support for Fort Vancouver one last time on April 19, 1974, when she was honored at the dedication of the completed stockade wall and bastion.

The 1970s and 1980s: New Political Problems

Though Representative Hansen remained in Congress until 1974, in 1970 legislative redistricting put Vancouver, Washington, into a new 4th District. Mike McCormack was elected to fill the new congressional seat. After Julia Butler Hansen's retirement from Congress, Representative McCormack urged Sidney R. Yates, the new Chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, to support a bill for further funding of the Fort Vancouver Phase II reconstruction program. "Although this is a tight budget year coming up," McCormack told Yates in 1976, "I believe there is room and ample justification for this comparatively modest expenditure for a project that will forever touch the hearts and minds of generations to come." The "modest expenditure" amounted to $500,000 for 1977 to continue with reconstruction. McCormack justified the expenditure by reminding Yates that "in our Bicentennial year there is ample reason to continue the efforts at Fort Vancouver in a timely manner to establish it as a permanent and authentic national monument of our Nation's heritage." [30] By 1980, Congressman McCormack, with some behind-the-scenes assistance from Julia Butler Hansen, was able to secure $590,000 for reconstruction of the blacksmith shop, the Indian Trade Shop, and the well.

In 1974, Donald Bonker was elected to serve the Third Congressional District of Washington State after Julia Butler Hansen retired. When redistricting in 1980 once again placed Vancouver in the Third District, Bonker was faced with new issues. He was very concerned about how the City of Vancouver's Central Park Plan, which incorporated all the land within the old Vancouver Barracks, would affect Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. On March 16, 1984, he called an informal meeting to discuss public opinion on land use issues, including the Central Park Plan, Pearson Airpark, the Waterfront section of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, and the disposal of Officers' Row by the General Services Administration. Especially difficult was the question of Pearson Airpark's future. Bonker emphatically indicated that he would not sponsor legislation extending the city's use of the Airpark property beyond the year 2002. He also opposed the City of Vancouver's attempts to trade 5th Street for more time at Pearson. [31] Bonker's tough stance on the Airpark was coupled with his belief that Fort Vancouver "has a tremendous potential for historical interpretation and that its attraction of visitors would be a large economic factor for the City and southwest Washington." Congressman Bonker saw Fort Vancouver as a "Williamsburg of the West." [32]

Jolene Unsoeld and the Historical Reserve Concept

In 1988, the uncompromising attitude of Julia Butler Hansen and Donald Bonker changed when Jolene Unsoeld stepped into the Third District congressional seat. Unsoeld was instrumental in obtaining $1,689,000 for the design and initial reconstruction of the Fort Vancouver fur store. However, she has been best known for her introduction of legislation to create a Historical Reserve in Vancouver. Early in 1989 Jolene Unsoeld met with NPS Reg. Director Charles Odegaard and Vancouver Mayor Bruce Hagensen to discuss draft legislation to develop a new master plan for the Vancouver area to "protect and enhance" Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, Officers' Row, and Pearson Airpark. Reversing Don Bonker's tough stance, Unsoeld proposed legislation which included the continuation of general aviation at Pearson beyond the year 2002, the integration of the three historical themes in the area, and the creation of a military museum at the Vancouver Barracks. [33]

By June, Unsoeld had solicited support from fellow congressional members Norm Dicks, Al Swift, Sid Morrison, Rod Chandler, John Miller, and Jim McDermott to request Sidney R. Yates's support for a "Master Plan" study of the proposed Reserve site. More specifically, Unsoeld stated that the "master plan should take into account the need for continued general aviation use of the airport and should identify the other financial factors that might be used to help develop and sustain the historic potential of the area." The catch-all plan would call for coordinated development and interpretation of three distinct historical themes: the 19th century fur trade, the U.S. Army occupation, and aviation history at Pearson field. In addition, legislation anticipated a military museum at Vancouver Barracks and additional land acquisition to buffer the entire Reserve from "incompatible development." [34] Perhaps due to a budgetary crunch, Yates, chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee put the legislation on hold together with funding for all National Park Service studies.

In June 1990, a year after its original inception, Jolene Unsoeld again introduced legislation to establish a Vancouver National Historical Reserve. The legislation sought to establish a cooperative agreement and a Coordinating Commission to manage the Reserve which would include Vancouver Barracks and Military Cemetery, Officers' Row National Register Historic District, Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, Pearson Airpark, and the Columbia River waterfront. Within this Reserve, general aviation would continue at Pearson Airpark beyond the year 2002. [35] The National Park Service opposed the legislation. Denis Galvin, National Park Service associate director for planning and development, in a hearing before the subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands, warned that "administration of the reserve by a committee whose members represent diverse interests beyond historic preservation could threaten the integrity of Fort Vancouver, for which purposes have already been established by Congress." [36]

The City of Vancouver, however, and certainly the supporters of Pearson Airpark, promoted the Historical Reserve concept and on November 5, 1990, President George Bush signed into law H.R. 5144 which created the Vancouver Historical Study Commission pursuant to Public Law 101-5. The Commission, with representatives from the City of Vancouver, the National Park Service, the Army, the State of Washington Historic Preservation Office, and an individual representing the general public, was established to study the historic, cultural, natural, and recreational significance of resources in the Vancouver area and to determine the feasibility of an Historical Reserve. [37] They also had to prepare a final report including an inventory of the above resources, preservation and interpretation goals, propose management alternatives, and make recommendations concerning the operation of Pearson Airpark and its compatibility with Fort Vancouver, all on an estimated budget of $300,000 and a time schedule that envisioned a final report on the feasibility of the Reserve within 18 months. [38]

To date, the Commission has met once a month to discuss the various management alternatives for and feasibility of the Historical Reserve. Though a final decision has not been made, the Commission's preferred alternative includes extending the use of Pearson Airpark for aviation beyond the original expiration date, 2002, as well as interpreting both 19th and 20th century historical eras at Vancouver Barracks, including military aviation. The Commission's final recommendations to the Secretaries of the Interior and Army were submitted on April 12, 1993.

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Last Updated: 02-Feb-2000