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

In the Beginning: Louis Caywood

During the formative years of Fort Vancouver National Monument, there were many questions about the organization and management of the new Park Service unit. Even before the legislation created Fort Vancouver, John C. Preston, the superintendent of Mount Rainier National Park, asked to be appointed coordinating superintendent to the new monument, just as he had been for Whitman Mission National Historic Site in eastern Washington. Preston felt they "could keep the records, do the accounting, and give what other 'parental' advice seems necessary" since the monument was fairly small. [1]

Instead, Louis Caywood was appointed "Archaeologist-in-Charge" in the fall of 1949, after Park Service Administrative Officer C.E. Persons accepted "physical custody and accountability of the land and building (Parcels No. 1 and 3) of the proposed Fort Vancouver National Monument." [2] Caywood was the logical candidate for custodial duties since he spent most of his time at Vancouver working on the excavation of the fort site.

Caywood's first duty was to find administrative quarters in one of the many vacant Army buildings remaining on the site. He managed to commandeer a rent-free laboratory space in the summer of 1948. The following winter the War Assets Administration furnished a coal stove for heating the building, though there was no available running water. [3] Caywood also thought one of the other buildings on the soon-to-be Park Service property would be appropriate for use as a temporary office. But, since the boundaries had yet to be established and the monument thus officially created, no funding was available for administration. Caywood continued to live off the good graces of the Army and War Assets Administration.

As lone resident of the newly authorized monument, Caywood's monthly reports read much like an explorer's journal. For instance, during a January storm, Caywood noted that "Ice choked the Columbia River to such an extent that only the most powerful tugs made the trip up to the Dalles." [4]

Besides battling the elements, Caywood also battled the regional office to get recognition as a site. In the winter of 1949-1950, Caywood wrote the regional office: "It would be appreciated if copies of all correspondence for the Ft. Vancouver files be sent to this office rather than the Portland Office." [5] Mail had been directed to Neal Butterfield, acting chief of the Columbia Basin Recreation Survey, where Fort Vancouver files were kept since a permanent office and superintendent had not yet been appointed. But Caywood insisted that all correspondence be directed to him at the fort site and by January 1950, the regional director declared that "all correspondence for Fort Vancouver National Monument (Project) will be addressed to Archaeologist Louis R. Caywood, Fort Vancouver National Monument, Post Office Box 186, Vancouver, Washington." [6] A minor victory had been won.

The First Superintendent: Frank Hjort

When John Preston requested for the second time to be appointed coordinating superintendent of Fort Vancouver in March 1950, Regional Director O. A. Tomlinson again refused because he felt that the regional office should closely supervise the planning and development of the new monument. [7] Tomlinson thought that someone with more experience at an historic site would be a more appropriate choice for a park administrator. And so on January 7, 1951, Frank Hjort was appointed the first superintendent of Fort Vancouver National Monument. Hjort had joined the Park Service in 1940 and had been stationed at Hawaii National Park during the attack on Pearl Harbor in World War II. By the late 1940s, however, he asked to be brought back to the mainland and was transferred to Fort Vancouver.

The urban park experience was very new to Frank Hjort. He successfully walked the political tight ropes and established good public relations with the City of Vancouver. Hjort joined many civic groups, including the Stockaders, a Vancouver booster organization, of which be became president in December 1954. There was even a movement among some in Vancouver to rename the city "Fort Vancouver," which characterized the public respect for Hjort and all he had done to develop the Monument into a regional tourist stop. [8]

Besides establishing a reputation for the new Monument, Frank Hjort juggled several aspects of Park management. The archaeological excavations of 1948 and 1949 had uncovered a plethora of artifacts which composed Fort Vancouver's first major museum collection. In May 1954, the first "temporary" office and museum, housed in an old Army firehouse just north of the fort site, opened to display many of these artifacts. By the spring of 1955, the museum was open 7 days a week, from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm, and the visitation had increased from about 140 to 450 people a month. [9]

However, the artifacts which Caywood had uncovered could not all be displayed in the limited space. Park Service Historian John Hussey remembers Frank Hjort as an enthusiast for history and "a great one for seeing that things were neat." Since storage and display space was limited, most of the old iron artifacts were "stored perhaps not too neatly in the old post firehouse, used by the park as a repository for items recovered by archaeologists." John Hussey believes that Hjort "ordered the maintenance man to take out a good deal of this historical source material and bury it." [10] Indeed, in the 1970s archaeologists recovered many pieces of iron work from what has been dubbed "Hjort's Hole."

Frank Hjort also began to assemble a staff that could assist him in developing an interpretive program for the monument. Since the old fort site was off limits to visitors, this was not an easy task. In October 1955, Edgar A. Smith was hired as the first seasonal ranger-historian to assist with interpretation. Hjort, Smith, and clerk-stenographer Lillian Crom staffed Fort Vancouver, rotating weekend duty to maintain a 7-day schedule. [11]

In February 1957, Edgar Smith resigned and was replaced in March by James E. Alexander, the seasonal ranger for weekend duty. [12] But it was not until August 1958, that a permanent park historian, Jerry D. Wagers, came on duty under the MISSION 66 staff expansion program. The MISSION 66 Master Plan called for one superintendent, one administrative aide, one permanent maintenance person, and one historian with the help of seasonal ranger-historians for interpretive work. With these 4 staff members on board, the day-to-day operation of the monument still required overlapping duties to cover the seven day week operation. Both the superintendent and the administrative aide had to handle interpretive duties during the year and the Historian "must, of course, be able to pinch-hit for the Administrative Aid to a certain degree and be well enough versed to act as Superintendent during his absences." [13]

During his tenure as park Historian, Wagers began valuable work on an administrative history of the monument, though he never completed it. By September 1960, however, Wagers transferred to Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis and eventually worked his way up through the ranks of management in the Park Service. By the mid-1970s, he had become the Director of the North Atlantic Region.

William R. Sampson replaced Wagers as historian at Fort Vancouver. The Columbian described Sampson as a "bespectacled" 27-year old. He had served as a seasonal ranger in the Park Service periodically since 1954. At Fort Vancouver, he was to "conduct background research for new exhibits in the monument's proposed museum, act as a guide for groups visiting the museum and keep track of artifacts and documents belonging to the museum." [14] Sampson also was working toward his master's degree in history from the University of Wisconsin and went on to become a professor at the University of Alberta after his tenure with the Park Service.

A Brief Interlude: Harold Edwards

In February 1963, Frank Hjort was appointed superintendent of Badlands National Monument and William R. Sampson acted as superintendent at Fort Vancouver until July 7, 1963, when Harold O. ("Hal") Edwards arrived. Edwards transferred from a chief ranger position at Big Bend National Park in Texas. He was a graduate of the University of Idaho and had nearly 30 years of service with the federal government, having come into the National Park Service in 1935 when he was in charge of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp in the Wenatchee National Forest in eastern Washington. He served at various park units, including Great Smoky Mountains, Rocky Mountain, and Yellowstone National Parks. [15]

Under Hal Edwards the staff remained extremely small: a superintendent, administrative assistant, historian, and maintenance foreman, assisted by several temporary seasonals. When William R. Sampson requested a year's leave to pursue his master's degree in August 1963, Robert C. Clark replaced him as historian. [16]

Unfortunately, Hal Edwards died in an auto accident November 21, 1964, along with his wife and grandson. It was an unexpected shock for the staff at Fort Vancouver. Both Charles L. Peterson, superintendent at Fort Clatsop, and Administrative Assistant Rose M. McCarty (who had replaced Lillian Crom in May 1962) served as acting superintendents until a replacement for Edwards was found nearly three months later. [17]

New Directions: Eliot Davis

Eliot Davis was particularly well qualified for his role as superintendent at Fort Vancouver. Trained in geology and public administration, he spent some precarious years during the Great Depression as an archaeologist for the Tennessee Valley Authority, removing native artifacts from mounds in the Midwest before dam projects got underway. He joined the Park Service in 1939 and spent the next 25 years working in parks from Grand Teton to Grand Portage. In the 1950s, his experience as chief ranger at Isle Royale in Michigan and his superintendency at Grand Portage National Historic Site helped him develop a broad interest and knowledge of fur trade history and interpretation. Eliot Davis was a natural choice for superintendent at Fort Vancouver in February 1965. [18]

Described by one newspaper as "the soft-spoken bespectacled Park Service employee," Superintendent Davis had a surprisingly sharp sense of humor. [19] One can see his humor in the superintendent reports he filed with the regional office. For instance, regarding "wildlife" at Fort Vancouver, he reported that "A crow flew through the open door of the visitor center thinking he could make it all the way, but he was fooled by the clean windows. After release he flew off in an erratic manner - probably looking for one of those three-way headache remedies." [20]

His humor probably helped him through some difficult moments as he assisted Fort Vancouver toward a program of full reconstruction. His political savvy and congenial relationship with Representative Julia Butler Hansen helped initiate funding for a park master plan in the late 1960s and eased the Park Service purchase of the Pearson Airpark property from the City of Vancouver in 1972.

Davis reassessed many of the staff needs at Fort Vancouver and attempted to adapt to increased visitation and new Park Service policies. In May 1965, the staff consisted of a superintendent, a historian, an administrative assistant, and a maintenance foreman, though the Park still maintained a 7-day-a-week schedule. Davis complained that the "Administrative Assistant regularly assists in public contact and interpretive work, and the absence of a permanent Ranger means that protection work is done by other staff members." [21]

By the end of 1966, Davis added a new part-time clerk typist, Marlys L. Ford, to help with the ever-growing paperwork. [22] A new administrative officer, Glennis Shute, transferred from Whitman Mission National Historic Site in November 1966. She was one of the few women who worked as administrative officer in the Park Service; administrative positions were usually perceived as training grounds for future superintendents, who tended to be male appointees. [23]

Robert E.S. Clark, the chief park interpreter and historian, helped expand the library collection, which Eliot Davis counted as a priority during his tenure. Clark compiled and bound several invaluable collections of Fort Vancouver records--monthly superintendents' reports from 1953 to 1967, a collection of early master planning documents, and various prospectuses and exhibit plans. Despite his eager and well trained staff, Eliot Davis had to close the site on weekends by December 1968 due to his inability to fund another permanent position. [24]

Under Eliot Davis' administration, the staff at Fort Vancouver also became responsible for an annual inspection of the John McLoughlin House in Oregon City, Oregon. The property was a national historic site in nonfederal ownership administered by the McLoughlin Memorial Association under a cooperative agreement worked out with the secretary of the Interior on February 19, 1941. This cooperative agreement required the secretary of the Interior to regulate the way that the Association maintained "the historical character of the McLoughlin House" and "to provide a national historic site plaque and such planning and technical advisory assistance as may be requested and possible within the limits of existing appropriations." [25] The National Park Service office in Portland, Oregon had been responsible for making annual inspections and consulting with the staff at the site. Once Fort Vancouver was established as a national monument there was some cooperation between the park and the McLoughlin House. For instance, display items were borrowed and lent between the two entities and the Park Service would sometimes advise the staff at the McLoughlin House concerning cataloging methods or preservation of cultural resources.

However, it was not until January 1966 that Fort Vancouver officially took over the responsibilities for the McLoughlin House under the cooperative agreement with the secretary of the Interior and "Historian Clark made the annual inspection of the McLoughlin House at Oregon City." In subsequent years, a Fort Vancouver staff member would inspect the property or accompany a member of the regional office staff on that inspection. [26]

In July 1969, Davis tried once more to expand his staff with a historian or technician position. "We have reached a saturation point with one historian and have had to turn schools away for the past two years," Davis told the new Park Service Northwest District director, John A. Rutter. [27] Indeed, since permanent staff were spread thin at Fort Vancouver, the superintendent relied heavily on volunteers to perform many functions his staff could not.

One of the earliest volunteer and educational efforts at Fort Vancouver began in April 1965. Called the Junior Ranger Program, local youngsters donated their time in exchange for on-the-job training in preparing museum exhibits, preserving historical artifacts, operating audiovisual equipment, and communicating the history of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site effectively to the public. [28] Park Service Director George Hartzog commended the Junior Rangers' efforts: "The National Park Service is certainly fortunate to have young men, such as you, who are willing to contribute their time in the performance of worthwhile public services." [29] By 1969, however, the program was phased out due to Park Service concern over liability for the young teenagers' safety. The regional office feared that a Junior Ranger's parents might file "tort claims if one was injured." [30]

In 1969, with the passage of the Volunteers-in-Parks Act, Fort Vancouver renewed its efforts to solicit and coordinate volunteer help. By 1972, three people, (probably Vernon Chapman, Dick Lillig, and Art Wagner) volunteered at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site to help with public contact, library cataloging, and artifact identification and storage. Fort Vancouver's new interpretive program of "living history" demonstrations at the reconstructed fort also required a larger number of volunteers.

Eliot Davis saw both permanent and volunteer staff in the Park Service as a new breed of the 1970s. The Park Service was a potential outlet for the "socially motivated" student. The agency might "become an `environmental peace corps' and is now moving toward this direction somewhat." [31]

In 1972, Davis was the first superintendent to retire from Fort Vancouver. John Rutter, the regional director, had implored him to stay another year, particularly because of his public relations ability, but to no avail. Davis had not only developed the 1969 Master Plan, giving a new direction to Fort Vancouver policy, but created strong ties between the community and the park. Even the Hudson's Bay Company honored his tenure at Fort Vancouver; they gave him two HBC Beaver tokens (one full and one half token) when he retired. [32]

Repair and Reconstruction: Donald Gillespie

Eliot Davis retired on June 30, 1972, and Glen E. Henderson, chief of interpretation and resource management at Crater Lake, became acting superintendent at Fort Vancouver. [33] By August, Donald Gillespie, the newly-appointed superintendent for Fort Vancouver, arrived from Washington, D.C. A native of Washington State, he started his career with the Park Service in 1964, at Wind Cave National Park in Hot Springs, South Dakota. Since 1964, he had served at Jewel Cave National Monument as management assistant and as manager of Ford's Theatre National Historic Site from 1969 until he came to Fort Vancouver.

Like Eliot Davis, Gillespie had to appease a variety of political powers. For instance, Representative Julia Butler Hansen would call and ask Superintendent Gillespie, as she had Davis, "What do you want for the Fort this year in terms of appropriations?" Gillespie found himself between a rock and a hard place, namely Regional Director John Rutter, whose authority Gillespie did not want to over-step. Gillespie knew that "a superintendent in most areas has to be politically astute enough to know that he's not in charge of the decision making process," but more likely an orchestrator of events. Actually, Gillespie was a little of both. [34]

Indeed, with the congressional help of Representative Julia Butler Hansen, Gillespie orchestrated much of the fort reconstruction during the 1970s. He had an eye for detail and wanted to do the job right. "At the time we were doing our Master Plan, it was considered abhorrent to do fake reconstruction," to have modern materials inside the walls with a reconstructed exterior. If the original structure had been post and sill, then that was how the reconstruction would be done. [35]

Gillespie also orchestrated the innovative living history interpretation program. He hired Chief of I&RM Robert Amdor to head up the program in November 1973. Amdor transferred from a supervisory ranger position at Golden Spike National Historic Site to set up the "living history exhibits--demonstrations of crafts practiced by the fort's original inhabitants." [36] It was probably Robert Amdor who initiated a work-study program with Portland Community College, a program designed to find students to portray a gardener and a miller at Fort Vancouver. The special skills he asked for were "willingness to learn 1845 type organic gardening and the set up and operation of a hand or animal powered grist mill". [37] The Park Service hired the students as seasonals and the college agreed to pay 25% of the students' salaries. Ultimately, Amdor sought students to pose as a clerk, a gardener, a spinner, a voyageur, and a miller. In 1976, Sam Vaughn took over for Amdor and expanded the work-study program with Portland Community College.

Besides the reconstruction and living history programs, Gillespie orchestrated the expansion of the curatorial staff. Curation had often been the extra duty of the project archaeologists, the chief ranger, or the superintendent. But, in 1974, Fort Vancouver found the perfect opportunity to fill several needs with one individual. David Hansen, the son of retiring Representative Julia Butler Hansen, transferred to Fort Vancouver in October 1974 from the Park Service's Division of Reference Services at Harper's Ferry in West Virginia. He had also garnered experience by working with the Park Service's Division of Archaeology and History Preservation in Washington, D.C. Hansen had a master's degree in history but was also an expert in 19th-century historic furnishings. He became park curator and prepared the furnishing plans for all the reconstructed buildings within the stockade as well as overseeing curation of the growing collection of artifacts. [38]

In August 1978, Donald Gillespie accepted a transfer to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan. Some have speculated that his transfer was a result of his controversial stance on the annual Fourth of July celebration held at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. Certainly he objected the loudest to the effects of the event on the park. In 1976, along with the City's Fourth of July Committee, Gillespie made a concerted effort to relocate the event to another locale. He felt that the Park Service did not have the staff to manage the large crowds or ensure their safety. A television station in Portland even printed a commemorative T-shirt showing Gillespie inside the stockade with a firework coming down on his head as he stuck his head outside the open gate. Whatever the reason for transfer, Gillespie had brought the site through its major reconstruction phase, setting the course for future development at Fort Vancouver. [39]

Opposition in the 1980s: James M. Thomson

After Gillespie transferred, James M. Thomson arrived from White Sands National Monument in New Mexico in August 1978. Thomson entered the Park Service after a stint in the Army, as a member of the First Infantry Division during World War II. From storming the beaches at Normandy, he settled into a quieter life as a seasonal park ranger at Yellowstone National Park in 1949. Trained in forestry at Washington State College, he found a permanent position with the Park Service within a few years. Thomson's first superintendency was at Salinas National Monument, but he also spent time at Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Fort Clatsop National Memorial. After 5 years at White Sands National Monument, he transferred to Fort Vancouver.

In many ways, James Thomson was the most embattled superintendent. For instance, in 1986 John Wulle and the Pearson Airpark Historical Society began their fight to retain general aviation at the airfield. The rumors that the city was going to sell the eastern half of Pearson property for a Trial Blazer's arena had united the supporters of Pearson Airpark who incessantly confronted the Park Service about extending the use of the airfield beyond 2002.

The Waterfront Park also became a point of contention during Thomson's tenure. The city would sometimes break ground for utility or sprinkler systems on the waterfront property without first notifying the Park Service. On one occasion the regional archaeologist was called in by park staff and found artifacts lying around the city's freshly dug trenches. The superintendent filed a stop work order, which did not help the fragile relationship between Fort Vancouver and the city. [40]

Office space for the growing staff and collections at Fort Vancouver was at a premium during Thomson's early administration. The Visitor Center housed the superintendent, the chief of interpretation and resource management, and the curator who worked in the basement. In the summer of 1980, Superintendent Thomson moved his office, Administrative Assistant Marlys Ford, and Curator David Hansen into office space at Officers' Row. In 1987, the park renovated one of the staff residences into an administration building. The curatorial and interpretive staff and library was moved to the Indian Trade Shop at the fort site by the late 1980s.

In 1986, Robert Appling transferred to Fort Vancouver as the chief of interpretation and resource management. Appling had worked at Craters of the Moon for three summers as a seasonal, then took his first permanent position at Jewel Cave. At Fort Vancouver, he replaced Kent Taylor and spent much of his time revitalizing the interpretive program, including improving the coordination of volunteers, replanting the garden, and updating the park's collection of period clothing.

After 43 years of government service, James M. Thomson retired from Fort Vancouver National Historic Site on December 30, 1989. Robert Appling took over as acting superintendent.

Planning for the Future: Dave Herrera

After Thomson's retirement, Dave Herrera was appointed superintendent and came on duty in February 1990. Herrera speculates that his childhood in a tough South Bronx neighborhood in New York City prepared him for his job at Fort Vancouver, but his educational background and work experience also helped. After receiving a BA in psychology, with a minor in education and sociology, and a master's degree in public administration from the University of Utah, Herrera worked for the City of Denver's planning division and later administered employment and training programs for southwestern Nebraska. In 1979, he applied for a position at the National Park Service, Midwest Regional Office in Omaha, Nebraska and was appointed youth programs officer for three years, then legislative specialist. His first superintendency was at Whitman Mission National Historic Site.

Herrera's experience with youth, education, public administration, and even legal issues has probably given him the wide range of skills needed to handle the hottest political problems which he inherited at Fort Vancouver, such as those produced by Pearson Airpark and Waterfront Park. Ironically, one of the most controversial issues that Herrera has faced has been the children's playground. "I was abhorred that there was a city-style recreational playground at a national historic site and I wanted to find a way to get rid of it," Herrera confessed. However, immediately after he removed the old equipment, there was a public outcry. "We removed half of the equipment," Herrera recalls, "then waited a couple of weeks and there was no reaction, then I gave the order to take it all out." The local newspaper ran a large front page article and subsequently a group of outraged parents started a letter-writing campaign. Though the playground, built in 1970, had not been used a lot, and the equipment was deteriorating, Regional Director Charles Odegaard, who received many of the complaints, told Herrera to replace the equipment. The superintendent replaced the playground with a less obtrusive version near the picnic shelter. [41]

Pearson Airpark continued to present problems. As the fight to maintain general aviation beyond the year 2002 heated up, pilots began flying low over the fort site. Herrera contacted the FAA to research regulations of aircraft and filed several complaints which resulted in one pilot getting a written warning. The airport issue has divided the public's loyalty and created an atmosphere of controversy which has eroded some of the local support for Fort Vancouver. Dave Herrera feels that there is not always a strong sense of community pride in the national historic site. He hopes that his forthright actions concerning the playground and Pearson pilots gained him and Fort Vancouver the respect that may have been missing in the past 10 years. "My intent was to take this back as a national site. We tried to raise the level of consciousness of the people of this town." [42]

In order to "take Fort Vancouver back as a national site," Herrera has turned down many special use requests that did not fit into the historic purpose of the park. Hawaiian luaus for 3,000 people, church services, or aerobics exercise videos set within the stockade would not enhance the interpretation of Fort Vancouver. Herrera has also focused on safety at the events that continue to take place at the fort. For the Fourth of July celebration, he has successfully closed the waterfront and SR 14 to parked vehicles.

Other interpretive programs have been revived. Within the past two years the volunteer blacksmith program has grown from one or two blacksmith employees to over 30 volunteers, who recently made all of the hardware for the new fur store for a considerable savings to the park. The newly reconstructed fur store will also help to revive visitor interest in Fort Vancouver with a new interpretive program.

The future holds many new directions for Fort Vancouver. Besides the reconstructed fur store, a recent cultural landscape report will give new guidelines for further restoration and development at the site. Dave Herrera considers the landscape "inappropriate for a National Historic Site, it is chopped up by Fifth Street, and other roads." The cultural landscape report recommends reconnecting disparate areas of the site with a new roadway system and pedestrian overpass. The Kanaka Village area, waterfront park, and the parade ground north of the fort site would also be interpreted as parts of the cultural landscape. Herrera considers these improvements and continued reconstruction at the stockade necessary to maintain the historic integrity of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. "It has always been a struggle of getting the American public to know and appreciate the history of Fort Vancouver," Herrera admitted. "I suppose that maybe as the reconstruction nears completion, maybe only at that point will the region or the Nation really know and have some regard for this place." [43]

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Last Updated: 02-Feb-2000