Fort Vancouver
Historic Structures Report
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Volume II


History and location

Little is known about the history of the Powder Magazine at Fort Vancouver. The earliest mentions thus far encountered of the structure date from 1832, when the existence of a "stone" building for the storage of gunpowder was noted by members of the Wyeth party. [1]

During Outfit 1834 (mid-1834 to mid-1835) Amable Arquoitte, one of the trappers attached to the Indian trade conducted from Fort Vancouver, received a "gratuity" of £8 for "rebuilding Powder Magazine." [2] Whether this work involved changing the location of the building is not known. John Dunn, a Company employee during most of the 1830s, could have been describing the magazine before or after reconstruction when he said it was "built of brick and stone." [3]

The first definite knowledge of the location of the Powder Magazine is provided by the Emmons ground plan drawn on July 25, 1841 (Plate III, vol. I). It shows the "Magazine--the only brick building " situated in the extreme southwest corner of the fort enclosure as it was at that time. According to the plan, entry to the magazine was through a door in its north wall. Another visitor of 1841 also stated that the Powder Magazine was made of brick. [4]

To add to the confusion, when Lt. Mervin Vavasour of the Royal Engineers visited Fort Vancouver during late 1845 and early 1846, he reported to his superiors that the post contained one "small stone Powder Magazine." [5] His ground plan indicates beyond a doubt, however, that he was describing the same structure as Emmons's "only brick building" (see Plates VI, VII, VIII, vol. I).

This lack of agreement on the part of witnesses as to the material of which the building was constructed lasted long after the magazine had disappeared. Testifying in connection with the Company's claims for compensation for loss of its Oregon properties as a result of the boundary settlement of 1846, Thomas Nelson said that in 1851-52 the fort contained only one small brick building. [6] Former Company physician H. A. Tuzo, on the other hand, claimed that in 1853 he found the "fire-proof powder magazine" built of brick and stone. [7]

The list of observers who noted that the Powder Magazine was built of brick, stone, or brick and stone could be considerably expanded without shedding reliable light upon the situation. [8] Archeological excavations in 1947 proved that the witnesses who reported both brick and stone were correct. [9] They also demonstrated that the location in the southwest corner of the stockade enclosure as plotted by Vavasour was almost exact. This site is now designated Building No. 6 on the site plan of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

The Powder Magazine was still standing when the army assumed control of the Company's buildings at Fort Vancouver on June 14, 1860. The next day a board of officers pronounced the structure "useless to the public service." [10] Its subsequent fate is unknown. [11]

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Last Updated: 10-Apr-2003