The History of Fort Vancouver and its Physical Structure
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History and Description of the Physical Structure

Buildings Outside The Stockade

General View, 1846

From the inventory of 1846-1847 and from other sources, a fairly adequate list may be compiled of the mills, barns, dwelling houses, and other structures which the Hudson's Bay Company erected on its extensive holdings at Vancouver. [1] As they stood about the end of 1846, the structures owned by the Company in addition to those comprising the fort proper, included the following:


The Mill Plain was located about six miles upstream from the fort and about a mile back from the river (see plate XXVII). At this place the Company had the following buildings:

One dwelling house26 x 21 feet
One store40 x 20 feet
One stable50 x 20 feet
One barn no. 1108 x 32 feet
One barn no. 2150 x 19 feet
One barn no. 3130 x 18 feet
One barn no. 4117 x 21 feet
One barn no. 5114 or 144 x 18 feet
One barn no. 6150 x 21 feet
One barn no. 7141 x 21 feet
Two shepherds' huts

There were 962-1/2 acres of enclosed land on the Mill Plain in addition to an extensive area which was farmed but left unfenced. There was a total of 16,918 yards of fencing at Mill Plain, classified as follows:

Two side fences, each 3,626 yards
Eight cross fences, each 952 yards
Two side fences of stable field, each 294 yards
Two end fences of stable field, each 46 yards
Seven barn fences, each 135 yards
Five sheep packs, each 85 yards


The sawmills were located on a small stream and almost immediately upon the north bank of the Columbia River, about seven miles above the fort. The Company's buildings there included the following:

One "substantially built saw mill, 91 x 30 feet, and capable of working a gang of 11 saws, with an overshot wheel of 16 feet diameter."
One "new single saw mill, 60 x 19-1/2 ft., cistern 16 feet long, 8 feet square." [2]
One new dwelling house, lined and ceiled, 33 x 27 feet
One new lumber shed, 45 x 23-1/2 feet
One new ox byre, 34 x 29 feet
One new store, 30 x 18 feet
One new stable, 30 x 18 feet
Men's houses, forge, etc.


The flour or gristmills were located on the present Mill Creek, about five or six miles above Fort Vancouver. Like the sawmills, the gristmills were close to the north bank of the Columbia. [3] The following structures were located on Mill Creek:

One "flour mill, 40 x 20 feet, 3 floors, with 2 pairs of stones; a wire machine for dressing flour, with every other convenience."

One new flour mill, 60 x 40 feet

Several years later there were, in addition, a dwelling for the miller and a storehouse, both built of logs with shingle roofs. In all probability, these or similar buildings were at the mills in 1846. [4]


One barn120 x 30 feet
Two barns100 x 30 feet
One stable105 x 20 feet
One ox byre40 x 25 feet
One "piggery," shingle roof40 x 20 feet
Three root houses60 x 20 feet
One corn kill18 x 18 feet [5]

There were 457 acres of fenced land in the vicinity of the fort, enclosed by 11,621 yards of fencing, as follows:

Fencing adjoining the fort, 8,362 yards
Fencing on Dairy Plain, 2,169 yards
Fencing of potato fields, below the dairy, 1,090 yards


One Cooper's shed, perhaps 70 x 30 feet [6]
Two small dwellings [7]


"Dundas Folly" or "Dundas Castle," located on the bluff overlooking the eastern end of Fort Plain.
"Mosquito Grotto," located on the bluff near the site of the old fort, possibly the same building as "Dundas Folly."
Two new schoolhouses, 50 x 40 feet
One stable (possibly already listed under farm buildings)
One dwelling
"Old" grist mill
One dwelling adjoining Catholic church, ceiled, 30 x 21 feet
"New" Catholic church
Three dwellings [8]


One hospital32 x 22 feet
One cooper's shop
One salt store27 x 12 feet
One salmon store100 x 40 feet
One building or boat shed90 x 30 feet
One boat shed100 x 24 feet
One distillery132 x 18 feet
Several dwellings and some farm structures, the latter probably already listed under farm buildings


De Roche's dwelling, lined and ceiled, 30 x 20 feet
Between about twenty to forty additional dwellings, sheds, out-houses, etc.


Scarth's dwelling, lined and ceiled, 40 or 50 x 20 feet
One dwelling, lined and ceiled, 40 or 50 x 20 feet
One dwelling, lined and ceiled, 30 x 20 feet
One receiving store, 32 x 24 feet


The Lower Plain extended for about five miles downstream from the fort. On it were the following structures:

Three houses, each20 x 18 feet
One dairy20 x 18 feet
One barn100 x 20 feet
One "piggery"60 x 18 feet


Two dwelling houses30 x 20 feet
Two dwelling houses18 x 18 feet
Two dairies30 x 20 feet
Two dairies18 x 18 feet
One granary30 x 20 feet [9]

Descriptions of Individual Buildings

Specific descriptions and histories are available concerning only a few of the many buildings listed in the above summary. Those structures regarding which more is known than appears in the inventory of 1846-1847 are discussed in the following paragraphs.

The Sawmills

It has already been seen that by 1828 the Company had a "good" sawmill in operation on a small stream about seven miles east of the fort. When erected, this mill contained only one saw, but it was capable of producing 300,000 feet of boards per year. [10] Long afterwards McLoughlin said that in 1828 he had realized that the falls of the Willamette would have been a more satisfactory location for the sawmill but "the hostile state of the Indian population would not allow of the men being sent away such a Distance from the Fort," and, besides, the Fort Vancouver mill "sawed sufficient Lumber for our wants." [11]

According to tradition, William Cannon, who had come to the Columbia with the Astorians and who was employed by the Company as a blacksmith, built the first sawmill, with an overshot water wheel, at Vancouver for Dr. McLoughlin. [12] The tradition appears well founded, since in 1832 Cannon was in charge of the mill. [13]

On September 15, 1834, Jason Lee passed the Company sawmill and noticed that a new mill was under construction. "The workmanship," he wrote in his journal, "does honour to the master." [14] By March of the next year this new mill was in operation. When all went well, it worked twelve saws and could cut about 3,500 feet of boards every twenty-four hours. [15] Samuel Parker, who visited the mill in October, 1835, described it as "very large," with "several" saws. Piles of lumber surrounded the mill, and there were several cottages in the vicinity. But in spite of this evidence of large-scale lumbering operations, Parker noticed that the Company mill with its multiple saws did not turn out more lumber than a "common mill," with one saw, ordinarily produced in the United States. [16]

This inefficiency was admitted by James Douglas in a letter to Governor Simpson on March 18, 1838. By that date, he said, the mill worked only from six to ten saws, and even when in repair it could cut but 1,500 square feet of one and two-inch boards a week. Due principally to the inexperienced help, machinery breakdowns were frequent, however, and even this moderate production figure was sometimes not met. [17]

At about this period the sawmill employed between twenty-five and thirty men, the figure varying from time to time. The men were chiefly Sandwich Islanders, with a scattering of Scots and other Europeans. They were classed as hewers, carters, fodderers, rafters, and sawyers, with one overseer. [18] About ten or twelve yoke of oxen were employed to haul logs to the mill and finished lumber to the banks of the Columbia, where the boards were made into rafts to be floated down to the fort or were loaded directly onto ships for export. The mills did not operate on Sundays or holidays, and were frequently shut down for one reason or another; but when running, they were kept going day and night, with the employees working in regular shifts. [19]

At the suggestion of McLoughlin, the sawmill was "almost entirely rebuilt" during the spring of 1838 on "a new construction." Given "a double gearing, lighter frames, diminished cranks, with a greatly accellerated stroke," it was able to do "more work, in better style." These improvements were begun in February and completed about the middle of April. But James Douglas, in charge of Fort Vancouver during McLoughlin's furlough in Europe, was not satisfied with the results. "It is still, however, an imperfect structure," he complained, "subjected to continued accidents, which, give rise to a thousand vexatious interruptions." But despite several long stoppages, the mill produced 90,000 feet of inch boards during four months of operation before October, 1838. [20]

It was evidently this reconstructed sawmill which was described by Lieutenant Charles Wilkes in 1841. He found it to be "remarkably well built," with several runs of saws. "In few buildings, indeed," he wrote, "can such materials be seen as are here used." At the mill he also noted a "large smith's shop," which, "besides doing the work of the mill, makes all the axes and hatchets for the trappers." The blacksmith could manufacture fifty axe heads in a single day, and twenty-five were considered an ordinary day's work. [21]

Lieutenant Wilkes noticed one serious defect which plagued the Fort Vancouver sawmill. The structure was located on a never-failing stream, one fall of which alone produced sixty horse power, but it was placed so low and so close to the Columbia that during floods the back water from the river hindered the operation of the machinery and made shutdowns necessary. This difficulty is known to have existed as early as 1838, immediately after the mill was rebuilt, and probably it had hampered the operation of the mill of 1834 and possibly even that of 1828. The same trouble continued as long as the Company continued to run the mills. [22]

About the beginning of 1839 a young London millwright named William Frederick Crate, who had been in the employ of the Hudson's Bay Company for several years, was engaged to construct water mills and to mill flour at Fort Vancouver. [23] For a year or two his attentions were chiefly devoted to the building and operating of a new gristmill for the establishment, but some time before 1843 he appears to have erected a new sawmill. [24]

According to Crate's testimony before the British and American Joint Commission, this new mill was located partly on the site of the former mill, "a little lower down the stream." This was the structure described in the inventory of 1846-1847 as measuring 91 x 30 feet. It was a "gang" mill, with nine saws in the gang and two more in a sash, making eleven in all. It was driven by an overshot wheel, sixteen feet in diameter and eight or ten feet wide. Crate stated that the mill was "substantial," well-built, and "very expensive," since most of the iron work was wrought and came from England. "It was a very powerful built mill," he said, "with a great amount of iron work in it." [25]

This gang mill continued in operation for a number of years, but by 1849 it had practically been abandoned. Probably its operation required the use of a larger crew than could be employed with profit during the California gold excitement. At any rate, Crate could not remember that it was used at all after 1849. [26] The remains of the gang mill could still be seen in 1853, but the building was "very rotten" and had fallen down. [27]

About 1846 the Company constructed another mill alongside that built by Crate. The dimensions of this new mill were 60 by 19-1/2 feet. It contained a single saw and was driven by a flutter wheel in a cistern which measured 16 by 8 feet. Crate later described it as a "strong substantial frame," built "on the American plan." It was the only sawmill in operation at Vancouver in 1849. [28]

In December of the latter year Chief Factor Ogden rented the Company sawmill and all the buildings within a half mile of it to Captain Rufus Ingalls, Army quartermaster. Ingalls evidently rented the mill as a private venture in company with a man named James B. Leach. The business appears not to have been profitable, for the Hudson's Bay Company was again in possession of the mill in 1850. [29]

In 1851 and 1852 Crate constructed still another sawmill for the Company. It was located on the same stream as the others but on the opposite side and lower down. It measured 60 by 20 feet and had one sash saw, driven by an overshot wheel. It took a crew of eight to twelve men four months to build this mill. Later Crate changed it from a single motion mill to a "double motion geared up mill," an operation which took approximately three additional months. This new mill could cut three or four thousand feet of timber in twelve hours "without any driving." [30] Soon after this mill was constructed, the old single-saw mill appears to have been abandoned.

After 1850 the price of lumber, which had been high during the early California gold rush period, began to decline. In the Spring of 1853 Ogden told one employee that the newest mill was not meeting its expenses and ordered it shut down. [31] At about the same time settlers came in and took up claims on the land formerly occupied by the Company and put a stop to the free cutting of timber. [32] For these reasons, evidently, the firm discontinued its lumbering operations, although it appears to have kept a caretaker at the mills and to have sawed some lumber until about 1856. [33]

Meanwhile, about 1853, a settler named Ervin J. Taylor and his wife laid claim to a half section of land which included the sawmill. About 1856, when Crate, then acting as the Company's caretaker, was absent, Taylor took possession of the mill and set it running "without sawing," thereby ruining some of the machinery. Then followed a long period of squabbling and litigation between Taylor and the officers of the Company, but Taylor maintained possession. He considered that the firm had abandoned the mill, as the building was open and "exposed to the ingress and egress of cattle." [34] He repaired the mill and operated it for a period. On October 24, 1862, he sold out to Lewis Love, who was in possession when mention of the Company's mill appears to fade from the records. [35]

The Gristmills

According to tradition, the first flour "mill" in the present State of Washington was a very primitive contrivance indeed. At about the time of the construction of the first Fort Vancouver, the blacksmith and millwright William Cannon is said to have fashioned a large mortar by hollowing out the top of a great fir stump. In this depression, wheat, peas, and other crops were pounded with a heavy wooden pestle attached to a spring pole. [36]

In or about 1828, however, Cannon constructed a more advanced type of mill on the rising ground north and west of the new fort (see plate X). The machinery for this mill appears to have been imported from England, but persistent tradition maintains that Cannon fashioned the burrs from some "gigantic" boulders obtained locally. [37] The new mill was generally operated by horse power, although oxen also appear to have been used for this purpose. [38]

In September, 1836, the Whitmans were taken on several tours of inspection about the fort and its farms by Dr. McLoughlin. "On visiting the mill we did not find it in a high state of improvement," Mrs. Whitman noted in her journal. "It goes by horse power and has a wire bolt. This seemed a hard way of getting bread, but better so than no bread, or to grind by hand." [39] A visitor of the preceding year had been more favorably impressed. He noted that the mill was kept in "constant operation" and produced flour "of excellent quality." [40]

After about 1839, when a new water-power mill was placed in operation, the old mill back of the fort appears to have been abandoned. By 1849 it was in ruins, and apparently it was pulled down during 1850. [41]

There is a possibility that as early as 1828 or 1829 the Company selected a site for a gristmill upon Mill Creek, about five miles above the fort, and there constructed another "primitive preliminary mill." At that time Jedediah Smith noticed that the firm possessed "a good saw mill on the bank of the river five miles above, a grist mill worked by hand, but intended to work by water." [42] This somewhat ambiguous statement gives little indication of the location of the gristmill described, but it seems unlikely that the phrase "intended to work by water" would have been applied to the mill behind the fort, where there was no prospect of obtaining sufficient water to run a mill.

The theory that a small mill was located on Mill Creek at an early date is given support by two items written in 1832. In a letter purporting to have been composed during that year, a resident at the fort stated that the establishment possessed a threshing mill, a flouring mill, and a sawmill, the "two last" of which were about six miles above the post. [43] In October, 1832, Nathaniel Wyeth noted in his journal that there were two gristmills at Fort Vancouver. [44] It must be admitted, however, that the above-mentioned scraps of evidence are not conclusive, and the solution of this problem must await further research. But it can be stated quite definitely that there was no water-power gristmill at Fort Vancouver before about 1839.

By 1838 the primitive mill or mills in operation were no longer adequate to meet the expanded needs of the Columbia Department, and steps were taken to obtain more production capacity. "We have also constructed the machinery and prepared materials for the dam & building, of a water power Grist Mill, adapted for two run of 54 inch stones," Chief Factor Douglas wrote to the Governor and Committee on October 18 of that year. [45]

The site selected for this new structure was on the present Mill Creek, about two or three hundred yards from the bank of the Columbia. This stream had four falls within a short distance of one another, and each fall could produce between twenty-one and twenty-four horse power. All of the falls were situated within a half mile stretch of the stream and were so placed that a mill could be put along them "every fifty yards," or they could all be employed to operate one mill. [46]

William Frederick Crate, the miller from London, was in charge of the construction, and evidently he was assisted by John Stanger, also a miller at the fort. Between eight and twenty men were employed at the task, which occupied them "off and on" for about twelve months. According to Stanger family tradition, the timber was cut at the site and hewed to shape with the broad axe. The timbers were joined together with wooden pins, and the result, according to Lieutenant Wilkes, was a "well-built edifice." [47]

The building measured 40 by 20 feet and was three and a half stories high. It contained two pairs of stones and a wire bolting machine, "with every other convenience." The driving power came from an overshot wheel. [48]

By at least 1841 there was a house for the miller "annexed" to the mill. In 1854 the miller's dwelling and a nearby storehouse were both described as having been built of logs with shingle roofs. [49]

Evidently the new mill was in operation by the fall of 1839. Thomas Jefferson Farnham saw the structure at that time and almost certainly was referring to it when he wrote: "The grist mill is not idle. It must furnish bread stuff for the posts, and the Russian market in the northwest. And its deep music is heard daily and nightly half the year." [50] Crate could later remember only that the mill had been finished "in 1839 or 1840." [51]

As late as 1841 the mill evidently operated only one pair of stones. [52] But it was capable of grinding about 20,000 bushels of grain a year, which, according to Governor Simpson, was all that was required at the time. [53]

About the end of 1846 or the beginning of 1847 the Company erected another flour mill on the same stream as the first, but farther down. The new mill was larger, measuring about 60 by 40 feet. It was four stories high and was intended for eight or ten runs of stones.

But this new mill was never completed. It was described as having been about half finished in 1849; some three years later a newly arrived mill employee noted that the building was "up and covered"; and in 1854 Governor Stevens wrote that the new mill "frame" erected in 1847 was still not completed. [54] Crate later said that when he last saw it, in the early 1860's, the new mill was still in good condition. He believed that at its highest stage of development it was "about half prepared for the machinery." [55]

As early as 1849, Crate and his wife had filed notice of a donation claim to a square mile of land near Fort Vancouver. The gristmills were included within the boundaries of their claim. As Crate later stated concerning the tract, "if I had not taken it, some one else would have jumped it."

Unlike some of the other settlers, however, Crate recognized that the improvements erected by the Company upon his claim did not belong to him. He acknowledged that the gristmills were the property of the Hudson's Bay Company, and he continued to operate them as a miller until June, 1860. When the Company decided to abandon Fort Vancouver, Crate was ordered to send the machinery from the mills to the post for shipment to Victoria. He did send a large amount but did not bother to remove "such machinery as had been fixed in the mill." After the Company left, he removed the remaining ironwork and sold it, putting the money in his own pocket. [56]

By 1860 the 1839 mill was somewhat decayed, particularly in the sills, and by 1866 one witness testified that it had rotted away entirely. [57] How long the 1847 mill continued to stand is not known. It was still in good condition in 1860. [58]

Dundas Folly

After the preliminary brief visit at Fort Vancouver during the summer of 1844, H. M. S. Modeste, an 18-gun sloop, returned to the Columbia in November, 1845. Taking up a station off the post, she remained until May, 1847, showing the British flag and protecting British interests in the Oregon country. During the vessel's long stay at Vancouver, the officers and crew spent much time ashore, principally in search of recreation of various sorts.

For the shelter and convenience of the officers, particularly, a number of structures were erected in the area east of the fort. These buildings included a stable—which may have been an older structure belonging to the Company—near the bank of the river and almost directly south of the southeast corner of the stockade (see plate X), and several residences and summer-houses. While most of these edifices did not, strictly speaking, belong to the Hudson's Bay Company, they were located on land claimed by the firm and were prominent landmarks in the local scene.

The most frequently mentioned of these structures was the one known as "Dundas Folly," or "Dundas Castle." Named after Adam D. Dundas, an officer of the Modeste, it was built on the bluff, about a mile back from the river and overlooking the upper end of the Fort Plain. It was a small, octagonal log house, with a "pointed roof covered with canvass, around an enclosure with shrubs planted." [59]

The building continued to stand for many years, seemingly at least until 1859 and possibly until 1865. After the departure of the Modeste, Dundas Folly may have been used by the Company for agricultural purposes. At any rate, it seems to have been considered a Company building. [60]

Mosquito Grotto

Another of the structures built by the officers of the Modeste was that known as the "Mosquito Grotto." Located "on a picturesque and shady spot adjoining the old fort hill," this "elegant rectangular arbor, or summer retreat," was erected in April or early May, 1846. It was intended, wrote a local newspaper correspondent, "as a sweet retirement from the fatigues of arduous duties, and from the heat prevalent during the 'dog-days.'"

The structure was dedicated, evidently in May, by a "select party" who formed in procession and "with all due solemnity" performed the "ceremonies usually practiced upon such occasions." At the conclusion of the festivities, the arbor was "appropriately" named "Mosquito Grotto." [61]

The New Catholic Church

The reasons which motivated the Catholic priests at Fort Vancouver to seek a church of their own outside the stockade have already been discussed. [62] As has been seen, the Company offered the Catholic missionaries the use of a tract of land north and east of the fort for the purpose before 1844. The site is said to have been selected by Dr. McLoughlin and James Douglas. [63] The priests desired to purchase the ground, but the Company's officers refused to sell. It was agreed, however, that the missionaries could fence the land, an act they were not able to accomplish due to a lack of funds.

One witness later said that work on the new church was started two or three years before it was dedicated. Since the consecration took place in 1846, this statement would seem to indicate that the building was commenced about the time the site was selected. The fact that the church is shown in the Vavasour map of late 1845 lends weight to this view (see plate V).

On the other hand, the church records and the testimony of witnesses agree that James Douglas was the founder and builder of the new place of worship. It seems unlikely, however, that John McLoughlin would not have taken a very active part in the founding of the church had he been in charge of the fort at the time. The fact that McLoughlin's name is not mentioned as a founder of the church leads to the presumption that he was not at the fort or at least was not in exclusive command when the work began. Notice that McLoughlin was to be succeeded in the management of the Columbia Department by a board of three members reached Fort Vancouver in the fall of 1845, and the Doctor ceased active participation in the direction of affairs and moved to Oregon City in January, 1846. It is possible, therefore, that actual construction did not begin until at least the fall of 1845. [64]

The larger timbers for the church are said to have been cut within a quarter of a mile of the building site. The lumber came from the Company mills. All the materials and labor were donated by the Hudson's Bay Company. [65]

The church was opened and blessed by Father DeVos, S.J., on May 31, 1846. After delivering a "most impressive and solemn discourse" to a congregation of about 150 persons, Father DeVos dedicated the structure "under the auspices of the Holy name of Mary and the patronage of the Apostle, St. James the Greater." In making the dedication, the priest specifically stated that the church had been "founded and built by Mister James Douglas." [66]

The non-Catholic officers of the Company, most of whom attended the dedication ceremonies, treated the naming of the church somewhat as a joke. When one of them was asked, some years later, why the chapel was called "St. James the Greater," he replied, "pshaw don't you know, why after James Douglas of course who built it." [67]

The new church was 81 or 83 feet long, 36 feet wide, and 20 feet high. Inside, a gallery, 12 feet wide, extended across the width of the building. According to a newspaper account of the time, accommodations were provided for about 500 persons. The roof was shingled. [68]

Although the priests were permitted to use the structure without charge, the Hudson's Bay Company considered that it owned both the church building and the adjoining dwelling intended as a residence for the missionary fathers. The two structures were listed in the inventory of Company property made in 1846-1847. And, for a time during 1850, when the priests seem to have been on one of their periodic absences from Vancouver, the firm's officers appear to have rented a part of the church to the Quartermaster's Department of the United States Army. [69] Certain witnesses later testified, on the contrary, that the Church was never used for anything but religious services. [70]

If the military authorities did occupy the building, their tenure was short, for on October 27, 1850, the Rev. A. M. A. Blanchet, Bishop of Nesqually, took up his residence at Fort Vancouver. [71] The little church thus became a cathedral, an honor it held for many years.

Apparently as late as 1853 the Hudson's Bay Company continued to rent out to the Army the rectory or another dwelling connected with the church. [72] But after this date assertion of ownership by the Company became less and less effective.

In May, 1853, the Bishop of Nesqually filed a claim for 640 acres of land surrounding the church. This claim was based on the Oregon Organic Act of 1848, which provided that title to the land, not exceeding 640 acres, occupied as missionary stations among the Indians of Oregon Territory on the date of the passage of the act, was to be confirmed to the "several religious societies to which said missionary stations respectively belong." Peter Skene Ogden, on behalf of the Hudson's Bay Company, protested against this claim on the grounds that the buildings and land occupied by the Catholics at Fort Vancouver were the property of the Company and that, in actuality, no mission among the Indians existed. [73]

The United States Surveyor General's office refused to take action on the Bishop's claim, since it was within the area covered by the Hudson's Bay Company's "possessory rights" under the treaty of 1846. But it was generally believed, both in the Pacific Northwest and in the national capital, that these rights would expire in 1859, when the Company's license of exclusive British trade was due to terminate. This notion made it virtually impossible for the Company to assert its ownership to the lands surrounding Fort Vancouver against those who coveted them. By the late 1850's the activities of the Company were virtually restricted to the area within the stockade and to the mills.

Meanwhile, the position of the Church at Vancouver had been greatly strengthened. From September 21, 1852, to May 20, 1855, the military post at Fort Vancouver was under the command of the famous frontiersman, Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin L. E. Bonneville, a Frenchman by birth who was confirmed in the Catholic faith at Vancouver on March 30, 1854. [74] A great friendship grew up between Colonel Bonneville and Father J. B. A. Brouillet, the "snuffy, cheery, good-hearted little padre" resident at the St. James Cathedral. Under Bonneville's protection and with his encouragement, the improvements of the church were greatly extended. About five acres of land were enclosed, an orchard was planted, and a house was built for the Bishop. It was even rumored that it was Bonneville who suggested to the priests that they file a mission claim under the act of 1848.

In subsequent years, with the approval of the military authorities, additional buildings were erected. These included a large two-story frame structure for the College of the Holy Angels, other school buildings, and a hospital for the indigent and sick. [75]

After 1859, the Bishop of Nesqually began to press vigorously for confirmation of the St. James Mission claim to 640 acres of land at Vancouver. The long and involved history of this case cannot be considered in this paper. Suffice it to say that the legal struggle was carried on in the courts and in Congress for about half a century.

A decision of the Commissioner of the General Land Office in 1883 awarded the Catholic Church the ground—somewhat less than half an acre—upon which the St. James Church actually stood. But the Catholic Church refused to accept this decision and continued to occupy the more extensive area covered by its improvements. Finally, in 1887, the military authorities determined to force a judicial decision upon the matter. In as friendly and courteous a manner as was possible under the circumstances, they made a show of requiring the staff of the mission and the College of the Holy Angels to remove themselves from within the limits of the military reservation, and they took possession of the school buildings and even of "Heaven's half-acre itself." In the legal battle which followed, the Supreme Court decided adversely to the mission, but it was not until 1905 that the Catholic Church finally relinquished all its claims to land within the Vancouver Barracks Military Reservation. [76]

During these long years of debate, the church built for the missionaries by the Hudson's Bay Company continued to serve as the place of Catholic worship for the growing City of Vancouver and the surrounding area. In about 1852 or 1853 the building underwent extensive repairs. At that time or later it appears to have been somewhat enlarged. [77]

In 1884-1885, a new Catholic church was built in the City of Vancouver, and upon its completion the old structure on the military reservation was vacated. [78] But even after the Army occupied most of the mission improvements in 1887, the church and some of the other structures apparently continued in the hands of the Catholic clergy. [79] Finally, in 1889, the old St. James Church was destroyed by fire. [80] As far as is known, it was the last to disappear of all the buildings constructed by the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Vancouver.

New Priests' House or Rectory

Along with the new Catholic Church, the Hudson's Bay Company constructed the frame of a small house for the missionaries. This structure, consisting of a single room, measured 30 x 21 feet, and it adjoined the church on the east side. As late as 1854 the parsonage was attached to the church building, but later it appears to have been moved, probably a short distance to the north. [81]

Although the inventory of 1846-1847 listed the rectory as being ceiled, it evidently was not completed for a considerable period after 1846. For this reason, it was later said, the priests continued to live within the stockade during their stays at Fort Vancouver. [82] Undoubtedly the convenience of being located near the fort kitchen and the congeniality of the "gentlemen" employees also had something to do with the choice of residence.

Shortly after the United States troops arrived at Fort Vancouver in 1849, the quartermaster rented the rectory from the Hudson's Bay Company and used it as a residence for officers. [83] About 1850 the building was returned to the priests, and it appears to have been used by them fairly regularly from that time forward. While repairs were being made on the main church structure about 1852 or 1853, it seems that Mass was held in the smaller rectory "at least once." The building was still standing in 1860, but its later history is unknown. By at least 1872 it had been incorporated in or replaced by a convent which occupied its site. [84]

New Schoolhouses

The first school in the Oregon country was begun late in 1832 at the instigation of Dr. McLoughlin. He placed his son and some of the boys about Fort Vancouver under the tutelage of John Ball, who came with the Wyeth party. The history of the Fort Vancouver school is known in considerable detail and is of extreme interest, but it cannot be considered in this limited study.

By 1836 there were about sixty scholars in the school, a third of them girls. [85] Instruction was partly on the "manual labor system." The boys spent about half of the day in the class room and the remainder in the fields under the watchful eye of their instructor. The girls were taught sewing and other domestic arts. [86] The children who had no families were fed and housed at the fort.

The location of the schoolroom or rooms appears to have changed considerably over the years. As has been seen, between 1839 and about 1847 it seems quite definitely to have been in the "Owyhee Church" building, near the rear gate. According to one visitor of 1841, by that year the Catholic church was also used for school purposes, but whether the sessions were held there for secular as well as religious instruction is not clear. [87]

Evidently by 1844 the school had outgrown its quarters within the stockade, for about that year the construction of two new schoolhouses was commenced on the sloping ground back of the fort (see plates V, X, XXV). It has been stated that James Douglas was responsible for the new structures, although it is possible that they were first projected by McLoughlin, who was the person who took the greatest interest in the Fort Vancouver school. [88]

According to the inventory of 1846-1847, the new schoolhouses each measured 50 x 40 feet. Although the frames may have been up as early as 1844—since the structures appear on the map drawn late in that year—it was a long time before the buildings were completed. In June, 1848, the structures were used for shearing sheep, and the next year they still stood unfinished, being without floors. [89]

The Company had great plans for its "academies" or "high schools," as its officers liked to describe the big barns back of the fort. A visitor of June, 1848, was told that two teachers, a man and wife, were to be sent out from England during the next spring. They were to have the use of the buildings without charge and were to receive, in addition, their firewood and a salary of $1500 a year. It was expected that some of the scholars would board at the school. [90]

Perhaps some of these plans were realized, since Major Osborne Cross, who reached Fort Vancouver with the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen in October, 1849, noted that on one of the plains about Vancouver there was an "excellent seminary" where the children from the fort and neighborhood were educated. This school, it is generally thought, was located a short distance north of the fort and was conducted by Mrs. Richard Covington. [91] But George Gibbs, who also reached the Columbia with the Riflemen, stated that little interest was shown in education at Fort Vancouver after McLoughlin retired and that the school had "sunk into disuse." [92]

It must be admitted that there is evidence which makes it appear that Gibbs may have been correct. When Brevet Major J. S. Hathaway and his detachment of United States troops arrived at Vancouver in May, 1849, they found two large, unfinished buildings located "just in the rear of the fort," between it and the camp which Major Hathaway soon established on the bluff. On June first, Captain Rufus Ingalls, Army quartermaster, entered into an agreement with Peter Skene Ogden to rent these two structures for a period of six months, with the possibility of an extension of the lease. The rental for these buildings, one of which appears to have contained ten rooms and the other two, was seventy dollars per month. The ten-room structure was converted into barracks for Company L, 1st Artillery; and the other was used as a storehouse for quartermaster and commissary supplies. [93]

Although it is nowhere specifically so stated, it seems more than likely that these rented buildings were the two schoolhouses. In a somewhat sketchy inventory which he made of the Hudson's Bay Company buildings at Vancouver in the fall of 1849, Major D. H. Vinton, of the Quartermaster Department, did not mention the schoolhouses, which were so conspicuous they could scarcely have been overlooked. He did list, however, "two buildings occupied by the Company of Artillery & Subsistence Dept. at this post." [94] No buildings labeled "schoolhouses" are to be found on any known maps later than the Covington plan of 1846. But what were apparently the same buildings are depicted without title on a map of the military reservation drawn by Brevet Captain James Stuart in August, 1850 (see plate XI). Thereafter, maps show only one structure in this location. This building belonged to the Hudson's Bay Company and it probably was not new, as the firm was doing little building at that time. But whether one of the school houses was destroyed, or whether the two structures were combined, is not known.

As shown by several later maps, this single structure was rented by the Army as an ordnance storehouse or hospital during all or most of the 1850's. In 1853 it was described as a large, two-story warehouse, rented by the Ordnance Department. [95] During the next year various reports show it to have been a "very inferior" building used both as an ordnance store and a hospital, the rental being forty dollars per month. [96] In 1858 the Army built a hospital of its own at Vancouver, but the old Hudson's Bay building behind the fort apparently was still being rented for use of the Ordnance Department as late as June, 1860. [97]

The Village

The lesser employees at Fort Vancouver—the tradesmen, artisans, boatmen, laborers, and so forth—for the most part had their homes in what was known as "the village," on the plain west and southwest of the stockade. Immediately west and north of the fort was a large cultivated field. Bounding this field on the west, and some six or seven hundred feet from the west stockade wall, was a road which led from the area of the wharf and lagoon to the site of the new Catholic church (see plates V, X). Along the west side of this road were lined a number of the village houses, giving the appearance of a street. Another road branched from this one about opposite the northwest corner of the palisade and ran in a westerly direction over the plain. Along this second road, also, about a half dozen houses were ranged with some semblance of regularity. But with these two exceptions it is somewhat difficult to identify the neat "rows" of huts mentioned by certain visitors to the fort.

From the placement of the houses as they are shown on existing maps, one is inclined to believe that most of the employees lived not in an ordered village but in dwellings described by one witness as being dotted "all over the plain, for a mile." [98] Undoubtedly, however, there were a number of lanes which were not shown on the maps, and the town probably appeared much more orderly in fact than it now looks upon the charts.

The village was in existence at least as early as 1832, and it probably was laid out in 1829 or at an even earlier date. [99] In 1834 John Kirk Townsend found the Canadian and other servants of the establishment living in thirty or forty "log huts," placed "in rows, with broad lanes or streets between them," the whole forming a "neat and beautiful village." He was at first impressed with the "fastidious cleanliness" observed in the town. He saw the women sweeping the streets and scrubbing the doorsills as regularly as in his own "proverbially cleanly" Philadelphia. Upon closer acquaintance, however, he changed his mind and admitted that his first estimate concerning the cleanliness of the village had been "too high." [100]

Hall J. Kelley, who also reached the fort in the fall of 1834, likewise had something to say about the sanitary conditions in the dwellings of the employees. For several reasons, Kelley was not a welcome guest at Vancouver. Although in ill health, he was not given lodging within the stockade but was assigned a place in a cabin in the village.

"The house had one room, with a shed adjoining," Kelley later remembered. "The latter having been long occupied for dressing fish and wild game, was extremely filthy. The black mud about the door was abundantly mixed with animal putrescence. It was not a place that would conduce much to the recovery of health. It was, however, the habitation of a Canadian, a respectable and intelligent man, a tinner by trade." [101]

Five years later, in 1839, Thomas Jefferson Farnham found the village to consist of fifty-three wooden houses, generally constructed in the post-on the-sill style. [102] Members of the United States Exploring Expedition in 1841 variously estimated the number of dwellings in the town to have been between about thirty and fifty, ranged in "regular order on each side of the road" and "swarming with children, whites, half-breeds, and pure Indians." These "comfortable" homes, the explorers noted, were generally built of hewn logs, in the Canadian fashion. [103]

An American traveler who reached Fort Vancouver in December, 1845, looked upon the village with a more critical eye. It was, wrote Joel Palmer, inhabited by a "mongrel race," and the buildings were "as various in form" as were the "characteristics of their inmates." [104]

According to one long-time resident at Vancouver, the village had grown by 1848 to number between sixty and seventy-five buildings. [105] This estimate must have included every last shed and out-house, since maps of 1846 and 1850 show only some twenty-odd structures in the town area (see plates X, XI). It was said that in 1849 Indians and half-breeds made up two-thirds of the population of the village, that whites formed one-third of the balance, and that the remainder consisted of Hawaiians. [106]

A good description of the town and its buildings as they stood about the end of the 1840's was given many years later by William F. Crate, the millwright. The village in 1849, he said, was in as good condition as it had been in 1843, "and in my opinion better." There were separate streets for French-Canadians, for Kanakas, and for Englishmen and Americans, although most of the employees of the latter two nationalities lived "scattered around," above and below the fort. Some of the dwellings were built in Canadian style, of two or four-inch planks; some were built in "American cottage fashion," framed and weatherboarded; some were of squared timbers; a "very few" were of logs; and a number were of edged slabs from the Company's sawmill, the slabs applied with the flat side out.

The houses were generally one story high, but some had one and a half stories. A number were ceiled on the inside, and some were even papered. More were plastered with clay. They generally contained two or three rooms, although many had but a single room. [107]

With the decline of the Company's business at Vancouver during the 1850's, the staff of employees was cut, and the number of houses in the village was proportionately diminished. Beginning in 1849, some of the better structures were rented to the Army, chiefly for use as quarters and offices for the Quartermaster Department. [108] By the early 1850's, the village had degenerated into a collection of "old slab buildings," generally described collectively as "Kanaka Town." [109]

In 1854, Governor Stevens estimated that there were about twenty "cabins" left in the village, occupied by servants, Kanakas, and Indians. He found that the structures were, with few exceptions, built of slabs and that they were mostly untenanted and left to decay. [110]

During the latter half of the 1850's, the military authorities gradually cleared away most of the village buildings. In 1857, for instance, one of the "Johnson Houses" (see plate X) was pulled down. [111] The hardy teamsters of the Quartermaster Department hastened the general destruction by a rough game they were fond of playing. They would brush against the corners of the decaying buildings with the hubs of their great wagons and attempt to push them over. Others of the houses fell prey to soldiers and settlers in search of firewood and building materials. A witness later testified that by 1859 most of the dwellings in the village had been destroyed or moved. [112]

Finally, in February, 1860, the military authorities decided to clear the land west and southwest of the fort, embracing a tract of land lying in front of the Quartermaster's office and depot, and stretching from the western boundary of the reservation to a line of stakes commencing at a point about eighty yards east of the Catholic church and running from thence in a southerly direction to the river. On March 1, a board of Army officers examined the area and found nine buildings "claimed" by the Hudson's Bay Company, "mere shells," rapidly going to decay and most of them propped up to keep them from falling down. It was decided that three of these structures—the Salmon House, the "Johnson House," and the "Field House"—were of "some little value" and should not be destroyed, but the remaining six had to go. Some of the condemned structures were not in the village, a fact which indicates that by March, 1860, the former town had been almost completely obliterated, at least within the boundaries of the military reservation.

The final destruction was not long delayed. On March 12, Government employees removed all the fences from the Company's fields in the area designated to be cleared. Four days later they burned down a house in which hay had been stored, and on March 20, after the windows had been removed, Kanaka William's house was burned to the ground. The remaining structures destroyed at this time appear to have been in the vicinity of the wharf and pond, but an additional house and shed or two remaining from the old village may have been demolished also.

Evidently later in the same year the "Johnson House" was moved to the west line of the military reservation, near the river. The "Field House" was left in place, being occupied by a Mrs. Stubbs; and it continued to stand for a number of years. Thus, with these exceptions, all traces of the village within the boundaries of the military reservation had disappeared by the end of 1860. [113]

The Hospital

Beginning in 1830, malaria, or intermittent fever as it was called at the time, became a serious problem at Fort Vancouver. For a long period there after a goodly percentage of the working force of the establishment was incapacitated each year during the season when the fever was at its height. In addition, venereal diseases and other ailments, as well as accidents, constantly kept a sizable number of persons on the sick list. To accommodate these invalids, Dr. McLoughlin erected a hospital. The exact date of construction and the location of the earliest structure dedicated to the care of the sick at Vancouver is unknown. It is thought to have been built about 1833, when Dr. Meredith Gairdner was acting as post surgeon. The work of McLoughlin and Gairdner in getting this building in operation has been termed the "first attempt at permanent hospitalization in the Pacific Northwest." [114]

It is known that by 1839 the hospital was located not far from the village, on the river bank; and probably it had been in that situation since its first construction. [115] The inventory of 1846-1847 gives the measurements of this building as 32 x 22 feet. According to the Covington map, the structure was still near the river in 1846, located between the salt house and the boat sheds; and there, as far as is known, it remained as long as the Company had any use for a hospital at Vancouver. It—and perhaps two other buildings—was so employed as late as 1853, and it was afterwards rented to the "quartermaster of volunteers," evidently during the Indian wars of 1855-1856. [116] The building was finally removed by the military authorities on March 19, 1860, as part of the program to clean up the area west and southwest of the stockade. [117]

The Cooper's Shop

The cooper's shop shown on the Covington map of 1846 as having been situated near the river and a short distance north of the hospital, was little more than a shed. In 1845, Joel Palmer and a party of Americans lodged there and found that the structure offered very little shelter from the wind and rain. They attempted to sleep on a pile of staves but were disturbed during the night by noises they believed to be made by foraging pigs. In the morning the weary travelers discovered that the pigs had in reality been Indians, who had imitated the sounds of the domestic animals in order to hide the fact that they were making away with the food and utensils belonging to the voyagers. [118]

The Salmon House

The salmon house, or "fish house" as it was sometimes called, was located at the head of the Company wharf near the bank of the Columbia. It was a large building, measuring 100 x 40 feet, and as might be assumed from its name, was used principally for storing cured salmon. The date of its construction is not known, but in 1849 it was considered an old building. Its roof was then in good condition, but otherwise it was much dilapidated. [119]

During the 1850's the building was occupied on occasion, in whole or in part, by the Army quartermaster as a temporary storehouse. But Captain Rufus Ingalls, the quartermaster during most of this period, had no liking for the structure. He considered it inadequate and an impediment to the adequate use of the military reservation by the Army. During June and July, 1857, Captain Ingalls applied to Chief Factor Dugald Mactavish, then in charge of the Hudson's Bay post, for permission to erect a Government wharf and storehouse "at or near" the site of the salmon store. On August 3 he went a step further by formally requesting permission to remove the salmon house in order to clear the ground for the new storehouse. The Company's officers at Victoria, to whom Mactavish referred the application, most emphatically declined to relinquish the site without compensation. They offered to sell the ground for $30,000 or to rent the building and ground for $1500 per year. [120]

When this proposal was communicated to Ingalls, he became highly indignant. He denied that the Hudson's Bay Company had any ownership of the soil at Vancouver, but he did not press the point. Rather, he told Mactavish that his plans had changed and that he had decided to do nothing which could "possibly interfere with any use or disposition you may see fit to make of the old 'Salmon House.'" Indeed, he said, even had the permission been granted, he would not have moved or touched the building, [121]

But Ingalls did not give up his plan to get rid of the salmon house. As late as March 5, 1860, when the Army was clearing the ground west and southwest of the stockade, he told John M. Wark, in temporary charge of the fort, that the military authorities would not disturb the salmon house and certain other buildings, since they appeared to be "of some little value." [122] A few weeks later, however, he advised Captain Alfred Pleasonton, departmental adjutant, that the salmon store, which "has, up to this time, been occupied conjointly by the Depot and Hudson's Bay Company for storage purposes," was "old and unfit for further use." He understood that the building would be required during the ensuing summer for the accommodation of the British North West Boundary Commission, but he recommended that when it should be no longer wanted for that purpose, it should "be removed" to make way for a new storehouse which the "increased wants of the Service" made "indispensably necessary." [123]

The British Boundary Commission was at Vancouver in the early summer of 1860, but whether or not they used the salmon house is not known. Soon after the Company abandoned Fort Vancouver in June, 1860, the recommendation of Ingalls was carried into effect. Before the middle of August the military authorities had pulled down and burned the salmon store. [124]

The Wharf

The date of the construction of the Company's wharf at Fort Vancouver is unknown, but it probably was built at about the same time as was the stockade itself. In the summer of 1857 the military authorities desired to remove the old "jetty" and to build one of their own in its place. They found the pier to be insecure, incapable of sustaining much weight, and usable only at high water. [125] On June 25, 1857, Captain Rufus Ingalls, Army Quartermaster, requested permission to take this step. Dugald Mactavish, the Company's representative at Vancouver, referred the matter to his superiors at Victoria; but before receiving a reply he told Ingalls on July 28 that upon "mature reflection" he had come to the conclusion that the idea of erecting a Government wharf, or any other, upon land claimed by the Company, could not be entertained. [126]

Unswerved by this very direct refusal and by charges that he was trespassing, Ingalls proceeded to construct a new Government wharf in the vicinity of the salmon house. Although the contemporary documents do not show that the old Company wharf was actually torn down, two witnesses later claimed that such was the case. [127]

The new landing evidently was completed, or nearly so, by the end of September, 1857, for on the twenty-third of that month Captain Ingalls told Chief Factor Mactavish that the Company was at liberty "to enjoy the free use" of the public wharf. [128]

The new pier was termed "a splendid structure," capable of being used at every stage of the river. Its erection, said Ingalls, had enhanced the value of the old salmon store "at least 200 per cent," and he did not see how the Company could possibly complain that its interests had been damaged. [129]

The Boat Sheds

It has already been seen that shipbuilding was one of the earliest industries to be commenced at Fort Vancouver. The story of the shipyard at the post is both important and interesting, but it cannot be treated in this abbreviated study. In addition to the construction of barges and larger vessels for use on the Columbia, and in addition to the several attempts to build ocean-going craft, the Fort Vancouver shipyard was evidently used to turn out at least some of the "York boats" which were generally used for transportation on the lower river.

It was probably for the building and storage of these boats that the Company erected two large boat sheds almost immediately on the bank of the river and directly east of the pond (see plate X). [130] In the inventory of 1846-1847, they were listed as a "building shed," 90 x 30 feet, and a "boat shed," 100 x 24 feet. [131]

According to L. Brooke, who saw them first in 1849, the boat houses were merely "fir posts stuck in the ground, with slab roofs." They "did not amount to anything," he later testified. [132] The houses were still standing in 1853, when a witness said he believed boats were still kept in them. But evidently the buildings had disappeared by 1860, since they were not named among the structures which the Army destroyed when clearing the ground in the area west and southwest of the fort. [133]

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Last Updated: 18-Feb-2008