Reconstructing a Flagstaff on the Historic Vancouver Barracks Parade Ground

Painting of Fort Vancouver with flagstaff in foreground
This painting, painted by James Madison Alden in 1854, shows a southern view from Officers' Row in 1854. In the background is the Hudson's Bay Company's Fort Vancouver. The location of this flagstaff is the location of the reconstructed flagstaff built in 2017.

Yale Collection of American Literature, Yale University, CT

The center of the U.S. Army post at Fort Vancouver (also known as Vancouver Barracks) from its founding in 1849 until the final troops left the garrison in 2012 was the Parade Ground. The Parade Ground formed the primary training, drilling, and ceremonial space for troops headquartered at the post. The most important feature of the Parade Ground was the central flagstaff, upon which the American colors flew. The flag is a tangible object that functioned as a visual reminder of the common group identity of the soldiers.

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, in partnership with the Fort Vancouver Lions, the Vancouver Metro Sunset Rotary Club, the Community Military Appreciation Committee, the Friends of Fort Vancouver, and the City of Vancouver, has worked on an effort over five years to reconstruct the central flagstaff that stood on the Parade Ground from 1854 to 1879. This project restores an important historical feature to the post, and will serve as a new venue for events at the national park.

Historical maps, drawings, paintings, and photographs indicate that between 1849 and 2012, there were seven known main flagstaff locations at the military base. The location of the reconstructed flagstaff, where the post's flagstaff stood from 1854 to 1879, was the second of these seven locations. The symbolic location is in the center of the Parade Ground, south of the Grant House, which at that time was the Commanding Officer's Quarters.
Archaeologist holds equipment for sub-surface survey
In 2013, alongside Public Archaeology Field School students, archaeologist Kendall McDonald used a magnetometer to survey the underground cultural resources on the Vancouver Barracks Parade Ground.

NPS Photo

In order to determine the exact location of the 1854-1879 flagstaff, and to plan and prepare for the installation of the new flagstaff, archaeological excavations were completed at the site. In 2013, non-intrusive subsurface magnetometer testing was conducted, as well as one small "shovel test" unit. This testing identified the location where a larger excavation would be conducted in 2014.

In the summer of 2014, as part of the national park's Public Archaeology Field School, National Park Service archaeologists worked with students from Portland State University and Washington State University Vancouver to excavate four 1 meter square units. The results of these excavations revealed sub-surface archaeological artifact deposits and cultural features associated with the construction and demolition of the 1854-1879 flagstaff. Archaeologists dug to a depth of 9 feet below ground to find the remains of the original flagstaff.

Two students screen dirt for artifacts while others work under a tent.
In the summer of 2014, National Park Service archaeologists and Public Archaeology Field School students began excavations on the Parade Ground in hopes of locating the site of the 1854-1879 flagstaff.

NPS Photo

Three main archaeological features were found during these excavations: the original pit that had been dug for the flagstaff base and cribbing support, large intact wood cribbing fragments, and sediments representing either the filling of the flagstaff pit after the flagstaff was deconstructed in 1879, or the remains of a road that had circled the flagstaff in the 1870s. The excavations confirmed that the location was, in fact, the location of the 1854-1879 flagstaff, and would therefore become the location for the new, reconstructed flagstaff.
Large sections of metal flagpole rest on the ground.
In May, 2017, the reconstructed flagstaff was installed on the Vancouver Barracks Parade Ground.

NPS Photo

Following the 2014 archaeological excavations, plans and funding moved forward to reconstruct the flagstaff. For safety reasons, a modern, metal, 80-foot-tall flagstaff was chosen, rather than its double-masted, wooden precursor. The design and installation plans required involvement from soil engineers, engineers from the manufacturer of the flagstaff, and representatives from a variety of local trades to ensure the correct foundation, support, and installation of the reconstructed flagstaff.

The National Park Service will dedicated the reconstructed flagstaff on May 29, 2017, at the annual Memorial Day Observance hosted by the Community Military Appreciation Committee. The flagstaff was dedicated in honor of servicemen and women from Clark County who have given their lives in service of their country. The flagstaff will serve as an important symbolic feature at the national park, and will be an important site where the local community's military heritage can be honored.
Archaeologist crouches in excavation unit.
In 2014, this excavation unit revealed the location of the 1854-1879 Vancouver Barracks flagstaff.

NPS Photo

Chunk of wood protrudes from dirt in excavation unit.
Remnants of the original wooden flagstaff and its support cribbing were found during archaeological excavations in 2014.

NPS Photo

Black and white photograph of Officers' Row with flagstaff in upper right corner
This photograph of Officers' Row at Vancouver Barracks was taken in 1860, and shows the Parade Ground flagstaff in its original location in the upper right of the photo.

Library of Congress, Washington D.C. No. LC-USZC4-11408

Troops and volunteers raise the garrison flag
On May 29, 2017, the Vancouver Barracks flagstaff was dedicated as part of the annual Memorial Day Observance at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

NPS Photo

Last updated: December 22, 2017