Bake House (Bakery), Ch. 4, Historic Structures Report, Vol. I

Historic Structures Report: Historical Data
Fort Vancouver National Historic Site
Volume I
Dr. John A. Hussey

Chapter IV Bakery [Bake House]

History and location

After Fort Vancouver was moved down onto the plain in the spring of 1829, a new bakery was constructed as soon as the erection of the more essential buildings -- such as warehouses to protect the trade goods and fur returns -- would permit. Clerk John Warren Lease noted in his journal on November 26 of the same year: "Men building a Tempo[rary] Baker House." [1]

How long this "temporary" bakery served is not evident, but there is no doubt that Chief Factor John McLoughlin soon desired to replace it. As visiting Samuel Parker observed late in 1835, the fort bakery not only had to supply the bread for daily use at the post but also sea biscuit for the Company's vessels in the Pacific and for the forts on the Northwest Coast. In this task, he reported, two or three men were in "constant employment." [2]

Evidently the first bakery was not equal to meeting the demands placed upon it, for about the end of 1833 McLoughlin included in the indent or requisition for Outfit 1837 of the Colombia Department an item for "1M Bricks for Bakers Oven." His anxiety can be judged from the fact that on added requisition, dated at York Factory on Hudson Bay on July 16, 1834, contained the following request: "If this gets to hand before the departure [from London] of the vessel to be dispatched to the Columbia with the Outfit 1836 it is requested that the following articles taken from the accompanying requisition [Outfit 1837] be shipped in her viz. -- 1M Bricks for Bakers Oven. [3]

No record has yet been found as to when these thousand bricks were received or, indeed, whether they were received at all. Seemingly, they did arrive, however, and were used to construct the bakery which is shown as building No. 7 on the Emmons ground plan of 1841 (plate III). Since this structure is situated in the extreme northeast corner of the "doubled-in-size" fort, it must have been erected after the stockade was expanded to the east in 1834-1839.

Excavations conducted by National Park Service archeologists at the site of this second bakery during the spring of 1971 revealed masonry remains of "a large oven complex," bricks from a "collapsed chimney," and "large masses of ex-situ brick and wood" believed to have originated in the bake shop and been distributed when the Army cleared the site following the departure of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1860. [4]
This second bakery, probably built during the period of 1837-1839, evidently also failed to meet the growing needs of the Columbia Department for sea biscuit and other breadstuffs. By September, 1844, the construction of a third bake house was well under way.

On September 17, Clerk Thomas Lowe noted in his journal the arrival of a barge from "the Falls," the site of the present Oregon City. The next day he made clear the import of this seemingly routine event. "The Barge," he wrote, "had 5000 Bricks on board which have been made in the Willamette, and are the first which have come here yet." [5]

There can be no doubt that these bricks were intended for the third bakery, which was then already under construction. The Line of Fire Map, showing conditions about September 24, 1844, depicts a building extending through the northern portion of the east stockade wall (see plate V). This clearly was the structure labeled "Bake House" on the Vavasour ground plan of late 1845 (see plate VI). Thus the main outlines of the building were evident by the time the bricks for the ovens arrived.

Once the bricks were on hand, the work proceeded rapidly. By October 15, 1844, Lowe could record: "The New Bake House is also nearly completed." [6] The move into the new structure must have followed shortly thereafter, and the old bakery probably was then converted into a "harness shop" or "saddler's shop" as it was also called. [7]

Practically nothing is known about the work carried on in the third bakery. Presumably former clerk George B. Roberts was thinking of this building when years later he recalled that four bakers were employed at Fort Vancouver. [8] Dr. H. A. Tuzo, who arrived at the post in November, 1853, to take up his duties as physician, recalled that the bakery contained two "superior fire-brick ovens" and could bake for from 200 to 300 men. [9] He did not, however, actually say that the bakery was operating in 1853.

When the third bakery was completed late in 1844, it was under the immediate supervision of the fort's baker, Joseph Petrain. He was a French Canadian from Sorel Parish who had appeared on the Fort Vancouver rolls as a middleman (ordinary voyageur) during Outfit 1837 (mid-1837 to mid-1838). By Outfit 1842 he was still a middleman at the same rate of £17 per year, but the next year he was listed as "Middle & Baker" at £20 per annum. From this fact it is evident that he was acting as an assistant to Bazil Poirer, who had long been the depot baker. Poirer died on or about June 30, 1844, and Petrain succeeded him as baker. His salary was raised to £25 during Outfit 1846, but this remuneration was not sufficient to assure his loyalty after news of the gold discovery at Sutter's mill reached Oregon. Following his name on the roll for Outfit 1848 appear the words, "Gone to California, wages to 1 March '49." [10]

Petrain was succeeded as baker by Joseph Raymond, a native of Canada. He evidently was a man of less venturesome spirit, since a salary of £25 held him until Outfit 1852, when he was listed as a laborer at Chinook Point. No one seems to have been formally engaged as baker at Fort Vancouver during that year, and the records from that time until the post was abandoned in 1860 do not indicate that any person classified specifically as a baker was employed. [11] It is quite possible that the bakery was shut down or that its operations were severely curtailed about 1852, by which time Fort Vancouver was functioning as the depot for a much reduced district.

The bakery continued to stand until at least 1860 although its outlines may have changed somewhat over the years. [12] On June 15, 1860, a board of Army officers examined the abandoned structures of the Hudson's Bay Company's former depot and reported the "Bake house" to be "in a ruinous condition." Even the materials, said the board, were of no monetary value. [13]
 
Construction details

More is known of the physical structure of the 1844-1860 bakery than is the case with many other Fort Vancouver buildings. Unfortunately, even after all the available evidence is examined, there are many details which still must be left to conjecture.

There are two pictures which provide partial views of the bakery. Both are small in scale and were drawn from a considerable distance. Even more discouraging, they seem to present different versions of construction details.

The first of these is a pencil sketch of Fort Vancouver drawn by the Canadian artist, Paul Kane, who visited the post at intervals between December 18, 1846 and July 1, 1847. [14] This view appears to show the main bakery structure to be a gable-roofed building butting up against, but no penetrating the east stockade line. A window is visible in the center of the north wall within the gable, seeming to indicate the presence of an attic or garret. Two chimneys rise from the eave level at the eastern edge of the building. From the east stockade wall a smaller, shed-like structure, an appendage to the main bakery, extends eastward outside the pickets (see plate XIV).

The second is an oil painting of almost exactly the same scene as is presented in the Kane sketch. This splendid picture is undated, and the artist is listed as "unknown" in the records of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, where it is displayed. It probably represents Fort Vancouver as it was after the departure of the Modeste in May, 1847, and before the arrival of the United States troops in May, 1849 (see plate XV). [15]

This painting gives every evidence of having been executed with care. As does the Kane sketch, it depicts the bakery with a gable roof, window in the north wall of the attic, two chimneys rising from the eastern wall at the eaves, and an appended shed to the east. Unlike the Kane drawing, however, it clearly shows the main bakery building extending through the east stockade, with about half the structure inside the palisade and about half outside. The bakery proper, with its chimneys, is shown as being painted white, but the shed annex is brown apparently the color of the natural wood of which it was made. [16]

The second picture is certainly the more accurate. The Vavasour ground plan of late 1845 shows the main "Bake House" as a rectangular structure, which scales out at about 40 feet in north-south length and about 25 feet in east-west width. This building is half within the stockade line and half without. The shed jutting from the east bakery wall is shown by Vavasour as being about 27' x 15' (see plate VII). Thus there is close correspondence between the bakery as shown in the Yale painting and the Bake House plotted by Vavasour.

Additional historical evidence concerning the bakery structure is meager but, on the whole, compatible with the pictures and with the British engineer's ground plan. After the boundary settlement in 1846 the Hudson's Bay Company took an inventory of all its properties south of the 49th parallel. At Fort Vancouver this task was supervised by Thomas Lowe, a clerk who was serving as the chief accountant at the post. Late in 1846 or early in 1847 he had the principal fort structures measured. One version of his inventory describes the "Bake House" as being 40' x 20'; another version gives the dimensions as 40' x 25'. [17]

Dr. B. A. Tuzo, who first saw the bakery in 1853, described it as a two-story structure measuring between 40 and 50 feet in one direction and 20 to 30 feet in the other. It contained two "superior" fire-brick ovens. [18]

These rather meager historical materials fortunately can be supplemented by information derived from the surviving Hudson's Bay Company bakery at Lower Fort Garry and from archeological excavations at Fort Vancouver. Lower Fort Garry, situated near the present Winnipeg, was built between 1831 and 1847, and the bakery there thus falls in the same general time span as that at Fort Vancouver. Although built of stone instead of wood, the Fort Garry bakery had two stone and brick ovens (though with a single chimney) and must have been like its Fort Vancouver counterpart in a number of respects. [19]

The ovens were vaulted inside and out, being placed side-by-side with a common wall between them. Each oven had only one entrance, a small square door placed two-feet above the gravel floor. It is obvious, therefore, that the ovens were heated by fires built inside them and that the coals were raked out or to the side before the breadstuffs were placed inside to bake. The floors of the ovens were level with the bottoms of the doors. A flue led in a slanting direction from the top of each oven to a common chimney at the front end of the ovens. Air spaces at the sides and rear of the joined ovens separated the heated elements from the walls of the bakery.The construction of these twin ovens is illustrated by the photographs in plates L and LI. Further details are given in plate LII, a drawing based on measurements made during a visit to Fort Garry by Architect A. Lewis Koue and Historian John A. Hussey on September 20, 1967.

There is a second bakery at Fort Garry, located in a building designated as the stable. Although this complex of two separate ovens appears to date from a later period of military occupancy, it has features which may be applicable at Fort Vancouver. In particular, the height of the ovens above the floor, 40 inches, would seem more suitable for large-scale baking operations than the back-breaking 24 inches of the Company ovens. At any rate the dimensions and general design of one of these ovens are shown in the following diagram. See next page, Figure 4.

Figure 4. Bakery in Stable, Lower Fort Garry(Measurements by A. L. Koue)

Even more important than the comparative data are the facts about the Fort Vancouver bakery uncovered by archeological excavations during 1948 and the winter of 1970-1971. Footings discovered still in place or only moderately displaced clearly outlined a structure somewhat in excess of 38.5 feet long and 25.5 feet wide placed half inside the east stockade line and half outside. No evidence was found to indicate that the stockade had ever extended through the site of the bakery.

The footings were wooden blocks between 2.4 and 2.9 feet long and 0.9 to 1.1 feet wide and about 0.25 foot thick. Some of the footings were missing, but enough were present to show that they had been placed about 10 feet apart, center to center. For considerable distances along the east bakery wall foundations and westward along the sections of the north and south walls which were outside the stockade, was found "a line of small, erect wooden slabs or puncheons. . . . Measuring about 0.25 foot wide and high, each small slab was cut and set to directly abut the next. Where extant, the slab line formed a tight enclosure." [20]

Probably the purpose of this wooden wall was to create a stout barrier against animals. In 1845 Lieutenant Warre found, much to his discomfort, that skunks "infested" the fort. He reported that several of these odoriferous invaders lived under the floor of the rooms in which he was quartered. [21]

Two widely separated portions of bakery oven foundations were uncovered, one section of the north wall and a larger segment at the southeast oven corner These foundation fragments were from 1.6 to 2 feet wide. They were formed of "rounded cobbles averaging about 0.7 foot in diameter that were set into a single course without sub-footings. Lime mortar, possibly made of Hawaiian coral, was present on top and in between the cobbles but not underneath. No brick was found in situ, but brick fragments were scattered through out the bakery area." [22] The oven foundations were at the same ground level as the wooden footings.

The oven foundations lay immediately to the east of the main wooden bakery building. They represented the base of an oven complex which formed a rectangle measuring about 24.5 feet by 14 feet.

A concentration of window pane glass outside the west bakery wall about five feet from its north end "apparently" marked the location of a window. The highest densities of both glass fragments and nails were found in the western portion of the bakery, leading the archeologists to "infer the presence of several windows, an entrance, and possibly window frames and shutters along the west or interior wall." [23] Other evidence suggested to the archeologists the existence of a doorway in the center of the west bakery wall, "with a pathway leading from the door to two outhouses on the north side of the bakery." [24] No artifacts related to the use of the structure as a bakery were uncovered. Also, no traces were found of the wooden shed which probably covered the ovens.In summary, the archeological evidence indicates that the bakery measured about 25' x 40'. Attached to the east wall of this main structure were ovens whose foundations formed a rectangle slightly smaller than 15' x 25'. Thus, "in form and dimensions" the bakery as revealed by archeology corresponds almost exactly with the "Bake House" pictured on Vavasour's ground plan of 1845.

Furnishings

Under the heading "Articles in Use," the Fort Vancouver inventory made during the spring of 1844 contains the following list of Company-owned items in the "Bake House":

1 round head Axe
1 water Bucket
1 Candlestick
2 dough Cutters
1 tin Kettle 8 gns.
2 tin Pots
1 tin Scales
2 Biscuit Stamp[s]
1 Steelyards 100 lbs.
3 lead Weights [25]

The inventory for 1845 listed practically the same items, but there were a few interesting variations:

1 Axe
2 Buckets
1 Candlestick
3 pln [plain] Blankets 2-1/2 pts [points]
1 dough Cutter
1 Tin Kettle 8 gns
1 Tin pot 3 qts
1 pr Tin Scales
1 Biscuit Stamp
1 lead Weight
1 pr Steelyards [26]

No listing of articles in use in the bakery seems to be available for 1846, but the Fort Vancouver Depot inventory made in the spring of 1847 lists the following articles in the "Bake House":

2 Axes
6 Buckets
1 Candlestick
2 dough Cutters
2 Tin Kettles 8 gns.
3 Tin Pots
1 pr. Tin Scales
4 Biscuit Stamps
1 pr. Steelyards
1 lead Weights
18 Yds. duck sheeting
1 [illegible]
1 hand Saw
3 Tables
2 Tin Pans [27]

The list in the 1848 inventory is somewhat more sophisticated:

Bakehouse
2 large square headed Axes
1 iron weighing Beam & tin Scales
5 plain Blankets 3 points
2 water Buckets
1 tin Candlestick
2 duck sheeting table Cloths, 42 yds.
2 dough Cutters
1 Hammer
2 tin Kettles
2 tin Pans
1 jack Plane
2 tin pint Pots
1 hand Saw
1 iron Shovel
3 biscuit Stamps
1 pr. beam Steelyards, to weigh 110 lbs.
1 pr. beam Steelyards, to weigh 1400 lbs.
1 Canada single Stove 3 ft.
3 Tables
2 yeast Tubs [28]
 
Recommendations

a. Reconstruction of the bakery should be in accordance with the data provided by the Kane sketch, the Yale painting, the Vavasour ground plan, and archeological evidence. The result should be a gable-roofed building of 1-1/2 stories with the eave line at about the height of the palisade. The appended oven complex should have two chimneys at the east bakery wall, and the ovens should be covered by a wooden, shed-roofed structure without windows or exterior doors.

b. Construction should be post-on-sill, with the posts about 10 feet apart. The center posts on the gable ends should not extend above the first story, since the upper story windows were in the center of the gable. The only doors and windows in the lower story should be in the west bakery wall. Windows were generally rather small at Fort Vancouver, and two or three were probably considered sufficient. The door should be near the center of the west wall. The windows should have exterior shutters.

c. For the portion of the main bakery building which extended outside the stockade, the air space between the bottom of the sills and the ground should be filled with a tight row of upright planks or puncheons as revealed by the archeological excavations. These planks were sunk in the ground and apparently were fastened to the inside edges of the sills. It is known that the inhabitants of Fort Vancouver were troubled by skunks and other animals which invaded the area beneath the buildings. The puncheon barricade may well have been built to prevent the entry of these unwelcome visitors.

d. The presence of this puncheon wall and also the fact that the sills were on raised blocks makes it likely that the Fort Vancouver bakery had a raised wooden floor instead of one of earth despite the added fire hazard. Thus, the installation of a wooden floor is recommended. [29]

e. Additional research upon the design and equipment of bakeries and bake ovens in the 18th and early 19th centuries is recommended. The 12-volume Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, by Denis Diderot, Jean Le Rond d'Alembert, and others should be useful in this regard.

f. The fact that one inventory of the bakery included blankets makes it probable that the upper story was used as living quarters for one or more of the bakers. It is suggested therefore, that a part of the upper story be furnished for such use; the remainder perhaps was used as storage for flour and other baking supplies, as well as lumber and miscellaneous articles of fort equipment. The storage portion of the attic should include a trap door for raising and lowering stored items. There probably was a stairway to the upper floor, most likely with open treads and no hand rail.

g. The bakery should be painted white on the outside, except for the roof and the shed covering the ovens.
 

Endnotes

1. John Warren Lease, Memorandum Book 1829, MS, entry for November 26, 1829, in Public Archives of Canada, Ottawa (hereafter cited as PAC). Among the structures considered loss essential than those for the trade were houses for the fort's "gentlemen." Ibid., entry for September 6, 1829.

2. Samuel Parker, Journal of an Exploring Tour Beyond the Rocky Mountains, under the Direction of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, in the Years 1835, '36, and '37... (Second edition, Ithaca, N. Y., 1840), 184.

3. H.B.C., York Factory Indent Books, 1823-1838, H.B.C.A., B.239/n/71, MS, fols. 155-155d.

4. J. J. Hoffman, Memorandums to Chief, Archeological Investigations, Western Service Center [Fort Vancouver National Historic Site], April 1, May 3, July 1, 1971, MS, in files, National Park Service, Western Regional Office, San Francisco.

5. Lowe, Private Journal, MS, 5. The meaning of the words "the first which have come here yet" is not quite clear, since there certainly were bricks at Fort Vancouver before 1844. As early as 1825 Chief Factor McLoughlin complained of the quality of the brick being sent from England to Fort Vancouver. H.B.S., IV, 1. And in 1841 Emmons described the magazine as "the only brick building." Emmons, Journal, MS, III, entry for July 25, 1841. Perhaps Lowe meant that these were the first bricks from the Willamette Valley to reach the depot. George Gay, an English settler in the valley, had a brick house by 1844, although who made the bricks is not stated. Elijah White said that bricks had been made to a small extent in Oregon by 1843 and that there were then two persons in the region who understood the manufacture of bricks. Elijah White, A Concise View of Oregon Territory . . . (Washington, D. C., 1846), 17.

6. Lowe, Private Journal, MS, 7.

7. The history of the harness shop is discussed in Chapter XXVII of this report.

8. George B. Roberts, "The Round Hand of George B. Roberts," in OHQ, LXIII (June-September, 1962), 197. Roberts's opportunities to observe operations at Fort Vancouver extended over the periods 1831-1842 and 1844-1846, so it is not possible to be positive as to which bakery he had in mind. The employee rolls for Fort Vancouver do not list more than two bakers for any year; therefore, several of Roberts's four "bakers" must have been laborers or other employees assigned to assist.

9. Br. & Am. Joint Comm., Papers, [II], 188.

10. H.B.C.A., B.239/l/8, MS, 80; B.239/l/13, MS, 61; B.239/l/14, MS, 63; B.239/l/15, MS, 62; B.239/l/17, MS, 44; B.239/l/19, MS, 42; B.223/g/8, MS, 30. Petrain's name sometimes appears on the rolls as "Petraint."

11. H.B.C.A., B.223/g/9, MS, 11; B.239/l/20, MS, 43; B.239/l/22, MS, 41; B.239/l/23, MS, 37.

12. Compare the ground plan of the "Bake House" on the Vavasour map of 1845 (plate VI) with building no. 6, the "Bake house," on the plan drawn by a board of Army officers on June 15, 1860 (plate XXX).

13. Proceedings of a board of officers, which convened at Fort Vancouver, W. T. June 15, 1860, MS, in A. G. O., Ore. Dept., Doc. File 212-S-1860, in War Records Division, the National Archives [records in the National Archives are cited as they were classified in 1947, when they were examined for Fort Vancouver materials].

14. Paul Kane, Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America . . . (Toronto: The Radisson Society of Canada Limited, 1925), 116, 178. The drawing was made before early May, 1847, since it shows the Modeste at anchor in the Columbia River.

15. From certain stylistic details the present writer suspects that the artist may have been John Mix Stanley, who was in the Columbia region during the latter half of 1847 and the first half of 1848 and again in 1853.

16. This painting, reproduced in color, forms the frontispiece of Hussey, History of Fort Vancouver.

17. Br. & Am. Joint Co., Papers, [II], 8-9, 19, 118-119; T. C. Elliott, "British Values in Oregon, 1847," in OHQ, XXXII (March, 1931), 34.

18. Br. & Am. Joint Comm., Papers, [II], 176-177, 183, 188.

19. There are two bakeries at Lower Fort Garry, one in the building used as a stable, and one in the northwest bastion. The latter was the main fort bake house and is that here described. Canada, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, National Historic Sites Service, Lower Fort Garry National Historic Park (Informational folder, Ottawa, 1969).

20. J. J. Hoffman, Preliminary Draft of Report on Excavations at Fort Vancouver, Season 1970-1971 (typewritten, Vancouver, Washington: Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, 1971), 13. See also Louis R. Caywood, Excavations at Fort Vancouver, 1948 Season (Mimeographed, [San Francisco]: United States, Department of the Interior, National Park Service, [1949], 6.

21. Warre, Travels and Sport in North America, MS, 137-138, in PAC.

22. Hoffman, Preliminary Draft of Report, MS, 14.

23. Hoffman, Preliminary Draft of Report, MS, 94. Three shutter latch nails were found in the bakery area during the 1970-1971 excavations. Interview, J. A. Hussey with J. J. Hoffman and L. Ross, Fort Vancouver NHS, February 23, 1972.

24. J. J. Hoffman, Memorandum to Chief, Archeological Investigations, Western Service Center, [Fort Vancouver National Historic Site], July 1, 1971, MS.

25. H.B.C., Account Book, Fort Vancouver, 1844 [Inventories], H.B.C.A., B.223/d/155, MS, 165.

26. H.B.C., Account Book, Fort Vancouver, 1845 [Inventories], H.B.C.A., B.223/d/160, MS, 143.

27. H.B.C.A., B.223/d/174, MS, 200; copy through courtesy of Mrs. Joan Craig, Archivist, Hudson's Bay Company.

28. H.B.C.A., B.223/d/181, MS, 162; copy through courtesy of Mrs. Joan Craig, Archivist, Hudson's Bay Company.

29. No evidence of a hard-packed earth floor was discovered during archeological excavations. Interview, J. A. Hussey with J. J. Hoffman and L. Ross, Fort Vancouver NHS, February 23, 1972.

Last updated: September 16, 2015

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