The Fort Vancouver National Historic Site is one of only a few urban National Parks in the nation. At present, the site hosts more than a million and a half visitors and school children each year. Its park-like setting in the center of a thriving community ideally invites public and private organizations and citizens to participate in the heritage of our region and its cultural and international foundation.
Gateway to the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. As a team — National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and the Friends strive to make the visitors' experience rich and memorable. In addition to Site and community information and special events and speakers, the Visitor Center offers a 20-minute introduction video about 200 years of history at this site.
There are also exhibits, changing Native American art, and the Friends Bookstore & Gallery that features a myriad of items from hundreds of vintage and new books, maps, guides, games and toys, souvenirs and mementoes of the region and of our history. Re-enactors find handmade authentic accessories and children love our stuffed animals that represent wildlife of this site. The shop also features Pendleton wear and a rare selection of Native American jewelry and art handmade by tribal artists, including the internationally acclaimed Lillian Pitt.
Reconstruction of the historic Fort Vancouver was begun over the archaeological digs at the site in the early 1960’s. Progressively, as more buildings and historical documents revealed the workings and construction of buildings more structures were added.
Today within the Fort, you may visit the bakery, the kitchen, the blacksmiths’ and carpenters’ shops. The counting house and trade warehouse offer glimpses into the business management of the West’s largest trading fort in the 19th century. The Chief Factor’s House portrays a surprise glimpse into the gentility and culture fostered by the British Hudson’s Bay Company at what would eventually become the end of the Oregon Trail.
Pearson Air Museum offers a variety of exhibits from the earliest days of ballooning and flight at this site when it functioned as an active US Army command.
Silas Christofferson flew his box kite-like aeroplane from Portland’s Multnomah Hotel roof across the river to Vancouver Barracks parade ground in 1912. His fame was intoxicating and today, volunteers are constructing a replica of that first aircraft. An historic DH-4, restored for Pearson, represents the first military aircraft that were based at Pearson when the field was officially dedicated an “Army Air Field” in 1924. Army flyers and civilian pilots trained at the site and today, it is one of the oldest operating airfields in the nation. In 1937, a Russian plane — the ANT-25 — flew the world’s first transpolar flight from Moscow to Vancouver, WA. The Russian crew – Chkalov, Baidukov and Belyakov – was welcomed by General George C. Marshall, Commander of the Department of the Columbia, stationed at Vancouver Barracks in 1937. Near Pearson is the only American monument to a Russian achievement.
Dr. John McLoughlin recognized the need to establish flourishing gardens at the HBC trading posts and at Fort Vancouver where ships, traders, and Native Americans congregated year-round. In doing so, he attracted the attention of plant hunters like David Douglas and enlisted the help of various physicians who raised plants for medicinal and health values.
Keen to develop productive agricultural fields and abundant fruit and vegetables, gardener Billy Bruce was sent to Great Britain in the 1830’s to study with horticulturalists and botanists the finest methods known to man. Today, the heritage garden is manned by knowledgeable volunteers and supervised by the staff’s archaeological botanist. It represents plants known to have existed and to have been propagated within the British realm during the active time of the Fort. Seeds grown in the garden are available for sale in the Friends’ Shop.
Land Bridge: In contrast to the Heritage Garden, the Land Bridge to the southwest of the garden features native plants of this region and tours are regularly available to discuss the Native American uses of many of the plants. The Land Bridge is one of six art sites sponsored by Confluence (headquartered across from Pearson Museum) located along the Columbia River. The sites were influenced by the designs of Maya Lin to help depict the influence and awareness of Native American heritage.
The Flagstaff was rebuilt and dedicated in 2017 on the original excavated site where the United States Army erected a flagpole with an American flag. This signified the end of their long overland journey in 1849. They were sent west by President Polk to claim all territory south of the 49th Parallel as United States land – a signal for the British Hudson’s Bay Company to relocate north of that border in Canada or for individuals such as Dr. and Mrs. McLoughlin to declare American citizenship and allegiance to a new land. The project was sponsored by the National Parks Service, the City of Vancouver and several community organizations including Friends of Fort Vancouver.
Renovation and restoration occupy a major portion of the East Barracks area as the National Park Service moves ahead with its partners in preparing the Barracks Buildings for occupancy.
The US Forest Service is already located there and other major federal agencies are considering relocating there in lieu of high-rise office buildings in major metropolitan areas. There relocation saves historic buildings and relieves federal budgets of very costly rents.
John McLoughlin, former Chief Factor at Fort Vancouver in the Oregon Country from 1825–1845, settled into this home with his family by the Willamette Falls in Oregon City in 1846. He was known in Oregon City as the “Doctor” — a trained physician who once presided over British fur trade interests in a vast area stretching from California to Alaska.
McLoughlin’s home, saved from demolition by the McLoughlin Memorial Association and moved to its present location in 1909, was added to the National Park System in 2003 as a unit of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. Today, the house is restored to help tell of the life and accomplishments of John McLoughlin, known by many as the “Father of Oregon.” Park staff and volunteers provide a number of different activities including tours, talks, special events, and demonstrations of Victorian-era women’s handwork.