The Remarkable History of Vancouver, Washington. The original Vancouver.

Historical drawing of downtown Vancouver

For thousands of years, the Vancouver area was home to native people who flourished on the bounty of forest and river.

In May 1792, American trader/sailor Robert Gray became the first non-native to enter the fabled “Great River of the West,” the Columbia River. Later that year, British Lt. William Broughton, serving under Capt. George Vancouver, explored 100 miles upriver. Along the way, he named a point of land along the shore in honor of his commander.

In 1806, American explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark camped at what is now Capt. William Clark Park at Cottonwood Beach just east of Vancouver on the return leg of their famed western expedition. Lewis characterized the area as “the only desired situation for settlement west of the Rocky Mountains.”

In 1825, Dr. John McLoughlin decided to move the northwest headquarters of the Hudson’s Bay Company from Astoria, Oregon to a more favorable setting upriver. He named the site after Point Vancouver on Broughton’s original map. Fort Vancouver was thus born.

For many years, Fort Vancouver was the center of all fur trading in the Pacific Northwest from its vital location on the Columbia River. Vancouver was also a center of British dominion over the Oregon Territory. In 1846, American control was extended north to the 49th parallel. The northwest became part of the United States and Captain Vancouver moved north to Canada, where a new city was born named Vancouver. The Canadian city was incorporated 29 years later.

In 1849, American troops arrived to establish Columbia (later Vancouver) Barracks. It served as military headquarters for much of the Pacific Northwest. The neighboring settlement was named “the City of Columbia.”

Finally, on Jan. 23, 1857, the City of Vancouver was incorporated. Through the rest of the century, Vancouver steadily developed. In 1908, the first rail line east through the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge reached Vancouver. In 1910, a railroad bridge was opened south across the Columbia. In 1917, the first span of the Interstate Bridge was completed.

During World War I, the site later named Pearson Field was the location of the world's largest spruce cut-up mill. It cut raw timber into the lumber used to build the airplanes that helped win the war in Europe. During World War II, Vancouver’s Kaiser Shipyard built a variety of crafts that contributed greatly to America’s war effort.

The City of Vancouver and our community partners - Fort Vancouver National Park, Fort Vancouver National Trust and the State of Washington - work hard to revitalize Fort Vancouver National Site. Examples include restoring Officer's Row buildings (pictured above,) supporting of Clark County Historical Museum and creating/funding the historical interpretive and art displays across our community.

Historic Facts

From its long and colorful history, Vancouver boasts these many special distinctions:

  • Headquarters of Hudson's Bay Company (established 1825)
  • Oldest permanent non-native settlement in Pacific Northwest (1825)
  • Oldest living apple tree in Pacific Northwest (planted 1826)
  • First sawmill in Pacific Northwest (1827)
  • Oldest public square in Pacific Northwest (Esther Short Park, 1855)
  • Notable soldiers who served at Vancouver Barracks:
    • Gen. Ulysses S. Grant
    • Gen. George McClellan
    • Gen. Philip Sheridan
    • Gen. O.O. Howard
    • Gen. George C. Marshall
  • One of the oldest continuously operated airports in the country (Pearson Field, 1905-present)
  • World’s largest spruce lumber mill for airplane construction during World War I
  • Pearson Field, landing site of first transpolar flight (Soviet, 1937)
  • Major shipbuilding center during World War II
  • Vancouver honored with "All-America City" distinction (1957 and 1987)

 

Historical and modern photo of the downtown post office. Historical photo courtesy of the Clark County Historical Museum.
Historical and modern photo of the Heritage building at Main and 6th streets in downtown Vancouver. Historical photo courtesy of the Clark County Historical Museum.
Historical and modern photos of the I-5 bridge over the Columbia River. The historical photo is of the bridge when it only had one span. The second span was added in the 1960s. Historical photo courtesy of the Clark County Historical Museum.
Historical and modern photo overlay of the St. James Catholic Church on W. 12th and Washington streets. Historical photo courtesy of the Clark County Historical Museum.
Hisotirical and modern photo overlay of the Carnegie building on Main Street at 15th Street that is now home to the Clark County Historical Museum. Historical photo courtesy of the Clark County Historical Museum.
Historical and modern photo of the Elks/Biggs Insurance building on Main Street at Evergreen Boulevard. Historical photo courtesy of the Clark County Historical Museum.
Historical and modern photo of the infantry barracks building at Fort Vancouver. Historical photo courtesy of the Clark County Historical Museum.
Historical and modern photo of the Fort Vancouver bastion after its reconstruction. Historical photo courtesy of the Clark County Historical Museum.
Historical and modern photo looking up Main Street from 8th Street in downtown Vancouver. Historical photo courtesy of the Clark County Historical Museum.
Historical and modern photo of a business on Evergreen at Franklin in downtown Vancouver. Historical photo courtesy of the Clark County Historical Museum.
Historical and modern photo of the old Palace Theater building at 605 Main St. in downtown Vancouver. Historical photo courtesy of the Clark County Historical Museum.