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JBLM's history includes amusement park

Camp Lewis Amusement Park included 200 buildings

The Red Shield Inn, now the Lewis Army Museum, is the only original Greene Park building that exists today. Courtesy photo

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In 1917, when 91st Division commander, Maj. Gen. Henry A. Greene, sought to put young Camp Lewis recruits on a straight and narrow path, Progressive Era political reform and social activism emerged in the form of an amusement park just outside the camp's main gate.

The vision for the Camp Lewis Amusement Park (later named Greene Park in honor of Greene) included 200 buildings that would house wholesome and moral activities for the 37,000 men stationed at Camp Lewis to keep them from the "dens of vice" found in Tacoma. The cost of the project would be $2 million.

After construction began, however, builders realized they had to scale back due to budget constraints. When completed, Greene Park included about 40 buildings that housed theaters, restaurants, churches and pool halls. To support the Progressive movement, Greene encouraged charitable and service organizations to open businesses in the park.

"It provided a recreational outlet," Lewis Army museum director Myles Grant said. "It was in keeping with President (Woodrow) Wilson's policies."

Grant said Greene Park didn't look highly developed, with dirt streets and wooden buildings that were reminiscent of Wild West towns. Less than five photographs of Greene Park have survived since the park's inception almost 100 years ago.

Only one original Greene Park building remains, where the Lewis Army Museum exists today. The building was the Red Shield Inn, one of two hotels located in Greene Park. A $10 million renovation has restored the historic building, creating 15,000 square feet of classroom and training space on the third floor and replicating period hotel rooms.

After the war ended, thousands of Army troops left the area, and by the 1920s, only 800 soldiers called Camp Lewis home, causing businesses in Greene Park to suffer.

"Camp Lewis went into steep decline after World War One," Grant said.

That's when Pierce County donated land and local citizens raised money to establish a permanent military installation at Camp Lewis. Fort Lewis was established in 1927, and the remaining buildings at Greene Park became the property of the Army.

Greene Park was demolished in increments from 1928 to 1939, according to Grant. The last surviving buildings were torn down from 1940 to 1941, and permanent buildings on then-North Fort Lewis were constructed in the 1940s. These buildings were later demolished in the 1990s to make room for new construction.

An archaeological dig of the area around the Lewis Army Museum wrapped up earlier this month, but not much was found, disappointing Joint Base Lewis-McChord historians.

"We had high expectations," Grant said. "They only found one shard of pottery, but not much else that was relevant to Greene Park."

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