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History in an old inn

Museum has a history of its own

Formerly the Red Shield Inn, the museum contains more than 100 years of Northwest and American military history. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

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It's no surprise that the Lewis Army Museum comes with almost 10 decades of history behind it.

Built in 1919, the edifice takes the shape of a Swiss Chalet-style structure; it remains the last building from a recreational area called Greene Park called the Red Shield Inn.

When World War I ended, thousands of soldiers assigned to the returning 13th and 91st Divisions demobilized. The 91st returned from action in France; the 13th ended its training at Camp Lewis.

As wounded soldiers returned for treatment and convalescence, the demand for family facilities increased.  To meet this need, the Salvation Army, through its War Relief Program, decided to build a Red Shield Inn at Camp Lewis.

The Salvation Army, whose symbol is a red shield with white lettering, had already built Red Shield Inns in Vancouver and Bremerton. In short order, architects Archibald Rigg and Roland Vantyne, who had both drawn up the plans for the aforementioned Greene Park, put pencil to paper and designed a 48,000-square-foot, 155-room structure with a restaurant at a cost of $107,000.  

When completed, the inn would be the largest of its kind in the nation.

Camp Lewis' Red Shield Inn opened Dec. 1, 1919, and Salvation Army Adjutant AE Baynton was the first manager.

The lobby featured deep leather chairs, a fireplace and plush rugs.  On the left side of the lobby was the men's smoking room; on the right side was the women's lounge.

The restaurant seated 100 individuals.  Tablecloths, silverware and china with the Red Shield symbol were standard.

Rigg and Vantyne had designed the rooms so all had exterior views, either outside or into the courtyard, which had a fountain.

Each room had two chairs, a bed, dresser and sink. Bathrooms were located down the halls.

In mid-1921, the Salvation Army decided to sell the Red Shield Inn.  While the building, furnishings and equipment had an estimated value of $172,000, the organization sold the inn to a Camp Lewis officers' cooperative on July 21 for $1.

The cooperative reopened the inn as the Camp Lewis Apartments, but the Army soon took over and renamed the building the Camp Lewis Inn. When Camp Lewis became Fort Lewis in 1927, the hotel's name was changed to the Fort Lewis Inn, and it continued to operate as the main housing facility for guests and military members on temporary assignment.

During World War II, the inn became an annex of the officer's club, offering rooms, a dining hall and a bar.

Of the many distinguished guests to stay at the inn, in 1946, general of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower occupied the first floor VIP suite during a visit to Fort Lewis and Madigan Hospital.

By 1962, the Fort Lewis Inn was scheduled for demolition; however, the need for transient accommodations prevented that from happening.

Safety concerns and the opening of a lodge on Fort Lewis led to the shuttering of the Fort Lewis Inn in 1972. Soon after, the first floor of the building became the Fort Lewis Army Museum, which had its grand opening July 18, 1973.

In recognition of its historic importance, the museum was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

Following rehabilitation in 2011, it reopened as the Lewis Army Museum and Training Facility. The second floor is part of the museum; the third floor is utilized as classrooms.

Currently, the Lewis Army Museum and Training Facility is undergoing the creation of a new exhibit experience.

The museum will reopen in Spring 2017 to begin Joint Base Lewis-McChord's next 100 years.

For more information, visit

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