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Historic forts -- a taste of regional history

The past comes alive at old military posts

A Napoleon cannon stands watch near the four remaining buildings of Fort Steilacoom. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

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Welcome to the Pacific Northwest, an area famed for its scenery, diversity and history.

Speaking of history, some of the area's history is to be found in the Northwest's historic military forts. Below is a partial list of old outposts that invite visitors to explore some of the region's past.


Historic Fort Steilacoom - Lakewood:  Built by the Army in 1849, it was one of the first military fortifications north of the Columbia River in what later became Washington state.

Decommissioned in 1868, four cottages from the original fort remain on the site, serving as living history museums.

Fort Vancouver - Vancouver:  Established with commerce in mind, the outpost was built by the Hudson's Bay Company along the Columbia River in 1824.  When the post closed in 1846, the Army stepped in three years later. 

It remained an active base until 2011. Today, visitors can feel the heat from a blacksmith's forge, taste fresh-baked pioneer bread, hold 19th-century tools, and try on pioneer clothing.

Fort Lawton - Seattle:  Situated in the Emerald City, this historic fort served as a marshalling camp for soldiers deployed during the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901), and as a redeployment area for the 25th Infantry Regiment in 1909, after the Filipino-American War (1899-1902).

During World War II, over one million soldiers passed through the post before, during and after the conflict. Fort Lawton was also used to hold over 1,000 German prisoners-of-war.

Closed in 2012, today the Fort Lawton Historic District is in the center of Discovery Park and contains numerous historic buildings and structures.

Fort Nisqually - Tacoma: Built by the Britishas part of the Hudson's Bay Company's farming and fur interests, construction began in 1833 present-day DuPont.

During the 1930s, the fort was moved to its current location in Tacoma's Point Defiance Park. Along with a trade store, working blacksmith shop, demonstration kitchen, laborers' dwelling house and kitchen garden, two of the original buildings -- the Factors' House and the granary -- remain.

For more information about the state's military history, visit:


Fort Stevens - Hammond: Built in 1862, it is one of three forts designed to protect the mouth of the Columbia River (the other two are forts Columbia and Canby, in Washington).

During World War II, the post became the second military installation in the continental United States to come under enemy fire. On June 21 and 22, 1942, the Japanese submarine I-25 surfaced and fired 17 shells, destroying only the backstop of the post's baseball field.

Decommissioned in 1947, the site is now part of the Fort Stevens State Park and is home to a military history museum.

Fort Dalles Museum - Dalles:  Opened in 1906, the museum preserves the legacy of a former military base -- Camp Drum -- originally established in 1850 and renamed Fort Dalles in 1853. Fifteen years later, the fort closed, leaving behind the Surgeon's Quarters and a considerable collection of artifacts from the 19th century.

To learn more about Oregon's history, visit:


Fort Lapwai - Lewiston: Located in the village of Lapwai, about a dozen miles southeast of Lewiston, the fort is a doorway into the region's historic history with the Nez Perce tribe. 

Built in 1864 to protect the Nez Perce from white encroachment, the post played a role in what become known as the Nez Perce War and the rise of Chief Joseph during the late 1870s.

The Army abandoned the post in 1884, and today the officer's quarters are part of the Nez Perce National Historical Park.

For find out more about Idaho's colorful history, visit:

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