Mount Hood, Mirror Lake

Seeking Heritage Tourism sites in the State of Washington

In my monthly Heritage Tourist column in the In-Depth Genealogist I am sharing information on a different one of the 49 National Heritage Areas (NHAs) each month. Each month we examine the historical, cultural and natural attributes of a region: a number of counties, in one state or crossing state-lines into one to four states. However, there are many states that do not yet have one or more NHAs within their state boundaries. But, each of these states of the USA certainly has sites worthy as Heritage Tourism destinations. For the next year or so, then, these monthly blog posts are going to suggest some of these destinations, beginning with the State of Washington this month.

The first of these Washington sites I want to talk about is one that I have visited personally while in the Portland, Oregon, area visiting my own relatives, as you so often do, as well. Fort Vancouver was a 19th-century fur trading outpost along the Columbia River that served as the headquarters of the Hudson's Bay Company. The Fort Vancouver National Historic SIte, located on the north side of the Columbia River, near Portland (on the south), is described by the National Park Service as the "Grand Emporium of the West." While it was the headquarters and primary supply depot for fur trading operations, it actually employed more people in agriculture than for any other activity. It was a British establishment, but the primary languages there were Canadian French and Chinook Jargon.

Once this region became part of the United States, of course, this site was a U.S. Army post. Through the years, it was known as Columbia Barracks, Fort Vancouver, and Vancouver Barracks, depending on the era. Many U. S. Army generals served at this location, and many of them are commemorated there in one way or another. These included: George Pickett, Omar Bradley, William T. Sherman, Phillip Sheridan, George B. McClellan, Ulysses S. Grant, George C. Marshall, and Oliver O. Howard. Were any of your ancestors or relative stationed at Fort Vancouver?

Fort Vancouver

The modern reconstruction, showing the outer palisade and the single corner tower.

The logging industry and the State of Washington are almost inseparable. Following the California Gold Rush, the need for a steady, good supply of lumber was of paramount important for the growth of the west. The development of Seattle and the rest of Washington followed. Early on, many of the forests were decimated. However, Gifford Pinchot of the U.S. Forestry Service worked with the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company to lead the compromises required to move towards sustainable timber harvesting. Simultaneously preserving the forest and profiting from it is a tension that has defined Washington ever since.

As a personal observation, my wife has found a large number of her extended family in Pacific county and nearby areas in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, working in the logging industry. She has personally visited these areas and found the records there (and the people there to preserve and share them) to be extremely helpful. She also was able to take some wonderful photos, there, as well. We each have many extended family who spent large spans of time in the State of Washington, so our family history experiences there are extensive. Have you visited the State of Washington, yet?

At the center of the Oregon Boundary Dispute with Great Britain over many years, the history, culture and natural attributes of the State of Washington are well documented. We have already mentioned the Columbia River down which Lewis and Clark reached the Pacific Ocean, of course. The Grand Coulee Dam is a more modern example, used for irrigation, power, flood control and water storage.

Grand Coulee Dam

Photo Credit: #mediaviewer/File:Grand_Coulee_Dam.jpg

Washington is also known as "The Evergreen State." Its largest city is Seattle, in the west, followed by Spokane, in the east, and its capital of Olympia. The eastern portions of the state include the fertile farmlands of the Yakima Valley and the Palouse. Unlike the western half of the state, the climate of Eastern Washington is dry, including some near-desert environments.

Three national parks are located in the State of Washington: Olympic National Park, North Cascades National Park and Mount Rainier National Park. Mount Rainier National Park contains 42 locations designated on the National Register of Historic Places.

Mount Ranier

Mount Rainier from above Myrtle Falls in August.

The skeletal remains of Kennewick Man, one of the oldest and most complete human remains ever found in North America, were discovered in Washington State. Many local sites celebrate the Native American tribes that populated the area prior to the arrival of explorers from Europe.

If your family history research takes you to the State of Washington, or, you are just looking for a new Heritage Tourism adventure, you could hardly do better than exploring Washington State.

About TheHeritageTourist

Dr. Bill Smith is the author of The Heritage Tourist, a monthly column in The In-Depth Genealogist which focuses on the social context of travel and history when applied to our genealogy. He can be found blogging at Dr. Bill Tells Ancestor Stories. Dr. Smith is also author and creator of "The Homeplace Saga" series of historical family stories (currently four books) set in a rural community in the southern Missouri Ozarks, drawn from his family history and genealogy passions and life experiences.

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