An Overview of Vancouver's History
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 near the Vancouver
waterfront 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 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.
It 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.
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, in 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 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 planes which helped
win the war in Europe. During World War II, Vancouver’s Kaiser Shipyard built a variety of
craft that contributed greatly to America’s war effort.
Today, Vancouver is a community proud of its past with a keen eye toward a future rich with promise.
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, 1925-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)
As the birthplace of the Pacific Northwest, Vancouver enjoys a tradition rich with
heritage. Vancouver is also a diverse waterfront community with a thriving and newly
renovated downtown core. Whether you’re interested in relocation, retirement or a
vacation to the Pacific Northwest, there is plenty to see and do in America’s Vancouver.
You’ll find additional information about the area by clicking on the following links.
Looking for information about Mount St. Helens?
The Columbian Newspaper has comprehensive coverage of our resident active volcano
City of Vancouver
Amphitheater at Clark County
Clark County Fair
Fort Vancouver National Historic Site (National Park Service)
Southwest Washington Convention & Visitors Bureau
Vancouver Farmer’s Market
Vancouver Wine & Jazz Festival
Evergreen Community Festival