By Jamie Rapciewicz in Life
Across Clark’s main campus, fields and pathways wind around the brick buildings, but it is difficult to picture the forest that once covered the land.
From the evergreen trees that once stood in place of Gaiser Hall, to the army barracks and artillery grounds that covered the entire campus, to the prison camp that stood near the Applied Arts building, Clark’s land has changed dramatically even before the school’s occupancy.
Historian Pat Jollota, writer of six books on the history of Clark County, dates the land the beginning the Civil War.
A map drawn by Royal Army Engineer Lt. Mervin Vavasour of the Hudson’s Bay Company Holdings marked Clark’s land as “dense forest.” In fact, all the land north of the Hudson’s Bay Fort Headquarters (Fort Vancouver) was marked as such.
The HBC was part of the fur trading ring contracted with Fort Vancouver. In the 1800’s, the HBC had multiple trading rights to the land north of the Columbia River.
The map was drawn in the early 18th century before the military moved in, Jollota said.
The Army occupied the land a few years after America gained its independence in 1776. They mapped out the property for the reservation 15 degrees off of true north.
“This was so that they could include all of the Hudson’s Bay buildings and holdings in the military reserve,” Jollota said. It was part of a contract they had with the military.
That is why the park across from Clark is at an angle, Jollota said. It also explains the set-up of the roads and triangular parking lots.
The military reserve stretched from Fourth Plain to the Columbia River, said Jim Watkins, the project manager for the STEM building.
During World War I, the army set up tent-like structures called cantonments for the Camp Hathaway army barracks. Clark resides on top of the barracks and stretches over part of the artillery grounds.
“I’d be afraid to roll around on the ground there,” Jollota joked. There might be lead from the unexploded bombs and spent shells since the ecological rules were not as strict back then.
As the spruce production kicked into high gear to build airplanes, the trees on Clark’s land began disappearing.
However, a point was made to “preserve the great meadow,” Jollota said.
It was during that time that the government brought in 50 thousand men to aid the military.
“After 1919, everyone went away,” said Jollota. “They talked about closing the barracks down, but decided against it.”
Then World War II came and the U.S. agreed to take prisoners of war because Europe did not have room to house the thousands captured. The military reserve took 200 Italian prisoners, which they first placed in what is now Pearsons field.
The military quickly built another cantonment to house the prisoners between Clark and Hudson’s Bay High School.
In 1943, Italy surrendered and the U.S. Army released their prisoners who were replaced by German prisoners.
After World War II, the land was no longer needed for the military reserve and it became surplus barracks, according to the War Assets Administration in 1947.
“Then came the discussion of who would get what,” said Jollota with a smirk.
Everyone wanted a piece of the land: the city wanted it to build a city hall and the Coast Guard wanted it to build barracks and housing for dependents. It was open space with one road so the possibilities were endless.
“Everyone was fighting over it,” Jollota said.
A Park for the People Plan, later called the Central Park Plan, was devised to divide the land among many government entities.
When the Coast Guard was denied, Clark saw an opportunity.
Clark made a play for the land and it was granted. The Applied Arts building was built first in 1950.
In 2000, the rest of the military barracks were closed and Clark began building the STEM building in its place.