Painting & Discovering Coastal Military History – Fort Columbia, WA
Pre-Post Note/ As follow-on to my last post, I figured I would give you a quick update on where my volunteer duties have taken me this week. I enjoy varied volunteer work, so I had a blast doing this even tho’ it was rather more physical that my “regular” desk job. For those planning to visit Cape D, I’ll be back at the LCIC on Monday.
This week my volunteer duties took me to an old military building. The LCIC center was closed for some upgrades, so Steve asked me if I’d mind doing some painting at the interpretive center (an old barracks) in nearby Fort Columbia State Park. I did a lot of painting in my youth during the summers (we owned an old-fashioned half-timbered straw-roof house in Denmark that required near-constant upkeep), so I figured “why not”. Spend a few days in a beautiful place painting at my leisure in an historic building? Sure!
Situated just ~20 mins from Cape D, Fort Columbia was one of the three major fortifications (together with Fort Canby & Fort Stevens) that guarded the great Columbia River through both world wars. Originally built in 1896, it’s located in a pristine position on a small hill just a few miles downstream from the entrance to the river.
And honestly it’s a total hidden gem!
It spans 593-acres and is one of the most completely intact coastal defense sites in the US. It has all the original wood-frame barracks, officers buildings, hospital, firehouse and guard house as well as the ordinance storehouse, several batteries and even two fully-intact 6-inch guns (two of only 6 remaining guns of this kind in the world!). Plus the interpretive center is pretty sweet with extensive displays on local history, the fort itself and the life of the men who lived there during that time. There is a lot here.
Few folks ever come here (why, I don’t know) so it’s the kind of place you can spend hours exploring cool nooks and crannies practically by yourself. And for a tomboy-explorer gal like me that’s kind of like giving candy to a 2-year old. Who knows what kind of sweeeeet goodies I might find??
The interpretive center itself was originally the enlisted mens barracks and dates from the turn of the century. It’s been re-painted many times over the years, most recently sometime in the 70’s which (as you can imagine for those of you who lived through that era) resulted in a pretty horrendous color scheme. The park is taking the existing mustard orange/yellow scheme and bringing it back to a much cleaner, and historically appropriate WWI-era grey/cream/black color scheme. So that’s what I was bought in for.
I took over a boatload of podcasts (the entire Limetown series & several episodes of This American Life) on my iPad and just set to work painting as many walls as I could. I worked pretty much the exact same hours as I would work at the LCIC (11am-4pm), and enjoyed my usual 1/2 hour lunch break overlooking the river from the barracks porch. Other than the physical effort of getting up and down off the ground 100+ times per day (good butt sculpting, this painting business) it was super easy job and somewhat meditative, if you like that kind of thing.
In my free time I explored the surrounding area, checking out all the interpretive displays and even poked around some of the hidden rooms underneath the officers barracks. I found many strange and unusual things which I can’t divulge (they’re secrets ya know, and then they wouldn’t be secrets anymore), but I did uncover a couple of cool items from more recent use of the building including some old newspapers and an awesome Readers Digest from 1966.
The top stories in Digest are a fascinating insight into the “hot” topics of the late 60’s and take you right back to that tumultuous period in our history:
- Why Not Blockade North Vietnam?
- The Secret of Keeping Your Teeth
- TV Revolution Ahead!
It was a time of sweet cars and exciting technology, but also the midst of a horrible war. History, like life, is never simple.
I managed to finish my 3-day painting stint almost completely covered in paint (it’s just how I work), but with a new appreciation for the many boots and shoes that have walked these halls. Oh, and did I mention? Volunteering rocks!
PAW NOTES/ Fort Columbia is completely dog-friendly except for inside the interpretive center, so feel free to bring pooch for a walk around the grounds. There are several miles of hiking trails and it’s a great place to explore and hang with doggie.