World War I might sound like ancient history far from Washington state, but it was only 100 years ago and it had a significant impact on the region – especially the area that today is Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the sprawling Army and Air Force complex off I-5 between Tacoma and Olympia.
That history, both the centennial of the US entering “The Great War” and of the camp’s birth, will be shared at the March 11 meeting of the Redmond Historical Society as part of its Saturday Speaker Series.
Erik Flint, director of the Lewis Army Museum, will describe how groups like the Northwest Men’s Preparedness League formed during that time of growing patriotism, starting at 10:30 a.m. in the Old Redmond Schoolhouse Community Center, located at 16600 NE 80th Street.
A sense of impending war involvement led Tacoma-area businessmen, many of them members of the league, to lobby for a permanent military base in Pierce County.
“They sought a county ballot measure to raise $2 million to buy the land and donate it to the federal government,” Flint says. “The measure passed in January 1917 with 86% of the county voting ‘yes.’”
Named Camp Lewis, the base opened in September 1917. The Army’s 91st and 13th infantry divisions trained there and the camp soon housed 40,000 troops.
“The original size of the camp was 70,000 acres,” Flint adds. “Currently, JBLM (including Fort Lewis, the Air Force’s McChord Field, and the Yakima Training Center) comprises 414,000 total acres.”
A three-story, chalet-style wood building seen from I-5 is the camp’s most iconic structure and houses its museum, which recently got a $2.7 million facelift and is the only certified Army museum on the West Coast.
The only major building left from the Camp Lewis era, the building originally was the Red Shield Inn, a hotel built by the Salvation Army for soldiers and their families.
Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building sits in a park that also had “an ice cream parlor, library, billiard hall and other ‘healthy’ amusements for off-duty soldiers,” Flint says. “For a time, Seattle was posted ‘off limits’ due to its numerous institutes of vice. Tacoma, though boasting nearly as many said dens, was still accessible to soldiers.”
The Saturday Speaker Series is presented by the Redmond Historical Society on the second Saturday of the month with three programs each in the fall and spring. Topics range from local, state and Pacific Northwest historical interest.
There is a suggested $5 donation for non-members.
The Redmond Historical Society is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization that receives support from the City of Redmond, 4 Culture, Nintendo, the Bellevue Collection, Happy Valley Grange, Microsoft and 501 Commons as well as from other donors and members.