In a semicircle of evergreen hills dropping to cultivated prairie land bordering the Columbia River on the south, was a “City of Paper” where wide, concrete-paved streets and modern brick business and residential buildings enlivened the town. The mill buildings and the lingering odor of sulphite suggested the city’s industrial background.
Construction of a sawmill by Jacob Hunsacker in 1846 on Lake Lackamas brought the first industrial activity to the district. First settlement was in 1860 near a sand bar where the camas, a blue-flowered, sweet-flavored bulb, grew prolifically; the village retained the name of this favorite food of the Indians. The growth of Camas was the direct result of paper manufacture. The uncertainty of paper delivery from eastern mills, because of slow sailing around Cape Horn and oxteam transportation across the country, long handicapped the newspapers of the Northwest. In 1884 construction of a paper mill began on Lake Lackamas; after 18 months of operation, it was completely destroyed by a $150,000 fire. The mill was rebuilt the following year, with provision for new methods of pulp production and additional machinery. With its unlimited pulpwood resources, Camas grew as the factory expanded.
Several unsuccessful attempts were made to combine this town with nearby Washougal as Twin Cities. Until 1894, the post office was designated as La Camas, when it was altered to the present spelling to avoid confusion with La Center and La Conner. Residents continued to use La Camas as the town’s name until 1909, when the present was adopted.
Camas is still the site of big industry, but that industry has changed frequently in the last half of the twentieth century. Today the electronic industry is booming. Although much remains of Camas’ industrial past, the city is making efforts to change the face of Camas as a tourist-friendly town. Downtown revitalization and new residential neighborhoods offer a different vision of the once over-industrialized “mill town.”