Before the United States entered the World War in 1917, Pierce County voted bonds to purchase 62,000 acres of land midway between Tacoma and Olympia and present this tract for a military cantonment. On that rolling, flat, prairie land rose Camp Lewis, named in honor of Captain Meriwether Lewis. Barracks were quickly constructed, tents pitched, and sewage, water, and lighting systems installed. The accommodations and training facilities necessary for the 30,650 men who were later to be stationed here were hastily improvised. Most of the war-time wooden barracks and other buildings have been replaced by brick and steel structures. The base has continued to grow and is one of the nation’s main military facilities.
Joint Base Lewis-McChord
Points of Interest
Entrance to Fort Lewis
The entrance to Fort Lewis, is formed of cobblestone pillars, topped by blockhouse-like structures fronting the highway. Facing the parade grounds, flanked by camouflaged field guns, stands a World War Memorial to the 91st (Wild West) and 13th divisions, which were trained at this cantonment. The monument is a stone shaft, at the foot of which stands a group of soldiers in bronze; the sculpture is by Avard Fairbanks; the architecture by John Graham. Behind the high steel-wire enclosure are the red-brick quarters of the officers, with the barracks of the enlisted men in the background. During recent years, many new buildings have been erected to house the garrison.
McChord Field Historic District
The McChord Field Historic District is significant for its architecture which is representative of the period 1938-1952 as well as the establishment of McChord Field and its role in World War II as the country’s largest bomber training base.
American Lake Veterans Hospital
The Department of Veterans Affairs hospital at American Lake is a striking institutional campus of Beaux Arts architectural revivalism that serves the mental and physical needs of veteran service men and women. Set along the western shore of a then pristine American Lake in 1923, the hospital claimed national distinction as a highly equipped neuropsychiatric facility, a reputation that continues today. Its collection of Spanish Colonial Revival buildings with smooth walls and red tile roofs speaks of the real or perceived recuperative power of architectural symbols to invoke dignity and nostalgia, and perhaps even healing. An uncommon architectural idiom for federal institutions in the Pacific Northwest during this period, the Spanish Colonial styling is made more exotic by its lake side setting and native cloak of towering Douglas-fir trees.
Captain Wilkes Celebration Site
This is the site of the first Independence Day celebration in Washington State in 1841 by members of the Wilkes Expedition. There was a parade, a barbecue, firing of cannons and a “full day’s frolic and pleasure” with games and horse racing.
Adjutant General’s Residence
As the adjutant general’s former official. residence, Building 118 at Camp Murray is significant in reflecting the occupant’s status as director of the Washington State Military Department and commanding officer of the National Guard of Washington. Built in 1921, the building remained a residence until 1962 when it was converted to office use. Of the adjutant generals who resided there, the house is closely identified with Major General Maurice W. Thompson and is sometimes referred to as the Maurice Thompson House. Thompson is noteworthy as having served as adjutant general for a total of twenty seven years during three terms (1914-18, 1919-41, 1945-47) and at the appointment of both Republican and Democratic governors. Because the house was constructed during ‘his tenure, it is speculated that Thompson played a role in its planning and construction.
Red Shield Inn/Lewis Army Museum
The Red Shield Inn opened in December 1919 to meet the demand of guest and family visitors to Camp Lewis, home to 25,000 soldiers in 1919. The 150-room hotel was built across the Pacific highway from the camp. In 1921 the hotel became army transient housing and served in that role until 1972, when it was closed due to safety issues. The former Red Shield Inn became the Fort Lewis Museum in 1973.
South of JBLM is a broad prairie dotted with scattered clumps of scrub oak and fir trees. The dwarfed fir trees with heavy foliage growing close to the ground, and the small, thickly branched oak are characteristic in this area, where light, gravelly soil is prevalent.