This presentation is part of Preserving U.S. Military Heritage: WWII to the Cold War, Fredericksburg, Texas, June 4-6, 2019.
by Rick Minor and Kathryn A. Toepel
Camp Adair in the Willamette Valley of northwestern Oregon was one of 25 new cantonments constructed nationally for the U.S. Army between 1940 and 1942. These cantonments were characterized by the speedy construction of low-cost temporary buildings designed to house and train millions of men quickly. Within a military reservation of over 56,000 acres, the cantonment at Camp Adair contained headquarters, barracks, and support buildings, including over 1,400 structures. Four infantry divisions trained for combat at Camp Adair, and at its peak from 1942 to 1944 when two divisions were training at the same time, Camp Adair had a population of approximately 40,000, making it the second largest city in Oregon.
After the war, Camp Adair was declared surplus, and most of the land was reacquired by previous owners or transferred to federal and state agencies. Almost all of the buildings were removed, leaving the street grid and concrete piers, pads, foundations, and chimneys as the primary reminders of the cantonment. In 1950, a sizable portion of the former cantonment became the E.E. Wilson Wildlife Area managed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). The continued existence of the Camp Adair cantonment may be at odds with the needs of ODFW, which has considered removal of most of the physical evidence to enhance rabbit and bird habitat for hunters.
Today, the cantonment’s footprint (recorded as historical archaeological site 35BE158) stands out clearly on the landscape. The site encompasses 1,745 acres, of which 1,415 acres (81%) are within the 1,683 acres of the Wildlife Area, with an estimated 330 acres in other ownership. A total of 1,432 Camp Adair structures were within the cantonment, with 1,117 (78%) on land now managed by ODFW and 315 (22%) on land owned by others.
The distribution of the highly visible building foundations within the street grid reflects the redundant patterning typical of World War II cantonments. With map in hand it is possible to drive down the streets and identify the building that stood at each foundation. This patterning is so expansive and pervasive that it transcends identification as an archaeological site, and is more accurately characterized as a historic cultural landscape, more specifically as a historic military landscape. The Camp Adair landscape may represent the most intact example of the footprint of a U.S. Army World War II cantonment still in existence.
Each of the four infantry divisions that trained at Camp Adair (70th, 91st, 96th, 104th) went on to distinguished combat records. Altogether, 26,436 men from these four divisions were killed in battle, with more than 20,000 wounded. Nine soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor. The Camp Adair landscape is a visual reminder honoring the sacrifices made by the men who trained there. As an interpretive anchor that has attracted many former soldiers and civilians to visit and reflect on their experiences during the war, the historic military landscape at Camp Adair is a poignant memorial to Oregon’s role in the U.S. military’s mobilization during World War II.
Rick Minor received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Oregon (UO) in 1983. He was a co-founder in 1980 of Heritage Research Associates in Eugene, Oregon, where he has been Senior Archaeologist since that time. From 20092017 he also served as an Instructor in the UO Historic Preservation Program and in 2018 in the UO Clark Honors College. His research interests span prehistoric and historical archaeology in the Pacific Northwest, with an emphasis in recent years on Industrial and Military Archaeology.
Kathryn Anne Toepel received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Oregon in 1985. She also holds Master’s degrees in linquistics and historic preservation. She has served as President of Heritage Research Associates in Eugene, Oregon, since its founding in 1980. Her research interests span the fields of ethnography, prehistory, and historical archaeology in the Pacific Northwest, with emphasis in recent years on documenting the nexus between the historic built environment and archaeology.