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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Pearson Field, Vancouver, Washington"
Includes ... Pearson Field ... Pearson Air Museum ... Jack Murdock Aviation Center ... Valeri Chkalov ... Captain Carlton Bond ...
Image, 2017, Mount Hood, Oregon, and Pearson Field, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Pearson Field, Washington, with Mount Hood, Oregon. Image taken April 21, 2017.

Pearson Field ...
When the U.S. Army came to Vancouver in the mid-1800s, the area south of Fort Vancouver and Vancouver Barracks (known as "Jolie Prarie") was used for ammunition storage, a blacksmith shop and garden. In later years it was used as a polo field. Then, in 1905, one hundred years after the Lewis and Clark expedition, Lincoln Beachey in the dirigible, City of Portland (using the Gelatine airbag) took off from Jantzen Beach, Oregon, during the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition, and landed on the polo grounds of the Vancouver Barracks, Vancouver, Washington. This was the first aerial crossing of the Columbia River and marked the beginning of Pearson Field.

"... Pearson Field, Vancouver, USA is the oldest operating airfield in the United States and dates from the landing of a dirigible, The Gelatin, piloted by Lincoln Beachey. Beachey took off during the Portland Lewis and Clark Exposition from Portland and landed on the polo grounds of Vancouver Barracks, Vancouver, Washington. This was the first aerial crossing of the Columbia River. The first airplane flight at Vancouver Barracks was in 1911. The aviators used the Army's field as a landing field (presumably when no horses were present) in order to experiment with various configurations of aircraft. ..." [Pearson Air Museum website, 2006]

Today, Pearson Field remains the oldest continually operating airfield in the United States. It is also home to the Pearson Air Museum and the Jack Murdock Aviation Center.

Lieutenant Alexander Pearson ...
Pearson Field was named in 1925 after Lieutenant Alexander Pearson, "one of the Army's brightest young pilots", who was killed the previous year.

"... The Army was asked to rename the field Pearson Field in honor of Alexander Pearson, one of the Army’s brightest young pilots killed the previous year. Pearson graduated high school in Hutchinson, Kansas, and then moved to Eugene, Oregon. There he enrolled at the University of Oregon, and later in the Air Service when the United States entered the war in 1917. Pearson was an Army test pilot and held numerous flight records, including the transcontinental speed record. He lost his life while preparing for the Pulitzer race in Ohio. A wing strut failed and his plane crashed. Pearson Field was officially dedicated on September 16, 1925, and to mark the occasion Lt. Kelly organized a large air show. Fifty-six aircraft from across the West converged on Pearson, providing the audience of 20,000 a spectacular show of precision flying and parachute drops. ..." ["HistoryLink.org" website, 2006]

Image, 2005, Headquarters, Pearson Field, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Headquarters, Pearson Field, Washington. Image taken March 18, 2005.

Pearson Field History ...
  • The first airplane flight at Vancouver Barracks was in 1911 with Charles Walsh and Silas Christofferson flying Curtiss Pusher biplanes used the Army's field as a landing field in order to experiment with various configurations of aircraft.

  • During World War I, the area around Pearson Field was the location of the world's largest spruce cut-up mill, cutting raw timber into lumber used to build the planes which helped win the war in Europe.

  • In 1923 the 321st Observation Squadron was assigned to Pearson Field. Their mission was to teach Army Reserve Officers how to fly, using four Curtiss Jennies and one Dehavilland DH-4 aircraft. One notable aviator assigned to Pearson Field was Oakley Kelly, who, along with Lieutenant John McCready, flew the first non-stop transcontinental flight in 1923.

  • In 1924, Pearson Field was a stopover on the army's first round-the world-flight.

  • On June 20, 1937, Soviet aviator Valeri Chkalov and crew landed there at the end of history's first non-stop, trans-polar flight, a flight which took 63 hours and 16 minutes. Today a monument commemorating that flight is on display just west of the museum. This is the first monument to commemorate a Russian accomplishment on U.S. soil.

  • Over the years, the field was visited by such notables as Charles Lindbergh, Jimmy Doolittle, Eddie Rickenbacker and squadrons of barnstormers. Two occupants of an adjacent commercial field, Pacific Air Transport and Varney Airlines, later joined with two other companies to form United Airlines.

  • Pearson Field was named in 1925 after Lt. Alexander Pearson, "one of the best known and finest pilots in the Air Service." He was killed while preparing for an air race in 1924.

  • During World War II, the field housed Italian prisoners of war. After the war, the airfield was declared surplus by the U.S. Army and sold to the City of Vancouver.

  • In 1996 the 366-acre Vancouver National Historic Reserve was established to protect important areas of Vancouver's history, including Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, Vancouver Barracks, Officers' Row, and Pearson Field. A portion of Pearson's runway sits on land once occupied by historic Fort Vancouver and now owned by the National Park Service.

Pearson Field in 1939 ...
From "Federal Writers' Project, 1939, "Oregon Trail: The Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean"; ":

"... PEARSON ARMY AIRPORT, corner 5th and E. Reserve Sts., has hangars, shops, and administraion buildings. Here ended the 63-hour flight across the North Pole made by three Russians who hopped off at Moscow on June 18, 1937, to test the feasibility of air transportation across the top of the world. The Soviet fliers landed at this field because of fog, short of San Francisco, their destination. When asked the reason for their explorations of the Arctic, the spokesman for the trio voiced the feeling that Jefferson had had 150 years before them: "We do not like blank spots on the map.". ..."

Image, 2017, Mount Hood, Oregon, and Pearson Field, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Pearson Field, Washingotn, with Mount Hood, Oregon. Image taken April 21, 2017.

Pearson Field, etc.

  • Pearson Air Museum (Jack Murdock Aviation Center) ...
  • Spruce Mill ...

Pearson Air Museum ...
Jack Murdock Aviation Center ...
The Jack Murdock Aviation Center is located at Pearson Field and focuses on the period from 1905 through World War II, when Pearson Field was the site of many aviation firsts. The 23,500-square-foot museum features a pictorial history of Pearson Field and historic artifacts and aircraft. The black and yellow checkerboard roof was common at Army airfields during the “Golden Age of Flight", when pilots often needed visual guides to a safe landing. The museum includes such planes as a 1912 Curtiss Pusher replica, a 1913 Voisin III (one of only three in the world), and a 1941 Boeing Stearman. The museum also includes the country's second oldest wooden hangar, built in 1918 as part of the U.S. Army Spruce Division. The hanger has been used as an airplane hangar since 1921. It housed Italian prisoners of war during W.W.II. The Jack Murdock Aviation Center operates as a cooperative partnership between the City of Vancouver and the National Park Service. Jack Murdock was a Vancouver resident, a successful businessman, and a lifelong aviation enthusiast. He is best remembered as co-founder of Tektronix, Inc. and as benefactor of the charitable trust that bears his name.

Image, 2005, Jack Murdock Aviation Center, Pearson Field, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Jack Murdock Aviation Center, Pearson Field, Vancouver, Washington. Image taken March 18, 2005.
Image, 2006, Army Air Corps, Pearson Field, Washington, click to enlarge
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Army Air Corps, Pearson Field, Washington. Image taken October 23, 2006.
Image, 2004, Army Air Corps, Pearson Field, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Army Air Corps, Pearson Field, Washington. Image taken March 8, 2004.
Image, 2010, Army Air Corps, Pearson Field, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Army Air Corps, Pearson Field, Washington. Mount Hood, Oregon, is in the background. Image taken March 19, 2010.

Spruce Mill ...

The Spruce Mill, also known as the "Cut-Up Plant," was built in 45 days and covered more than 50 acres. At peak, it was producing a million board feet of lumber every 24 hours for Allied airplane manufacturers. This HO scale (1/87) model is a replica of the mill as it looked during the summer of 1918. National Park Service volunteer Dr. Gary Brooks donated 1,200 hours to research and build this model, based on historic records, photographs, and maps.

On this map, Spruce Mill buildings and rail lines are shown in blue. Modern buildings and landscape features are outlined. Your current location is marked with a yellow triangle."

Source:    Spruce Mill Model information sign, Pearson Air Musueum, visited April 2017.

Image, 2017, Vancouver, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Sign, Spruce Mill Model, Pearson Air Museum, Vancouver, Washington. Image taken April 8, 2017.
Image, 2017, Vancouver, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Spruce Mill Model, Pearson Air Museum, Vancouver, Washington. Image taken April 8, 2017.

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, November 4, 1805 ...
A cloudy cool morning wind from the West we Set out at 1/2 past 8 oClock [from their camp on the north side of Government Island, approximately across from Fisher's Landing], one man Shannon Set out early to walk on the Island [Government Island] to kill Something, he joined us at the lower point with a Buck. This island is 6 miles long and near 3 miles wide thinly timbered     (Tide rose last night 18 inches perpndicular at Camp) near the lower point of this diamond Island [Government Island] is The head of a large Island Seperated from a Small one by a narrow chanel [Lewis and Clark show two large islands on their maps, both in today's Government Island area], and both Situated nearest the Lard Side, those Islands [even today the Government Island reach is a complex of many islands] as also the bottoms are thickly Covered with Pine &c. river wide, Country low on both Sides; [since 1983 the Interstate 205 bridge crosses Government Island connecting Oregon to Washington]     on the Main Lard Shore a Short distance below the last Island we landed at a village of 25 Houses: [near Portland International Airport]; ...     This village contains about 200 men of the Skil-loot nation ...

at 7 miles below this village passed the upper point of a large Island [Hayden Island] nearest the Lard Side, a Small Prarie [Jolie Prairie, today the location of Fort Vancouver and Pearson Airpark. Lewis and Clark camp on this prairie on their return] in which there is a pond [one of the many ponds which use to dot this area] opposit on the Stard. here I landed and walked on Shore, about 3 miles a fine open Prarie for about 1 mile, back of which the countrey rises gradually and wood land comencies Such as white oake, pine of different kinds, wild crabs with the taste and flavour of the common crab and Several Species of undergroth of which I am not acquainted, a few Cottonwood trees & the Ash of this countrey grow Scattered on the river bank, ...     joined Capt. Lewis at a place he had landed with the party for Diner. ...

dureing the time we were at dinner those fellows Stold my pipe Tomahawk which They were Smoking with [Tomahawk pipe, thus giving rise to the name Tomahawk Island] ...    we proceeded on

[The men have passed through the area which, 20 years later, Dr. John McLoughlin would choose for a trading post of the Hudson's Bay Company, later to become Fort Vancouver and eventually the city of Vancouver, Washington.]

met a large & a Small Canoe from below, with 12 men the large Canoe was ornimented with Images carved in wood the figures of <man &> a Bear in front & a man in Stern, Painted & fixed verry netely on the <bow & Stern> of the Canoe, rising to near the hight of a man [Lewis and Clark then named Hayden Island "Image Canoe Island"]     two Indians verry finely Dressed & with hats on was in this canoe passed the lower point of the Island [Hayden Island] which is nine miles in length haveing passed 2 Islands on the Stard Side of this large Island [the location of Vancouver Landing and since 1917 the Interstate 5 Bridge connecting Oregon to Washington State], three Small Islands at its lower point [The downstream end of Hayden Island was at one time composed of small islands. One of these, Pearcy Island, would become today's Kelley Point.]. the Indians make Signs that a village is Situated back of those Islands on the Lard. Side and I believe that a Chanel is Still on the Lrd. Side [it wasn't until Lewis and Clark's return trip they would discover the mouth of the Willamette River] as a Canoe passed in between the Small Islands, and made Signs that way, probably to traffick with Some of the nativs liveing on another Chanel, at 3 miles lower [Sauvie Island is located at this stretch, but it is not until the return that Lewis and Clark recognize it as a separate island], and 12 Leagues below quick Sand river [Sandy River] passed a village of four large houses on The Lard. Side [on Sauvie Island], near which we had a full view of Mt. Helien [Mount St. Helens, Washington] which is perhaps the highest pinical in America from their base it bears N. 25° E about 90 miles- This is the mountain I Saw from the Muscle Shell rapid [Umatilla Rapids, Captain Clark actually saw Mount Adams] on the 19th of October last Covered with Snow, it rises Something in the form of a Sugar lofe- about a mile lower passed a Single house on the Lard. Side, and one on the Stard. Side, passed a village on each Side and Camped near a house on the Stard. Side [Post Office Lake vicinity, today within the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge] we proceeded on untill one hour after dark with a view to get clear of the nativs who was constantly about us, and troublesom, finding that we could not get Shut of those people for one night, we landed and Encamped on the Stard. Side ...

This evening we Saw vines much resembling the raspberry which is verry thick in the bottoms. A range of high hills at about 5 miles on the Lard Side [Portland's West Hills'] which runs S. E. & N W. Covered with tall timber the bottoms below in this range of hills and the river is rich and leavel, Saw White geese with a part of their wings black. The river here is 1½ miles wide, and current jentle. opposite to our camp on a Small Sandy Island [one of the small sandy islands prevelent in this stretch of the Columbia. Today the Willow Bar Islands on the east side of Sauvie Island lie across from Post Office Lake.] the brant & geese make Such a noise that it will be impossible for me to Sleap. we made 29 miles to day

Clark, March 30, 1806 ...
we got under way verry early [from their camp near Wapato Portage] and had not proceeded to the head of the island [Bachelor Island] before we met with the three men of the Clan-nar-min-a-mon's who met us yesterday brackfast at the upper point of the Island [Bachelor Island] we met Several of the Clackstar and Cath-lah-cum-up in two canoes. Soon after we were overtaken by Several Canoes of different tribes who reside on each Side of the river the three above Tribes and the Clâh-in-na-ta cathy-lah-nah-qui-up & Cath-lah-com-mah-tup reside on each Side of Wappato inlet [Multnomah Channel] and back of Wappato Island [Sauvie Island] which Island is formed by a Small Chanel which passes from the Lower part of Image Canoe Island [Hayden Island] into an inlet which makes in from the S W. Side, and receves the water of a Creek which heads with the Kil a mox River. this wappato Island [Sauvie Island] is about 18 or 20 Miles long and in places from 6 to 10 miles wide high & furtile with ponds on different parts of it in which the nativs geather Wappato. nearly opposit the upper point of the Isld. behing which we encamped last night, or on the Wappato Isld. is Several Camps of the nativs catching Sturgion. about 5 miles Still higher up and on the N E. Side we halted for brackfast at the place which We had encamped the 4th of November last [near Post Office Lake, Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge]. here we were visited by several canoes of Indians from two Towns a Short distance above on the Wappato Island [Sauvie Island]. the 1st of those Tribes Call themselves Clan-nah-quah and Situated about 2 miles above us, the other about a mile above Call themselves Mult-no-mah ...     at 10 a. m. we Set out and had not proceeded far before we came to a landing place where there was Several large canoes hauled up, and Sitting in a canoe, appearantly waiting our arival with a view to join the fleet indian who was then along Side of us. this man informed he was a Shoto and that his nation resided a little distance from the river. we landed and one of the indians pointed to the Shoto village which is Situated back of Pond [Vancouver Lake] which lies parrelal with the river on the N E. Side nearly opposit the Clan-nah quah village. here we were also joined by Several Canoes loaded with the natives from the Island who Continued to accompany us untill about 4 oClock when they all returned and we proceeded on to the place the Indians Stole my Tomahawk 4th Novr. last [Hayden Island] and Encamped in a Small Prarie ["Jolie Prairie" where Fort Vancouver and Pearson Airpark would some day be located] above a large Pond on N. E and opposit the Center of image Canoe Island [Hayden Island]. capt Lewis walked out and Saw Several deer. Jo. Field Shot at Elk he killed and brought in a fine duck. ...     we made 22 Miles only to day the wind and a Strong current being against us all day, with rain. discovered a high mountain S E. Covered with Snow which we call Mt. Jefferson [Mount Jefferson, Oregon]

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*River Miles [RM] are approximate, in statute miles, and were determined from USGS topo maps, obtained from NOAA nautical charts, or obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2003

Sources:    City of Vancouver website, 2004;    Federal Writers' Project, 1939, "Oregon Trail: The Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean";    "HistoryLink.org" website, 2006;    Pearson Air Museum website, 2004, 2006;    "DC3History.org" website, 2005;   

All Lewis and Clark quotations from Gary Moulton editions of the Lewis and Clark Journals, University of Nebraska Press, all attempts have been made to type the quotations exactly as in the Moulton editions, however typing errors introduced by this web author cannot be ruled out; location interpretation from variety of sources, including this website author.
© 2017, Lyn Topinka, "ColumbiaRiverImages.com", All rights reserved.
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February 2013