By Gary Richards, Board Member, Adair Living History, December 2023
Having lived next to Camp Adair for a huge share of my life, I have become fairly involved with the history of the area. One Christmas, my wife gave me a GPS for our car. Researching information on the internet, I discovered that besides being a great tool, it could also be a great toy, translation: Big Boy’s Toys. I discovered a wonderful game that can be played with it, Geocaching! And right next door was a treasure trove of caches to discover in old World War II Camp Adair. One day I discovered a cache named “Stairway to Heaven”, my God the soldiers had a swimming pool at the camp! The next revelation was getting a crude map of the camp from a local museum. My “swimming pool” was a theater! It had never dawned on me that a theater sloped down into the ground like a pool.
The map told me that there were five theaters at the camp, Two in the North half, two in the South half, and one in the middle for the Headquarters’ area. My next discovery was that the chapels, fire stations and mess halls also had distinctive foundations. I spent several years locating, and placing geocaches, in as many areas as possible. I wanted others to follow me and be able to find the local history. Many places I could not use because of the rules that I could not be within a quarter mile of a pre-existing cache. A few other cache owners also pointed out spots thought to showcase the history of the area.
My claim to fame was locating ten of the eleven military chapels that were moved from the camp after the war. The local newspaper gave me several write ups and helped spread the word that I was searching for the present locations of the chapels. A little WWII chapel history. Army Camps were designed to be just temporary, then disposed of. So, the big brass decided that the camps did not need chapels like the Forts had. They could hold services in the recreation buildings. My hat’s off to Elenor Roosevelt! She said that if the soldiers were good enough to serve, they deserved real chapels. Thank you to a powerful First Lady!
Author John Baker wrote a book about Camp Adair, and I came to know him as I searched. John gave me a couple leads, and then I was pretty much on my own. Thanks to the newspaper write ups, and many, many hours searching the internet, I turned up all but one. I still hope someone will walk up to me one day and bless me with the final one.
I joined forces with a start up group that was laying the ground work to establish the Interpretive Center at Adair Village. I worked with other members of the group spreading the word about the history of the camp at museums, retirement homes, churches and anyone else who would invite us. We talked several times at the Polk County Museum at Rickreall, Oregon. They have two books of local’s memories of Camp Adair. They have information about what their families went through being quickly evicted by the government. As time went on, I realized that most of those stories were gloom and doom, depressing and sad. Of course, their families lost their homes and farms. And I’m quite sure that there was much grousing around the dinner table for years thereafter.
I suggested to the museum that they ought to start collecting new family stories about the blessings we now have because Camp Adair came to us. WHAT! BLASPHEMY! Wait a minute, stop and think about all the improvements we enjoy now days in the area that the camp once occupied. Highway 99-W from Corvallis to Monmouth was once a narrow, winding road, look at Arboretum Road and Helmick Road. That was what the old road once was, and they have been improved since then. The road used to meander through farmland with a couple villages that never would have grown very much. Corvallis, Albany, Monmouth, Independence Rickreall and even little Suver Junction are bigger now that what they would have become on their own, Adair village would still be farmland and the little hamlet of Wells. Building, and operating Camp Adair brought great wealth into the area. Then, in the late fifties and into the sixties, Adair Air force Station continued the flood of government money into the area.
And last, but not least, many of you would not exist. Stop and think, are you alive because one of your ancestors was lucky enough to be stationed in this out of the way spot. Perhaps to meet the love of their life? No big cities, but small towns, beautiful scenery, produce stands, and local wineries. Not to mention short trips to the beach or ski areas, places to have horses, quads, motorcycles and open country bicycle rides. Hunting and fishing, disk golf, regular golf and hiking. Now, are you ready to agree, what a blessing Camp Adair was, and still is.
As for Adair Village, jt rose out of what was Air Force housing for married servicemen. The Army had installed the water intake at Hyak Park, and the treament plant on the hill above it. The Air Force installed the waste water trement plant. As adair Village grew they improved both systems and now are providing utility service not only to the original houses, but expanding to others. The new subdivisions are well served, and the service is even extending to close by privious homes. The water rights the army had were transferred to the city and are a tremendous asset to continue building on. Adair Village is one of the fastest growing communities around Another selling point for residents is a first class school system, Santiam Christian. The school occupies many of the Air Force buildings, and respects the past of their site. Benton County has provided a wonderful park system complete with disc golf and a radio control air field. All’s good in the neighborhood.
Let this essay serve as the prolog for a collection of family stories from the rest of you. And not just the “old timers” (post 1945), but also you new-commers. What attracted you to move to this area? We already have two books of doom and gloom, let’s write a much bigger, and happier one. Please send your families GOOD memories of the Camp Adair area to Adair Living History for all to share, and enjoy.