Discover the Oldest Town in Washington

Mt Hood at sunset on the Columbia River, Vancouver Washington
Nick Wiltgen/iStock via Getty Images

Written by Mandy Trotti

Updated: November 7, 2023

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Washington State is famous for its natural Pacific-Northwest beauty, stunning national state parks, and association with President George Washington. But do you know the state’s oldest town? You may be familiar with the name. We’ll give you a hint: it shares its name with a major city in western Canada. Think you can guess it? Keep reading to discover the oldest town in Washington, from its history to the wildlife that calls the area home.  

Where Is the Oldest Town in Washington?

Columbia River Interstate Bridge

Vancouver is the oldest town in Washington, settled by the fur trading pioneers of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

The oldest town in Washington is Vancouver, not to be confused with the city of Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada. Vancouver, Washington, was founded in 1824 as a Hudson’s Bay Company post. The Chinook tribe inhabited the area until Western explorers invaded the land. The new settlers named it Fort Vancouver after Captain George Vancouver. It served as a headquarters for the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Pacific Northwest trading operations. Today, the city is located in Clark County, right outside of Portland, Oregon, along the north bank of the Columbia River. 

The History of the Oldest Town in Washington 

Fort Vancouver was operating in full swing in 1825, with the Hudson’s Bay Company dominating the fur trade in North America. All trading stations were stocked with staples such as coffee, tea, and sugar; wilderness necessities including guns, knives, and snares; and other goods like blankets and mirrors. Traders bartered with these items in exchange for beaver pelts brought by Native peoples and trappers.

The town was enticing for settlers because it offered safety and an abundance of supplies. The Hudson’s Bay Company discouraged American settlers, urging them to remain south of the Columbia River. The Company saw the Columbia River as a natural boundary between them and the southern occupied territories. The Hudson’s Bay Company prevented settlers from staying on their property through scare tactics in the mid-1840s, including burning down cabins and plowing crops grown by settlers. The Short family is a famous family who stood up to the harassment and abuse of the Hudson’s Bay men.

However, in 1849, the United States Army began building housing above the Hudson’s Bay Company’s fort, naming their section the Vancouver Barracks. Settlers also flocked to the area, claiming the land under the new Donation Land Claim Act in 1850. Therefore, the land no longer belonged to just the Hudson’s Bay Company men anymore.

By 1867, the oldest town in Washington had over half a dozen general merchandise stores, a plethora of trees leading to land development and wood manufacturing, and supplies for brick manufacturing. Waterfront and prune cultivation also boomed, setting a stable foundation for Vancouver’s continuous development as transportation, hydropower, and heavy industry grew for the rest of the 19th and 20th centuries.       

Things to Do In the Oldest Town in Washington

Columbia River Gorge - View from Beacon Rock

The Columbia River Gorge is a popular spot for outdoor exploration in Vancouver, Washington.

The oldest town in Washington offers an array of activities. From the scenic landscapes to historic attractions, there is plenty to do.

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

One of Vancouver’s most famous historic sites and first permanent settlements is the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. The 191-acre region is situated on the north bank of the Columbia River. In fact, there are three separate sites where visitors can learn more about the city’s rich history. Have a picnic in the Fort Vancouver Garden or head inside the Fort Vancouver Village for an archaeological exploration. You can even turn back time to the 1800’s while watching a blacksmith demonstration.    

Columbia River Gorge

Explore the outdoors any time of the year along the Columbia River Gorge. It’s one of 10 National Scenic Areas of the United States. Hike, bike, or zip-line through part of the Pacific Northwest. The 80-mile Columbia River Gorge is decorated with hidden waterfalls and colorful wildflowers along the many trails leading to stunning views of the Cascade Mountain Range.

Esther Short Park

The name Esther Short is synonymous with the heart of downtown Vancouver. Established in 1853, Esther Short Park is the oldest public park in Washington State and the entire West. Esther and her husband Amos Short arrived in Vancouver in 1845 from Pennsylvania in search of economic prosperity. They took up a homestead through the Donation Land Claim Act but fought against the Hudson’s Bay Company for years to keep their land.

After Amos Short drowned in the Columbia River in 1853, Esther stayed on the family farm and helped develop the oldest town in Washington by opening a restaurant and the city’s first hotel. She also donated Esther Short Park and part of the waterfront strip to the city in 1855.      

Now, the 5-acre gem includes a rose garden, clock tower, walking paths, picnic spots, a seasonal water feature, and a wheel-chair accessible, all-user-friendly playground. The Vancouver Farmers Market also occurs here on weekends year-round.     

Where is the Oldest Town in Washington Located on a Map?

Vancouver is in a valley on the north bank of the Columbia River in Washington State. Located in Clark County in the western lowlands area, this city is next to the Washington towns of Minnehaha, Hazel Dell, Five Corners, Mill Plain, and Fisher’s Landing. It is just across the river from Portland, Oregon.

Wildlife You’ll Find in Vancouver

Chinook Salmon Closeup

The Chinook salmon is one of over 60 fish species in the Columbia River.

The urban city of Vancouver, Washington, is an excellent place for bird watchers. Calls from various species are heard throughout the day. Owls and migratory birds from Alaska, Canada, and Mexico stop in the city to rest before continuing their seasonal journey. But robins, swallows, and scrub jays are a few year-round residents. On the other hand, eastern gray squirrels, eastern cottontails, big brown bats, coyotes, and red foxes are a few of the mammals living in Vancouver. There are also a dozen species of snake slithering about in Washington, some of which live in Vancouver. Other reptiles and amphibians include the long-toed salamander and the northern Pacific tree frog. 

The 1,200-mile Columbia River is also teeming with wildlife that populates the oldest town in Washington. It’s the largest river connected to the Pacific Ocean from North America and is one of the biggest sources of hydroelectric power. Moreover, the river contributes one-third of the potential hydropower in the U.S. with the help of its tributaries. Animals that live in the river include six species of salmon, like the Chinook salmon, and almost 60 other native and introduced species, such as the steelhead.   

Mammals along the bank include deer, black bears, and bobcats. Migratory birds such as herons and cormorants also stop by the banks of the river as part of their migration path. But the farther you venture along or into the river, the more wildlife you can encounter.  

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About the Author

Mandy Trotti is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on pets and travel. Mandy has been writing professionally for three years and holds a Bachelor's Degree in English Literature from the University of South Florida, which she earned in 2022. A resident of Florida, Mandy enjoys going on walks with her rescue beagle, visiting botanical gardens, and watching the sunset on the beach.

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