top of page

The History Behind Fort Lewis, WA

About Fort Lewis

Fort Lewis, named after Meriwether Lewis of the famed Lewis and Clark expedition, is one of the largest and most modern military reservations in the United States. Consisting of 87,000 acres of prairie land cut from the glacier-flattened Nisqually Plain, it is the premier military installation in the Northwest.Fort Lewis began as Camp Lewis in 1917 when the citizens of Pierce County voted by an eight to one margin to bond themselves for $2 million to buy 68,721 acres of land. They donated the land to the federal government for military use. The only stipulation was that the tract be used as a permanent Army post. Captain David L. Stone and his staff arrived at the camp site May 26,1917, and a few days later the initial construction began. The entire camp was ready for occupancy a month ahead of schedule. In 90 days, Stone had supervised the construction of a “city” of 757 buildings and 422 other structures all lighted and heated for 60,000 men. The first recruits moved into their new barracks on Sept. 5, 1917, exactly two months after the post building plan had been handed to the contractors. When they implemented auction of the new cantonment, workmen subscribed $4,000 to build the Main Gate – which is still standing. The arch was built of field stone and squared logs resembling the old block houses which stood in the Northwest as forts. Some 60,000 men,including the 91st Division, moved into the hastily constructed cantonment to train for World War I. Recruited largely from the Northwest, the 91st was considered “Washington’s Own.”

The following two years saw tremendous activity at Camp Lewis as men mobilized and trained for war service. Thousands of the nation’s youth learned to know Camp Lewis and the state of Washington. With the conclusion of the war, activities at Lewis ground to a standstill. Camp Lewis passed from the hands of Pierce County and became the property of the Federal Government when the deed for 62,432 acres was recorded in the county auditor’s office in Tacoma.

Brigadier General David L. Stone, who had supervised the original construction of Fort Lewis as a Captain, returned as its Commanding General in 1936, serving until 1937. The project of constructing an Army airfield, which later became McChord Air Force Base, directly north of the Fort Lewis installation, received approval as a WPA project in January 1938, and $61,730 was allocated for construction. The allocation provided for clearing, grading, and leveling a runway 6,000-feet long by 600-feet wide.

At the conclusion of World War II, the northwest staging area of Fort Lewis became a separation center and discharged its first soldiers in November of 1945. With the departure of the 4th Infantry Division for Vietnam in 1966, Fort Lewis once again became a personnel transfer and training center. In 1972, the 9th Infantry was reactivated.

Part of Forces Command, Fort Lewis is the home of I Corps and has been since 1981. It is one of 15 US power projection platforms. The Corps’ primary focus is Pacific Rim. As a result, I Corps has a close, ongoing relationship with Pacific Command.

The principal Fort Lewis maneuver units are the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division and the 3d Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. It is also home to the 593d Corps Support Group, the 555th Engineer Group, the 1st MP Brigade (Provisional), the I Corps NCO Academy, Headquarters, Fourth ROTC Region, the 1st Personnel Support Group, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), 2d Battalion (Ranger), 75th Infantry, and Headquarters, 5th Army (West).

Soldiers receive first-rate medical care through Madigan Army Medical Center. Located in the beautiful Pacific Northwest on Puget Sound, Fort Lewis is adjacent to McChord Air Force Base, scheduled to be the home of the new C-17 transport fleet. Fort Lewis has abundant high-quality, close-in training areas, including 115 live fire ranges. Additional training space is available at the Yakima Training Center in eastern Washington, including maneuver areas and additional live fire ranges.

Fort Lewis has more than 25,000 soldiers and civilian workers. The post supports 120,000(+) retirees and more than 29,000 family members living both on and off post. Fort Lewis proper contains 86,000 acres; the Yakima Training Center covers 324,000 acres.

The Fort Lewis terrain is densely wooded and open, with Scotch Broom and undulating rocky terrain common. Poison oak, ivy, and sumac are found in the training areas. All personnel should be able to visually identify them. Nettles are present but uncommon. Canadian Thistle grows thickly in some areas. All trees are to be left standing; post policy prohibits cutting or trimming them.

The temperatures during summer vary from the mid 40’s at night to the high 80’s during the day, occasionally peaking over 100F. Humidity varies from day to day and frequent precipitation occurs overnight. Although July and August are usually “dry” months, it is not unusual for moderate rainfall to occur.


bottom of page