Lake Pleasant Company Town

Great American Rail-Trail

Architecture Commerce, Economy & Work Military & War

Although the Lake Pleasant Company Town was never built, the Spruce Production Division still operated in the area. This photograph captured soldiers building a railroad that would carry felled timber to mills, where it could be turned into lumber to construct airplanes.

Photo courtesy of U.S. National Archives

Here in Beaver, Washington, where West Lake Pleasant Road branches away from U.S. Highway 101, imagine that a sawmill whirs to your right and, on tracks in front of the mill, workers load boards onto an idling freight train bound for Seattle. This was to be the Lake Pleasant Company Town, a woodsy outpost of the Spruce Production Division (SPD) of the U.S. Army Signal Corps Aviation Section. For one year—between November 1917 and November 1918—the U.S. government was in the logging business. [1] By the time the United States entered World War I, the Allied Forces were in dire need of more airplanes. At the time, aircraft were mostly built from strong, light woods like the Sitka spruce found along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to California. However, the country’s private lumber industry could not meet the demand. This was partially because more workers would be needed to meet the quota of timber the Allies requested, but it was also due to labor unrest in the industry. Unionized lumber workers, sensing that the wartime demand provided them with some leverage, went on strike in the summer of 1917 to demand an eight-hour workday, better wages and improvements to their work camps. [2]

Under the guidance of Col. Brice P. Disque, the Army navigated these labor problems by forming the SPD and offering mill owners conscripted soldiers to augment their workforce. The offer was contingent on mill management’s implementation of the eight-hour workday and the improvement of camp conditions to the military’s (higher) standards. The SPD also formed a union, the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen, to unite civilian loggers with the Army’s own conscripted soldiers. In the interest of national defense, the Army convinced mill owners that meeting the demands of the lumbermen was in everyone’s best interest. [3]

The administration of the SPD was centered around Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington, but the division’s 30,000 soldiers were spread from the Canadian border to Oregon’s Coos Bay, where they worked side by side with civilian loggers. The Lake Pleasant Company Town was intended as a new mill and town site for 3,000 SPD loggers, and in the late summer of 1918 architects Charles Bebb and Carl Gould were contracted to design dormitories, homes, hotels, a recreation hall and a sawmill. Veering from West Lake Pleasant Road onto Bloedel Boulevard, there would have been eight single-family homes on small lots where today the road curves to the right to become Tyee Ridge Road. To the left, where a few houses are now, there would have been a large recreation hall flanked by two hotels. Continuing on Tyee Ridge Road, past where the small houses would have been built, there were plans for five large H-shaped men’s dormitories and a dining hall.

Within three months of the architects’ drawing up their plans, World War I ended and the SPD dissolved. Without the demand for spruce, there was no need to build the town. The two-dimensional blueprints are the only evidence that remains. [4]

Loop back from Tyee Ridge Road to West Lake Pleasant Road to visit the Lake Pleasant Recreation Area, where you can fish, swim and marvel at the area’s natural beauty.


  • [1] T. William Booth, “Design for a Lumber Town by Bebb and Gould, Architects: A World War I Project in Washington’s Wilderness,” The Pacific Northwest Quarterly 82, no. 4 (October 1991): 132–39.
  • [2] Ward Tonsfeldt, The U.S. Army Spruce Production Division at Vancouver Barracks, Washington, 1917– 1919 (Vancouver, WA: National Park Service, 2013), 1–7.
  • [3] Ibid., 10–13.
  • [4] Booth, “Design for a Lumber Town,” 137–38.

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