McGowan Cannery interior 1907

The McGowan cannery was a major producer of canned salmon in the 19th and early 20th centuries. This 1907 postcard shows cans being prepared for shipment.

In 1955, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Mrs. Henry McGowan presented an acre of property to the state of Washington for a roadside park and picnic area.

Located near the east entrance of the Fort Columbia tunnel, the area commemorated Lewis and Clark’s campsite from Nov. 16 to 25, 1805. A marker placed by the State Parks and Recreation Commission stated: “From this point they saw the breakers and knew they had completed the mission assigned to them by President Thomas Jefferson.”

Some 50 years later, at the time of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial celebration, members of the McGowan/Garvin family again paid tribute to the historic significance of the land upon which their ancestor had built his town. With the assistance of the Washington State Historical Society and the Washington State Legislature, 14 acres were chosen to serve as the nucleus for a 280-acre component of the Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks — “Middle Village — Station Camp.” The park, dedicated in 2012, honors three notable historical usages of the property — an important Chinook trade village, a critical campsite of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and the location of a significant and long-standing pioneer fishing community.

As work began on the site in 2005, archeologists found abundant physical evidence to support the importance of the site as a Chinook trade village. More than 10,000 artifacts were uncovered, including trade beads, plates, cups, musket balls, arrowheads, Indian fish net weights and ceremonial items. The European artifacts are from both before and after the Corps’ visit in 1805, and attest to the vitality of the Chinook social and economic life at the site.

Historians have called the spot “Station Camp” because it was Clark’s primary survey station to produce a detailed and accurate map of the mouth of the Columbia River and surrounding area — the most detailed and accurate map he made during the entire trip. Additionally, the site was used as a departure point for an overland trek for their first view of the Pacific Ocean and it was at Station Camp that the captains put the crucial decision of where to spend the winter to a vote. Every member of the expedition participated in what would be the first election held west of the Mississippi.

The third historical usage of the property was by P.J. McGowan who established the first salmon packing plant in the Lower Columbia Region and developed McGowan (1860-1945), a “company town,” where he first salted and, later, canned fish. After his sons had entered the business, the McGowan cannery was moved to Ilwaco where it would eventually become one of the final functioning salmon cannery on the Washington side of the Columbia estuary. Prominent in the park is St. Mary’s Catholic Church, built in 1904 by P.J. McGowan, and serving as a tangible link between Fr. Lionnet’s Stella Maris Mission Land Grant (1848 — 1860) and present-day usage by the residents of nearby communities.

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