ADAIR VILLAGE – The longest journey, they say, starts with a single step.
Armed with just over $4,000 in grants and donations, Adair Living History is about to begin the process toward renovating a military-surplus building in downtown Adair Village and converting it into an interpretive center to showcase the community’s rich historical legacy.
The 25-foot-by-125-foot wooden structure is left over from Camp Adair, an Army camp that was erected in 1942 and trained more than 100,000 GIs for combat during World War II.
At its height, the camp had some 1,800 buildings and housed up to 40,000 people, making it the second-largest city in the state. But when the war ended in 1945, Camp Adair was no longer needed. Most of the buildings were sold at auction and broken up for building materials.
But some survived, including two that wound up on the campus of Santiam Christian School in Adair Village. In 2010, the school donated both to the city, which spent about $100,000 to move the two identical structures to a spot just north of City Hall with the idea that they would become the centerpiece of a new civic center.
Both buildings got new roofs and new siding, but much work remains to be done. While the city plans to shoulder the cost of converting one of the buildings into a community hall, Adair Living History is in charge of raising funds for the interpretive center.
At first, the group tried going after big grants to tackle the project all at once, but that strategy didn’t pan out.
“We’re a little teeny-tiny group that doesn’t have much money, and before a granting agency writes a big check, they want to see that you have some matching funds in the bank,” explained Barbara Melton, president of the nonprofit organization.
“So we decided to break the project down into a lot of little bites.”
Those tactics were rewarded recently when the group received a grant for $2,830 from the Siletz Tribal Charitable Contribution Fund and another from the Benton County Cultural Coalition for $1,150. It has also raised several hundred dollars in private donations and is now just $875 short of what it needs to pay for its first renovation project.
That project, expected to cost $5,000, will involve adding a second door to the interpretive center building and making the existing entry handicapped-accessible with a wider door and a wheelchair ramp.
While still far short of the interpretive center’s estimated $850,000 in total costs, those simple improvements will be enough to open the building to the public for the first time.
“We’ve never been able to bring people in for events because there’s only one door – it’s not fire code-compliant for a crowd,” Melton said.
“A lot of the people who come in to see the area are older, including some World War II veterans,” she added. “We wanted to make that building available to them, regardless of their physical ability.”
Sandberg Construction of Scio is scheduled to begin work soon while Adair Living History continues to solicit donations to pay for the job.
The group plans to offer its first public tours of the building on May 21 during the inaugural Founders Day event in Adair Village to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the city’s incorporation in 1976.
Melton hopes that letting the public tour the vintage wooden structure will help generate excitement for Adair Living History’s fundraising campaign, dubbed Raising the Barracks.
Ultimately, the plan is to create a replica of a Camp Adair barracks in one end of the building.
“We can’t make it completely authentic – that ship has already sailed,” Melton said. “But we can make it look the way it looked when it was in use.”
Adair Living History has already obtained a pot-bellied stove that once warmed one of the buildings at Camp Adair, as well as some wooden benches from one of the mess halls. The group doesn’t have a lot of memorabilia on hand (mainly for lack of storage space), but it has been offered lots of artifacts from the World War II era, including a truck and a jeep.
The interpretive center will also include lots of historical displays, room for classes and special events, office space and restroom facilities. While much of the focus will be on Camp Adair, the facility will also feature information about Native American tribes, Euro-American settlers and the vanished community of Wells, which was demolished to make room for the Army training camp.
“There’s a lot of history here,” Melton said. “What I see is an opportunity for people to come in here and learn everything they want to know. We want to feed that curiosity.”
Adair Village officials see the interpretive center as a key part of their plans for the new civic center. The second structure on the site will be converted into a community hall to house youth programs, meeting space and other community activities, according to City Administrator Pat Hare.
Plans also call for a parking area and a concrete plaza that will connect the two buildings and form a public square for this community of 900 people located 6 miles north of Corvallis.
Hare said the city plans to give both buildings a fresh coat of paint and hopes to get the square paved this summer. Like Adair Living History, the city can’t pay for everything all at once but hopes to start tackling the project one piece at a time.
“There are going to be funding opportunities, and we’re going to jump on those as they develop,” Hare said.
He sees the interpretive center as a tourist draw that will attract visitors interested in the area’s military history. After Camp Adair shut down, Adair Village housed a Navy hospital and was later home to an early warning station operated by the Air Force.
“We get a lot of people that served here or their parents served here. There’s just so much history here it’s incredible,” Hare said.
“We definitely see it as a good part of our future downtown plans.”