Elma Fairgrounds was an Army base

by Karl Davidson
(Centralia, Washington)

One of the least known or remembered aspects about the Grays Harbor County Fairgrounds is that, for several years during World War II, it was a base for the U.S. Army.

I do not know the name of the base, and there seems to be no information available on the internet, but I seem to remember reading that it was a detachment from Fort Lewis. The county fairgrounds was already in existence. In the 1930s, President Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (the CCC) as a means of putting young men to work during the Depression. The CCC headquarters and barracks were built on land east of the main part of the fairgrounds, just east of the old race track. Right where the big event center is now located. Several photos of the CCC barracks can be found in the University of Washington Archives if you do a web search for "Camp Elma". Many other current sites will appear, but scroll through them until you see the one for content.lib.washington.edu, or use this direct link content.lib.washington.edu.

The CCC camp, Camp Elma, was disestablished in about 1942, and was replaced by the Army. I grew up on my grandmother's property which was 10 - 15 acres and is now covered by the current Grays Harbor Speedway. The rear of our property adjoined the old horse stables. I think at least one of them still exists.

One of my memories about the Army was that my two younger brothers and I would go over to our fence bordering the base and sometimes soldiers would come over and talk to us. Mind you, we were little kids. When I was around six years old, I received a bugle for my birthday. It really played. We went over to our fence and several soldiers came over. I was thrilled when one of them actually played my bugle. By the time I was six years old I knew all of the Army ranks, in order, for both enlisted and officers.

Army used a large CCC recreation hall, Roosevelt Hall, that was still in existence into the 1950s. It was empty and dilapidated by then, but us kids used it as a "haunted house". In front of it was a very large swimming pool that stood empty. No one bothered to cover or fill in empty pools at that time. At the east end of the base, just north of the east end of the current race track, was a small metal building built by the Army to store their ammunition. Next to it was a large garbage pit where the trash was dumped. A place like that was just naturally a great place for kids to play. We could throw rocks at rats.

One aspect of the Army being so near, and that includes Fort Lewis, is that Highways 8 and 12 would often have long convoys of Army trucks. Some convoys were more than a hundred vehicles, mostly the troop carriers with canvas over the rear area, and some jeeps. They would go on maneuvers. It was great fun to stand by the highways and wave to the soldiers, who would return the waves. We would see the convoys going out Highway 12 toward Centralia when we visited our other grandparents who lived a mile or so beyond the Little League fields on Highway 12.

Then there were the foxholes. In the area between my grandmother's property and the old race track there were two foxholes left over from the Army. They had been covered over with boards and then dirt over the boards, but leaving a hole at one end for entry. A great hideout! We played many games of "Army" at those foxholes.

During the war years there were many warplanes flying overhead, out of McChord Air Force Base. The military was a lot of entertainment for us kids. I've never learned the purpose of having an Army unit stationed at the fairgrounds. If anyone knows, perhaps they could leave comments here to that effect.

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Jun 13, 2017
Memory lane
by: Joan

In the summer of 1953/54, I spent 2 summers at the old Elma ccc camp. My mother was a cook for the forestry camp and my father was a foreman. I too remember the old empty pool, but the building was gone by this time.My twin and I had the time of our lives exploring and riding horses. On one occasion we even found some blasting caps in, what probably was an old artillery shack. Boy that made my dad freek.

Thanks for the story, it brought back many fond memories


Oct 13, 2015
by: john

It is delightful to read this post and i get much useful point through this post. Please keep posting such kind of post

Sep 19, 2011
6 year old soldier

Enjoyed the article as it brought back memories of the army being stationed in Satsop, Both the Grange and Rebecca halls were used by the soldiers. I spent lot of time standing guard with them as a 6 year old. To get to our place You had to get by the guards because the ammo dump was near our house in the old gravel pit

Sep 19, 2011
Purpose of Army Unit at CCC camp Camp Elma
by: Luke Bailey

Great story Karl, I'm not sure of the exact purpose of CCC camp, Camp Elma but I brought the subject up to a good friend (Wizard) 9/16/11 and he told me the camp built a lot of the early bridges in the East Grays Harbor area (maybe others).

Some of the early bridges built by Camp Elma included Porter bridge, South Elma, Satsop River "West Fork" Bridge (the bridge just past Satsop Road West that heads up to old Swinging Bridge park) and some others.

I don't recall the exact term he used for the types of bridges Camp Elma's Army Unit built, but they built the bridges that were the silver colored and I believe also they were arched as well.

We need to get him to tell his story here or at least break out a recorder next time ;-) I think you'de like this guy Karl, he's like awalking history book sometimes.

Thank you for posting your story of Camp Elma Karl,

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