The Chapel at Camp Colton
During WWII there was a U.S. Army installation (called a cantonment) at a place called Camp Adair, a few miles north of Corvallis, Oregon, on Highway 99. The Camp Adair post office existed between 1942 and 1946, though some troops were housed there prior to 1942. Four infantry divisions lived there and trained on the over 57,000 acres site. These divisions were later deployed to the Pacific Theater, France, and North Africa. Adair housed an important Navy hospital after the troops were deployed, and also acted as a POW containment site, though this was not known by nearby communities.
In its day, Adair served over 39,000 military personnel and for a few years was the second largest community in the state of Oregon! Camp Adair web site.
During its active time in Oregon, the army built eleven chapels to serve the Camp Adair residents, all built according to blueprints and with kits provided by the army, for chapels on camps across the nation.
Camp Colton, a Lutheran children’s camp started and operated for decades by Colton Lutheran Church in Colton, Oregon was started in 1928. After the war, when the army had no more use for so many buildings, the folks at Colton Lutheran drove down to Camp Adair and picked one of the chapels to buy.
Our chapel (they did not all have that beautiful Moorish arch to the beams) was selected. They paid less than $15,00.00 for the chapel, marked all the boards as they took it apart, loaded it onto flat bed trucks, and drove it upstate to Colton. My guess is there may have been many trips!
In 1947 the chapel was rebuilt on its present site at Camp Colton. We have no photos of our chapel in its original home at Camp Adair, but this is how it originally looked, settled into its new home at Camp Colton. The siding was white clapboard, giving a horizontality to the face of the building. In 1960 vertical cedar siding, board and batten, was added, providing a look more in keeping with a forest location
When my husband was a kid in the fifties, he and other campers were herded into the chapel twice a day for bible study. Later owners used it as a camp basketball court. During our tenure, we manufactured a hot glass product in the chapel.
In 1999 my son, Jarred, and I undertook a complete renovation of the chapel. We were fortunate to not know how much it needed, or we could not have justified the expense. But we had always felt that somehow the chapel was the heart of Camp Colton. It took about two and a half years and untold amounts of money, but I can’t think of anything at camp in which I take more pride than feeling how pleasing and pleased that building feels now. We did extensive terra-forming on the grounds surrounding the chapel, so it now boasts a circle drive, and sits on the crest of a raised yard with lawn and gardens.
If you guessed that an army chapel from the forties, built as one of hundreds, and used by enlisted men, would be stark and unwelcoming, you would be wrong. Though not ornate in the least, this is an elegant, understated, beautifully proportioned space.
In its present role, the chapel serves not only weddings, but also concerts, plays, and lectures. The stunning acoustics have kept us from finding a need to use any electronics to boost sound. Being freed from that nearly universal evidence of modernity seems to add to the feeling of intimacy in gatherings there.
Though Jarred’s was the first new wedding in the restored chapel, we have since shared it with hundreds of couples staging the exchange of their wedding vows. The families of each of those couples have honored us, and the chapel, by giving testimony as to how their tribe circumscribes the most meaningful passages of their family life.
Kathy Lundstrom, 2009