Following World War I, Fort Worden, like the rest of the nation’s military installations, experienced a rapid and extensive draw down of troops. By 1926, the fort was officially placed in caretaker status with fewer than 400 officers and enlisted personnel stationed on site. The big guns that were brought down from Artillery Hill when the United States entered the war in 1918, and shipped to the Front did not return. Although there were still some operational disappearing gun batteries and mortar parks remaining on Artillery Hill, the mission of the fort had changed. Advancements in aviation and naval warship ordnance technology made the country’s late-19th century coastal fortifications obsolete. It was clear to the Army that the defense of Puget Sound’s harbors, cities, and shipyards was not going to be well served by cannons alone. In 1920, the Army, in its search for a more modern role for Fort Worden, assigned the 24th Battery Balloon Company to the post and began building a balloon hangar. The high winds proved too difficult to launch and retrieve the observation balloon, so the 24th Company was reassigned, but since the hangar was already under construction, the project continued, although the building was never used to house an observation balloon.
There was a glimmer of hope for new life at the fort when visiting officer, Lieutenant Arthur Easterbrook, son of Army Chaplain Colonel Edmund Easterbrook (see April, 2018 article), announced the possibility of new arrivals. According to the January 8, 1920 Leader edition, Easterbrook heard that…” the 91st Aerial Squadron, composed of 24 sea and land planes plus 300 officers and mechanics would be assigned duty on Puget Sound this summer.” The planes and crews never arrived and a few weeks later the fort’s regiment was stunned by the news that fourteen of its sergeants received orders to report to Camp Lewis in Tacoma to serve as instructors. Losing such a significant number of NCO’s (non-commissioned officers), considered the heart and soul of the regiment further enhanced the rumors that the fort had no future.
Later that same month, in an effort to boost morale, Army chief of staff, and revered leader of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) General John Pershing, made a quick up sound trip from Seattle to inspect Fort Worden’s remaining troops. The general, along with an entourage of 70 officers and staff, arrived at the fort dock aboard the steamer “Kitsap II,” and motorcaded up the hill to the Parade Ground to review a provisional battalion of troops made up from the three forts Worden, Flagler, and Casey. The community was invited to attend but were required to congregate on the embankment in front of the houses on Officers Row. The Leader reported, when the General noticed the children encroaching onto the lawn and O Row Street (now named Pershing Avenue) to get a better look, “…the general waved his hand, graciously inviting the youngsters to cross the sacred ground provided by military regulations.” Following a quick lunch at the Officers Mess, the General of the Armies returned down sound on the 3pm sailing.
The decade following World War I, left Fort Worden, as one visitor observed, “devoid of spectacular features.” Today, managed by the Fort Worden Public Development Authority in cooperation with the park’s sixteen partners, Fort Worden is a thriving recreational and educational conference center offering a myriad of “spectacular features” in housing, camping, meals, and entertainment.