Soldiers and their families stationed at Fort Worden during the Great Depression of the 1930’s fared better than many. The economic collapse that left 15 million Americans out of work impacted the military as well. Like many of the military installations in the country, Fort Worden was reduced to caretaker status. For soldiers still on active duty, the daily routine was a mix of Army ritual including close order drill, marching, and hours of “chalk board” gunnery training. Active firing of the guns for target practice was expensive and therefore infrequently scheduled. Like civilian families, it was necessary for Army families to find ways to supplement their income and make do with what was on hand.
What Fort Worden had on hand was flat land with good soil. Mrs. Marguerite McIlroy Douglas, the daughter of Warrant Officer Fred W. McIlroy, recalled the family garden they kept when they were stationed at the fort. In 1934, her father was assigned as Quartermaster and moved into a duplex on NCO (Noncommissioned Officer) Row. In her interview, she states, ‘…all the families had gardens. When you left the house, you would go to the gardens up by the mule stables. My dad had a wonderful garden…I’m sure it was an economical thing…in the basement, there was a large area lined with shelves and my mother canned everything imaginable. She also sold the fish that she and dad would catch. They would get up at two in the morning and go down and put their little boat in the water and fish for a couple of hours.” Interestingly, her father would return to Fort Worden nearly twenty years later as a Lieutenant Colonel, and serve as the post’s last Commanding Officer with its closure in 1953.
The fort’s land also had recreational purposes. For a brief time, the parade ground served as the post’s golf course. Several Leader articles from the 1930’s give front page, above the fold, coverage to golf tournaments between the city and fort golf teams. The March 20, 1930, Leader edition reported the post’s recreation officer, Lieutenant Reuter, was inviting all municipal players to come and acquaint themselves with the course. The lieutenant boasted, “The sand greens are better than ever before…new tees have been built and the course is in fine shape for the match.” The exact whereabouts of the course is still being researched. According to 95 year old local resident Jack Caldwell, who spent his boyhood summers playing with the NCO Row kids at the fort, there were three oil and sand greens used for putting surfaces and six tees to make up the 18-hole course. He recalls one green located by the baseball backstop at the northeast corner of the parade ground, another at the southeast corner across the street from the Commanding Officer’s house, and the third where the Rhododendron garden is today. With the parade ground 400 yards in length and 160 yards wide, the layout was likely considered a pitch and putt course.
Although the course is gone, fort land for recreational purposes remains. In addition to the parade ground ballfields and tennis courts, the dedicated lawn games area along NCO Row offers croquet, bocce ball, horseshoes, and crowd gathering petanque tournaments. No longer in caretaker status, today Fort Worden offers year round recreational and educational opportunities for all.