Document: a history of Prune Hill

 

The following report is courtesy of the Camas-Washougal Historical Society.

 

History of the Prune Hill Area


Courtesy of the Camas-Washougal Historical Society
The following history is provided as a foundation for the Prune Hill Area Comprehensive Plan by presenting a context for future planning from familiarity with the past. It is also a supplement to the history provided in the current Comprehensive Plan. The Camas area was first visited by white men as early as 1806 during the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and again in 1844 by a party of settlers who wintered along the Columbia River. In the late 1840s and early 1850s saw mills were built in Lacamas Lake. From the 1860s or 1870s on, settlers began staking their claims in Grass Valley and atop what would be named Prune Hill. In 1880 Clark county had more farms than any other county in the state except Spokane County.

The west slopes and top of the hill were planted with prune trees, probably beginning in the 1880s and 1890s. a Mr. Boyer was the first man in the area to put in a big prune orchard which was located on what become known as Prune Hill. Other people coming into the territory also put in prune trees. There were up to seven dryers in the Prune Hill area alone, though none remained today. The result was that by early in the new century Clark County was the prune capitol of the world. Its status continued until the Depression when the bottom fell out of the prune market. As a result many of the prune trees on Prune Hill were cut down for fire wood, leaving only a few trees for personal use. As the prune orchards disappeared, with prune growing relocating to California, other agricultural and pasture uses took over on Prune Hill. A few prune trees are still visible today; for example, an overgrown grove at the intersection of Forest Home Road and NW Astor remains as a reminder of the prune's former significance.

Residential development from what would be in City of Camas began to move up toward Prune Hill when Forest Home was platted for five and ten acre lots in 1891. Due to the steep slopes the southeastern slopes of the hill remained forested with only a few homes until recently, though the newspaper boasted that the "lots were well adapted to the growth of fruit of all kinds especially the prunes." Sometime after World War II, the Auto-Vue Drive-In was opened at what is now NW 28th Avenue and NW Logan Street. Though there was not much other development on Prune Hill, the drive-in movie theater was indicative of changes to come.

In 1971, two new reservoirs, water and sewer improvements were made on Prune Hill. These accommodated the new residential development that was being constructed on the east side of the hill, though berry farms and other agricultural uses still operated on the west side and top. With more residential development occurring near the top of the hill, the Camas School District opened the Dorothy Fox Elementary School in 1982. With strikes and other uncertainties in the ability of Crown Zellerbach/James River to continue to be the primary economic foundation for the City, Camas annexed a significant acreage in 1985 and zoned it for light industry and high technology uses. This annexation took in the lands north and west of Prune Hill -- almost surrounding it on all sides. Sharp Microelectronics purchased 120 acres in the newly annexed area, and opened a laboratory in the lower wester slopes of Prune Hill in early 1990. Underwriter Laboratories also purchased approximately seventy-five acres along NW lake Road for construction of a testing facility.

In 1990, the approximately 1500 acres of Prune Hill was still part of unincorporated Clark county, though nearly surrounded by the City of Camas. The beauty of the views, proximity to Vancouver and Portland, as well as the availability of large parcels of land, made Prune Hill and attractive location for development. As part of the agreement with the Boundary Review Board permitting the City of Camas to annex the 1200 acres for high technology, the city agreed to annex Prune Hill in the near future. Therefore, in 1990 the City of Camas annexed the land.

 

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