Photos Tell Story of Hermiston During WWII

Depot Photos
Construction workers are seen here in front of an igloo under construction at the Umatilla Army Depot. The Library of Congress has dozens of photos taken by photographer Russell Lee during the depot's construction in the early 1940s.

The Library of Congress is one of the two largest libraries in the world (the other being The British Library). Its possessions include millions of books, newspapers, historical documents, sheet music, photographs and more.

More than 14.7 million prints and photographic images are archived in the Library of Congress and among those millions of photos are dozens depicting the construction of the Umatilla Army Depot and life in Hermiston during those years. The photographs were taken by Russell Lee, an American photographer who spent several years working for the federal government’s Farm Security Administration (FSA) as well as the Office of War Information (OWI).

The FSA was part of the New Deal and its purpose was to combat poverty in rural America. Lee, along with other photographers, documented the struggles of poor farmers.

Lee also took photographs for the OWI, where he helped document the country’s war mobilization during the early years of World War II. Northeast Oregon Now has posted several dozen of Lee’s photos taken during the construction of the depot.

His photos are primarily of the depot and the workers hired to construct it. But Lee also focused his camera on life in Hermiston beyond the depot, depicting a small town suddenly bursting at the seams, thanks to the massive influx of people brought in during the depot’s construction. It was Hermiston’s first boom period in which the town’s population went from 803 in 1940 to 3,804 by 1950.

If you were around when the depot was being built, our photo galleries of Lee’s work will certainly bring back memories. If not, then Lee’s photos will serve as a sort of history lesson of the Hermiston’s early days. Either way, sit back and enjoy.

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