Sunriver Resort's WW2 Military Camp History
In an authentic setting rich with history, Sunriver Resort has served meeting attendees and families of every generation since 1968. Endowed with natural beauty and endless activities that provide adventure, discovery, relaxation, inspiration and treasured memories for all who visit, Sunriver Resort has long been known as one of the West Coast’s most vibrant and popular four-season destinations. Resort life, however, is a second career for the 3,800 acres of Central Oregon high country on which Sunriver Resort lies. This stretch of land was first tenanted in March of 1943, as a WW2 Army base named Camp Abbot.
Tucked among the stately pines at the foot of the Cascade Mountains, Camp Abbot, the U.S.’s third Engineer Replacement Training Center, was selected for both for its isolation and its unique similarity to the European theater where American troops confronted Nazi and Fascist forces. The Deschutes River encampment transformed the bleak, but beautiful wilderness into a whirlwind of army activities. Although most of the settlement was razed after the war, the concept of a self-contained community took root, and decades later sprouted and blossomed into the destination resort of Sunriver.
To the combat engineers training at Camp Abbot, life in Central Oregon was not the easy-going comfort zone that Sunriver is today. The 17 week training course was a tough, competitive program designed to introduce the harsh realities of war. Men, only a few weeks removed from civilian life, were put under simulated battle conditions in the heart of the Cascade mountains.
Where the tenth tee of the Sunriver northern golf course is now located, in 1943 and 1944 soldiers learned how to dodge bullets in an obstacle course. Where families now reside in cozy, spacious homes, men once lived in foxholes dug in the snow. And what is now a modern recreation haven with swimming pool, tennis courts, and bicycle paths, was then a military installation fully equipped with anti-tank demolition facilities, bayonet courts, and rifle and grenade ranges.
Construction of the camp began in November 1942, but wasn’t officially opened until Col. Frank S. Besson assumed command on May 12, 1943. Besson graduated with honors from West Point in 1909 where he also won the sabre, emblematic of the academy’s warm esprit de corps which he fostered through strong leadership and personal example. Besson saw his mission was to make Camp Abbot the best Engineer Replacement Training Center (ERTC) in the country.
The most recognizable and magnificent legacy of Camp Abbot’s engineers was the Officers’ Club, today known as Sunriver Resort’s Great Hall. The Officers’ Club (or Great Hall) is the most prominent and best preserved of Camp Abbot’s buildings. It is always open to the public and continues to function regularly as a community gathering place.
Sunriver Resort continues to maintain this space while keeping with it's rich heritage and authentic design. The foyers inside of the Great Hall feature photographs, documents and maps from the Camp Abbot era. The large commons area outside of the Great Hall also memorializes Sunriver's rich heritage. It was dedicated to the family of Colonel Frank S. Besson in September of 2013 and is known officially as Besson Commons.
The private ceremony was in honor of the Besson family and was also attended by local dignitaries and several distinguished members of the military including World War II Medal of Honor recipient Robert D. Maxwell of Bend, Oregon. “The dedication of this site memorializes our historic past and ensures that the extraordinary service to our country that was provided at Camp Abbot during WWII by Colonel Frank S. Besson, and those who served under his command, will be both remembered and honored today and many years to come.” said Tom O’Shea, Managing Director of Sunriver Resort.