Florence Boutwell and Spokane Valley’s Naval Supply Depot

Home of the Original Depot

   World War II gave the Valley two invaluable gifts, neither of which was supposed to be permanent and yet  both are going strong  to this day. The first to arrive, the Naval Supply Depot,
remains where it’s foundations were laid in May of  1942 on north Sullivan road, housing dozens of businesses. The other
Florence Boutwell, the author of several history books that chronicle the Valley’s  history resides comfortably and actively at Courtland Place on Evergreen.
   Originally the Depot, site of today’s Spokane Industrial Park, had a huge importance to the U.S. Navy and hence the world. Shortly before Pearl Harbor it was decided that the entire coastline  was vulnerable to attack and so the Spokane Valley , 300 miles inland, was selected as the site to warehouse and channel all supplies and equipment for the entire Pacific Fleet.
   Additionally, World War I had taught the government that they needed some place to store the left over inventory once the war ended, and so they went to work in the spring of 1942, using as many as 4,895 workers pulling three shifts a day. By December they had constructed several warehouses,each two blocks long, for a total of more than 2,300,000 square feet of storage.  The cost was $9,021,307, coming in $1,338,063 under budget.
   If a blanket or life raft went to a ship on the Pacific, it first went through the Naval Depot. Once the U.S. began taking over the Pacific Islands held by the Japanese, the Basic Boxed Base Load program was set up to provide a complete base for 10,000 men for sixty days. Workers meticulously  assembled and prepared for shipping each package, containing thousands of different items  with a total weight of 3,500 tons and a cost of more than  $41 million each.
   The accounting officer in charge of  all this, was a 24 year old New Jersey lady named  Florence Otto who joined WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), in March 1943 and became the only woman officer at the Naval Depot three months later.
    ” I had a business minor and that’s how I became the accounting officer,” she said recently in an interview at Courtland Place.” She explained that the manpower shortage put her meager credentials at a premium.
   Actually, Florence went through months of training for her position and was given a staff of 12 civilian workers to run her office. “They were experts at what they did and I would get the papers ready to go to Washington D.C.,” she said.
    The local civilian work force of 2,000 at the Depot outnumbered the military staff by about 10 to 1. Many of these became lifelong friends for Florence and her husband, fellow officer Laurence Boutwell. When they wed in August of 1944 more than 400 guests attended even though neither one had any relatives living on the west coast.
   After the war, the Boutwells took up residence on Broadway and raised three children. Florence taught school for 18 years for the Central Valley District. She also taught dozens of Valley kids how to play the piano, but her passion was writing, specifically historical writing. For years she wrote articles for such publications as Spokane Valley Today and then in 1994 she published the first of a four volumes telling the history of the Valley.
   When local school teachers, who used her books in class, suggested that kids preferred history in story form, Florence
wrote a series of historical children’s novels which took place in the Valley.
    While all of Florence’s work is a gift to the Valley and beyond, it might be said that  her fourth volume which gives us a first hand account of the Naval Depot is the most priceless.
    Besides being the accounting officer at the Naval Depot, Florence was given the job of compiling monthly reports for Washington, journaling the activities of the facility. After more than 60 years she used her personal notes and  razor-sharp personal  memory and the memories of dozens of others who were also on hand to create an amazingly vivid and detailed account of  perhaps the most significant event in the Valley’s history.
   And she did it long after retiring while living at Courtland Place. It doesn’t get any better than that.

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