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FORT STEVENS

Clatsop County, Oregon

by

Gary B. Speck

 

 

Seldom considered in the ghost town universe, coastal defense forts were the mainstay of American coastal protection from the earliest days until after World War II and the advancement in electronic “eyes” and “ears,” as well as other defensive techniques.  As a result, America’s old coastal defense fortifications have become a thing of the past.  The remaining structures generally remain, many of which have been turned into historic parks or sites, some restored, but none forgotten.

 

On the far northwestern tip of Oregon, nestled on the sand spit that extends the mouth of the Columbia River into the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean west of Astoria is one of these old forts.  FORT STEVENS dates to 1863, and remained an active US Army post until 1947.  It consisted of a main post and several massive gun batteries facing west over the ocean, or out into the mouth of the Columbia.  FORT STEVENS was the recipient of the only mainland United States receiver of Japanese shelling during WWII.  This occurred on June 21, 1942, when a Japanese submarine fired several 5.5” shells in the direction of the fort.  As they caused no damage, the US Army did not return fire.

 

The fort itself was named after Isaac Stevens, the then governor of Washington Territory.  It was built to protect American (Union) interests in the region and had two sister forts located on the Washington side of the Columbia River.  These forts were also built to protect the area from any possible British incursions from Canada.  The fort consisted of earthen walls and several gun batteries were built, as was a main post.  There was also a moat and drawbridge. 

 

As time went on and no one attempted to broach the defense, the fort enlarged.  In the mid-1880s, the fort system was aging and then President Grover Cleveland appointed a board consisting of military and civilians to study the system and recommend upgrades.  The panel was headed by the Secretary of War, William Endicott.  In 1886, the report was prepared and given to President Cleveland.  As a result, 29 locations were slated for major upgrades to state-of-the-art weapons.  Beginning in 1890, the “Endicott Period” memorialized the Secretary who headed the commission and enabled America’s coastal defenses to undergo a 20-year reconstruction blitz.  America’s coastal regions were secured with massive gun batteries and minefields protected by smaller caliber weaponry.  Any uninvited interlopers would undergo a serious defense. 

 

FORT STEVENS was one of the 29 forts that received refortification upgrades.  Beginning in 1896, eight massive, earth and reinforced concrete gun batteries were built, each named after former army officers killed in action during the Civil War.  Batteries Lewis, Mishler, Russell and Walker each received a pair of the largest available weaponry:  30-ton, 10” bore, 30’ long, rifled cannons mounted onto disappearing carriages.  These huge guns fired 617 pound shells up to nine miles.  The other four batteries received other weaponry: Battery Pratt got a 6” rifled cannon); Battery Clark, 12” mortars and Batteries Smur & Freeman, rapid fire, small caliber guns protecting the minefields that were laid in the mouth of the river during hostilities.

 

From 1903-1904, Battery Russell was built as an addition to the other batteries.  It received its armaments in 1907. After WWI ended, Batteries Lewis and Walker were disarmed.  However, Russell and Mishler kept their guns.  Battery Russell was disarmed in 1944, and Mishler held on until 1947 when the fort was decommissioned.  During WWII, Fort Stevens was a major fort consisting of some 2500 troops.  A new battery, Battery 245 was built in 1944, to replace Battery Russell.  It was armed with two 6” rifled cannons that could fire projectiles nearly twice as far as the old 10” guns.  These new guns fired 105-pound, armor-piercing rounds, up to a range of 15 miles.  Another battery with 90mm guns was built on the South Jetty.

 

In 1947 the fort was deactivated, all the batteries shut down and the armaments were scrapped.  The fort was turned over to the Army Corps of Engineers, giving them a comfortable base for river maintenance.  They occupied the facility until 1975, when it was given to the state.  Today, Oregon’s famous greenery has taking over much of the old post, and numerous buildings in this state historic park have been repurposed.  Several of the early 20th century batteries remain solid and intimidating, even without their massive guns and are a major attraction for folks wanting to touch the past.

 

Battery Russell was named for Brevet Major General David A. Russell, who was killed in battle during the Civil War in Virginia.  When we visited FORT STEVENS during our summer 2013 and 2014 visits to coastal Oregon, Battery Russell was our main target.  We spent about an hour clambering around on the concrete ruins of this battery.  The ruins still stand solid and proud, and should be visited by anyone in the area.  Here visitors can truly experience the recent past and gain an appreciation to the firepower that once protected our coastal areas.

 

A side trip should be made to the wreck of the HMS Peter Iredale, a merchant ship that was grounded back in October 1906.  It is located near Battery Russell and makes a pleasant detour.

 

This was our Ghost Town of the Month for December 2014

 

LOCATION:

  

  

SITE NAME

ELEV.

LATITUDE

LONGITUDE

TOWNSHIP/RANGE

Battery 245

NOT LISTED

IN GNIS

SEE FORT STEVENS MAIN POST

Battery Clark

NOT LISTED

IN GNIS

SEE FORT STEVENS MAIN POST

Battery Freeman

NOT LISTED

IN GNIS

SEE FORT STEVENS MAIN POST

Battery Lewis

NOT LISTED

IN GNIS

SEE FORT STEVENS MAIN POST

Battery Mishler

NOT LISTED

IN GNIS

SEE FORT STEVENS MAIN POST

Battery Pratt

NOT LISTED

IN GNIS

SEE FORT STEVENS MAIN POST

Battery Russell

23’

46.1942698 / 46° 11' 39" N

-123.9748695 / 123° 47' 24" W

SE¼ of the NW¼ Sec 7, T8N, R10W, WM (Willamette Meridian & Base Line)

Battery Smurr

NOT LISTED

IN GNIS

SEE FORT STEVENS MAIN POST

Battery Walker

NOT LISTED

IN GNIS

SEE FORT STEVENS MAIN POST

Fort Stevens (Main post)

23’

46.2020477 / 46° 12' 07" N

-123.9623694 / 123° 57' 45" W

E½ Sec 6, T8N, R10W, WM

Hammond (NO Ghost)

10’

46.1990845 / 46° 11' 57" N

-123.9496810 / 123° 56' 59" W

S½ Sec 5, T8N, R10W, WM

HMS Peter Iredale (shipwreck)

0’

46.1783459 / 46° 10' 42" N

-123.9810922 / 123° 58' 52" W

SW¼ of the NW¼ Sec 18, T8N, R10W, WM

Warrenton (NO Ghost)

10’

46.1651049 / 46° 09' 54" N

-123.9237557 / 123° 55' 26" W

Sec 21, T8N, R10W, WM

 

 

 

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THIS PAGE

FIRST POSTED:  December 07, 2014

LAST UPDATED: January 07, 2015

 

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