Fort Stevens was a military structure that was built to protect the southern bank of the Columbia estuary in Oregon. The original name of the fort was the Fort at Point Adams, and it operated alongside two more forts named Columbia and Canby to provide defense for the Oregon and Washington Territory.
By the beginning of 1862, these forts were officially authorized to guard the mouth of the Columbia River, which separates Oregon and Washington, and to prevent the passage of enemy ships along the river.
The fort was not completed until 1863, and in 1865, Point Adams was renamed in honor of the Civil War general and the first governor of Washington, Isaac I. Stevens, who perished during the battle of Chantilly. Stevens was a popular and influential person in the Pacific Northwest.
To begin with, the US Congress provided funds for construction, maintenance, and the upkeep of a small resident military force. However, after the Civil War, the army’s budget was cut, and Fort Stevens had to find the money itself.
Between 1884 and 1898, the Army Corps of Engineers used Fort Stephens as a base for undertaking work to improve the Columbia River Canal.
In the last years of the 19th century, the modernization of the fort began. It was expanded as a coastal defense facility, and at this time, about 12 artillery batteries were built on its territory. The last emplacement was named Battery Russell and was completed in 1904.
In 1906, a sailboat named the Peter Iredale ran aground on Clatsop Spit and the crew sought refuge in Fort Stevens. The wreck is still visible today.
During WWI, Fort Stevens fired its cannons only for practice or in honor of visiting warships. After World War I, the US Navy established a radio station at Fort Stevens to keep in touch with the fleet.
In 1932, a secret radio station designed to intercept reports from the Japanese naval forces appeared onsite. Seven years later, this secret station was relocated to Fort Ward in Washington as the conditions there were better for intercepting messages.
An important event took place at Fort Stevens on the night of June 21-22, 1942, when a Japanese submarine fired 17 rounds at the fort. Although these shots did not cause any significant damage (beyond destroying a part of the baseball field), the assault meant that Fort Stephens became the first mainland military site in the United States to come under attack from a foreign enemy since the War of 1812.
Despite being under attack, Fort Stevens did not fire back. The submarine was deemed to be out of range, and firing on the vessel would only help the enemy pinpoint the location of the guns. However, it was a momentous event, and a stone monument was later erected south of Battery Russell to commemorate it.
In 1947, Fort Stephens was decommissioned. The weapons were removed and the buildings were put up for auction. Initially, the Corps of Engineers took over the former fort, and after that, the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department took control of the site.
The former military structure was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1955 it became a state park covering 3,700 acres. Parts of the fort have been preserved and the earthen ramparts from the Civil War have been restored. It’s open all year and has a $5 fee for entry.
There is now a museum that attracts about 1.2 million visitors annually, as well as trails, camping, and access to the beach. The museum is run by the Friends of Old Fort Stevens, an association that also sponsors reenactments on the grounds of the former military site.
In 2018, Fort Stevens was featured in an episode of Ghost Adventures entitled Pacific Cemetery: Commander’s House. The fort is said to be haunted by two ghosts: a shadowy figure in the former Magazine room and August Stallberger, a soldier who met his end there, beaten by unknown assailants, in 1868.
These photographs of Fort Stevens were taken by the Straite family. They travel and share photos of the beautiful places they’ve visited on Flickr. A huge thank you to Matt and Tofu Straite who allowed us to use the photos in our article about this historical location. Visit their Flickr account to find out more.
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