287 feet long, 30 feet wide and 23 feet from water line to keel, this 4 masted bark was built by Riston of Mayport, England in 1890. It served the Peter Iredale and John Porter Line for 16 years, mostly hauling grain between the Pacific Northwest and Australia and coal and wood to England.
On October 26, 1906, the ship was running light from Salina Cruz, Mexico back to the Pacific Northwest. A strong southwest storm hit the ship at the mouth of the Columbia River. The change of weather was abrupt from the smooth journey they had for much of the way. Sometime between the early morning hours and dawn, the entire ship came crashing ashore.
Thanks to the landing on soft sand, no one was killed in the grounding of the vessel.
The ship was declared a complete loss, and sold to Pacific Iron Works of Astoria for scrap. Much of the hull was cut up and removed, but the heavy pieces were determined to be too difficult to remove. Thus, a portion of the ship wreck has remained on the Oregon coast for the past 104 years.
Other pieces have been removed over the years as they were determined to be safety hazards.
There are interpretive signs at the wreck site, south of the main beach parking lot and south of the bathrooms, that tell the brief story of the ship, and give some historical photos of the wreck as it has deteriorated over the years.
If you look at the photos closely, you will see that the wreck has moved a little over the years. My first memory of visiting the wreck when I was a child was a little disappointing, as much of the ship was so deeply buried in the sand at that time it was impossible to see anything except a section of the bow. These photos are from a May, 2010 visit, and show that now it is possible to see and touch the ribs and even see the remains of one of the masts. The angle and depth at which the ship sits changes slowly over time due to sand shifting from the ocean. However it may shift, it is still thoroughly stuck in the sand.
The beach on which the Peter Iredale was wrecked was incorporated into Fort Stevens State Park, and that is the web site you will find listed below.
The way to the ship is reasonably well marked once you enter the section of the park that is near the campground.
Located at the very northwest corner of Fort Stevens State Park, this observation deck allows for an elevated view out to the Ocean at the end of the natural peninsula, and at the start of the artificial peninsula that was formed out of thousands of large rocks. This "South Jetty" helps create a section of calm water for ships entering the Columbia River from the Pacific Ocean.
Other than the pit toilets and the observation platform, there isn't too much at this location.
The beach access provided here is of limited utility, as the beach really isn't that good due to the large rocks that have been placed here to form the start of the jetty. You are better off at the beaches further south. See photo 2, 3, and 4 for a look along what little of the beach remains at this location.
The south jetty was put here over 100 years ago, and you can still see the remains of the railroad trestle that was constructed out to sea, from which the rocks were dumped. Along the jetty, these trestle pilings and parts are now part of the jetty, as the rocks were dumped around the trestle pilings.
The jetty extends out to sea approximately 2 miles (3.3 km).
On the beach at Ft. Stevens State Park sits the wreck of the Peter Iredale, a ship that ran aground here in 1906. Today, a few beams and a rusting section of the bow are all that remain. If the tide is cooperative, you can walk right up to the wreck. (Just be prepared to run away from the occasional large wave...)
At the Spit’s end, part of the sands curl back from the South Jetty towards the original Point Adams upon which Fort Stevens was located. There is a large parking lot for river beach access - you might notice every parking lot at Fort Stevens is on the large size - and strolling along the river beach gives you great views down the river channel towards Astoria.
On the opposite side of the parking lot is a short boardwalk leading to a birding bunker along Trestle Bay. Inside the bunker is a photo poster from which you can identify many of the birds from. Of course, weekends in summer might not be a great time to spot those birds as people and their dogs walking along the beaches tend to scatter the bird life.
Look across Trestle Bay - the trestles remain from the railway that was used to build the South Jetty - at Fort Stevens. The dune covered revetments provided a wonderful camouflage to the guns which lay in wait behind.
Located about a mile south of the main batteries at Fort Stevens, Battery Russell’s two 10-inch disappearing guns faced the seaward approach as opposed to the river mouth itself. It was at this battery at which Fort Stevens came under attack for the only time in its 84 year history when on June 21, 1942, the Japanese submarine I-25 fired off a series of shells. No damage was done and no retaliatory fire was returned when the fort commander refused permission for the battery to fire.
You can scamper about the battery as at the main fort. For a long time, Battery Russell was the only military part of the fort the casual visitor could see because the Army was much more reluctant to part with the main part of the fort - which only happened in the 1970’s. Note that when Battery Russell was active, there was a clear view to the ocean at that time, though since the fort’s inactivation in 1947, trees have grown up to obscure the view. The roar of the breakers remains omnipresent.
Nearby is a Peace Memorial that was placed by veterans of both the fort and the I-25 in 1992.
The eight 12-inch mortars of Battery Clark was another important piece of the artillery equation here at Fort Stevens. They did not have the range of the 10-inch guns but they could provide a fearsome impact delivering 1000 pound shells on plunging arcs which could easily penetrate ship decks - ships were mainly armored on the sides, guns and bridge areas but the decks were lightly armored. In the two large mortar pits, there were originally eight mortars and what with 30 men assigned to each gun that was a lot of confusion. Four of the mortars were moved across the river to Battery Guenther at Fort Canby at the end of World War I. With only four mortars in the two pits, fire efficiency increased to almost the same rate of fire as when there were eight mortars in the pits. The battery fire was controlled from a five-story building a hundred yards to the north closer to the museum of which only the central control remains.
Mine fields were placed in the Columbia River as an integral defensive feature. Enemy vessels not only had to survive artillery fire but then had to navigate through the mines. The mines were anchored to the river bottom and could be electrically exploded from the Mine Control Room at the Fort. They mine controllers would wait until the enemy ship came too close and then … Later minefields in World War II employed stronger mines which were anchored on the river’s bottom and thus couldn’t been seen by intruding enemies. The small Battery Smur was armed with two 3-inch rapid fire guns which would attack any would-be attempts by the enemy to sweep the mines. Mine control was removed from Fort Stevens shortly after World War I to the Washington side at L%[http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/41c8a/da10a/]Fort Columbia. At that time the guns from Battery Smur were also removed.
This reconstructed fort sits on the site of the original Fort Stevens - named for the Washington Territorial governor Isaac Stevens who was killed at the Civil War Battle of Chantilly in 1862. The fort consists of nine earthen sides an d a moat. When the fort was placed here there were no jetties and this was the end of what was then Point Adams, the equivalent of land’s end into the river mouth. The fort boasted 26 guns - 17 being 10-inch muzzle loading Rodman cannons - and several 200 pound Parrot rifled guns. These guns, along with the cannons atop Cape Disappointment were replaced by the newer batteries at the turn of the 19th century. A more modern battery - with two 6-inch and one 3-inch guns - was placed inside the original earthworks - Battery Freeman. Those guns were removed in 1920 and the whole original fort was bulldozed to make room for a parade ground - even gunners got to march. The reconstruction of the Civil War era fortification is an ongoing project.
Three new batteries were built at the river mouth during World War II. One was built here at Fort Stevens - Battery 245 - just to the west of Battery Mishler. Two 6-inch guns were placed on barbette mounts - mounts like those you find on naval ships with armored screens giving protection to the gun crews within. The two guns sitting here today are 5-inch Navy guns which were placed here in 1979, probably taken off an old destroyer that was being broken up. The 5-inch guns were placed here as they were very similar in size to the 6-inch guns. Interestingly, the range of the 10-inch guns was about nine miles - as opposed to the Civil War cannons which only reached out about a mile. The range of the more modern 6-inch guns of this battery was 15 miles. Careful walking through the old corridors below here and in the other batteries as barn swallows love the tunnels as places for their nests. Sometimes it can almost feel like your are under attack. The view out from Battery 245 includes the old trestle pilings for the railway that was used to construct the South Jetty 1886-1896.
Artillery was the main method of defense employed at the three river mouth forts. The first batteries at Fort Stevens were installed at the end of the American Civil War in 1864. The main batteries were developed later after an 1885 study by the then Secretary of War Endicott - serving under President Grover Cleveland - recommended a large scale modernization program for all harbor and coastal defenses in the US. Masonry fortresses were disregarded in favor of a system of dispersed emplacements featuring a few large caliber guns - some being ‘disappearing guns’ which sat behind protective walls to load and would pop up only to fire. Mine fields were another defense feature with guns of smaller caliber being employed to fire upon potential minesweeping vessels. Both features were employed here at Fort Stevens.
Eight different batteries were developed over time with the main guns being placed in the West Batteries employing six 10-inch guns. The West Batteries were further divided into three separate batteries of two guns per battery. You can wander about the Lewis and Walker Batteries; see the river view from the Lewis Battery Observation Room; observe the rusted shell and ammunition hoists between darkened storerooms lying deep beneath the massive earthen gun revetments; walk around the gun emplacements themselves. Since the forts inactivation in 1947, the view to the river has become slightly obscured from trees and other vegetation that has grown up in the meantime. The westernmost of the West Batteries was Battery Mishler whose two 10-inch guns could fire in 360 degrees - Lewis and Walker only faced out to the river. This way Mishler could fire in support of the other West Batteries or help Battery Russell’s seaward pointing armament - Russell is about a mile to the south. These guns were removed after World War I and the gun pits were covered up while the interior tunnels were transformed into a military command post for the entire river mouth. You can only visit this facility on one of the tours -$4. Fire control for the West Batteries was located behind on the top of more earthen works - the Parados - and you can walk over here and look out over all of the West Battery complex.
Battery Pratt is just east of the West Batteries and was armed with two 6-inch disappearing guns. You can scamper all through and around this battery, as well. In one of the two gun pits, there is a restored 6-inch gun that has been engineered by a volunteer from the gun’s original plans, giving you that much more sense of what the battery was like and the size of the guns the men were working with. Battery Pratt’s fire was controlled from a tower next to the museum of which only the central metal support column remains.
The namesake fort for which the park is named is located a couple of miles north of the campground areas along the south bank of the Columbia River. The fort dates back to 1864 when artillery guns were placed here and across the river at Cape Disappointment to protect the Columbia River mouth from possible
Confederate or British raiders. The fort, as seen today, developed mostly from the period around the turn of the 19th century, but another flurry of activity also took place here during World War II. This was the only military installation in the continental US to come under bombardment during that War, when the Japanese submarine I-25 lobbed a few shells at the fort - the fort recorded nine while the Japanese recorded 18. The shelling accomplished nothing. Retaliatory fire from the fort was not forthcoming because of a communications mix up which led the commander to believe that the submarine was out of range - it definitely was not, a fact that left battery crews thoroughly disgusted with their commander.
The history of the fort and its different artillery batteries and sea mines - which were placed in the Columbia River - is illustrated effectively at the Fort Stevens Museum. The museum is located in an old barracks building which subsequently served as a War Games Building after World War I and a Corps of Engineers building after the fort was inactivated in 1947. Lots of displays are on hand and tours of the fort are also given: one puts you in the back of a military truck for 50 minutes and drives you around the fort to the different sites; the other tour takes you by foot inside Battery Mishler which was transformed after World War I into the control center for all of the military units at the mouth of the Columbia River - there were two other artillery forts on the Washington side at Fort Columbia and Fort Canby/Cape Disappointment. The tours cost $4 and are run a few times a day in the summer. You can also tour the fort on foot with the help of self-guiding map that lets you identify many of the features of the fort on your own.
Coffenbury Lake is maybe the second favorite draw at Fort Stevens. The mile long lake is a prime example of several such lakes found in the Clatsop Plains - an area that stretches from the Columbia River south to Tillamook Head by Seaside. The Plains developed from sand deposited by ocean waves. This sand was sculpted into linear dune formations that run for many miles. The depressions between the dunes are many times filled with ground water forming bogs or shallow lakes, like here at Coffenbury. Lewis and Clark reported wet bogs that they had to trudge across en route from their camp at Fort Clatsop - on the eastern edge of the Plains - over to the beach where they went to boil seawater so they could obtain enough salt for their return journey to Missouri in 1806.
Because the lake is shallow, the waters stay warmer than the nearby ocean inviting bathers. The waters also support a stocked hatchery fish population which is a constant attraction for fishermen - only boats with electric motors are allowed on the lake. Two picnic areas are found by the lake - one at the north end where there is a small boat ramp, fishing dock and swimming area; and one on the east side about halfway down the lake. There is also a two mile trail that goes around the lake.
Two jetties - North and South - extend out into the Pacific Ocean in an attempt to ameliorate the effects of the Pacific Ocean on the Columbia River Bar. The Bar has earned the nickname ‘Graveyard of the Pacific’ because of some 2000 vessels sinking in the area since 1792 when Robert Gray first discovered the mouth of the river. There have been about 700 known drowning victims as a result of all those sinkings. There is a reason the Coast Guard has chosen the area of the Bar for the home of its National Motorboat Lifesaving School - located across the river mouth at Cape Disappointment near the North Jetty - the only school for rough weather and surf rescue in the US. The mouth of the Columbia is considered so dangerous that it is the only river entrance in the US that requires ocean-going vessels to take on river bar pilots. This means that vessels heading up to Portland will take on two sets of pilots - one for the bar at the river’s mouth and one for the river journey from Astoria up to Portland.
The bar is formed when sediments carried by the Columbia River are deposited when river water surging through a relatively narrow mouth - 3-4 miles across - meets the wind and waves of the ocean. The resulting sandbar extends six miles out into the ocean from the river mouth. Wind, tides, confusing currents and wave conditions can make the area of the Bar a very dangerous and violent place for vessels of all sizes in a very short time. Before the jetties and dredging operations were undertaken, the channel over the Bar was 23 feet deep or less. The jetties have stabilized sands from drifting into the river channel and dredges have deepened the channel to 40 feet now.
The jetties were built of huge rubble mounds and under constant abuse from the ocean. Large parts of the North Jetty have washed into the sea in recent years. Originally authorized by Congress in 1884, the construction on the South Jetty began in 1885 and took ten years before the 4.5 mile, 30-foot high jetty was completed.
There is a large parking lot here at the South Jetty with an observation deck that you can go up and obtain a better view out over the monumental works. Likewise, you can watch ships coming and going over the Bar or simply note the constant battle the jetty must endure with each crashing wave.
The vast long beach that sweeps south from the mouth of the Columbia River all the way to Tillamook Head - interrupted only by the river mouth of the Necanicum River between Gearhart and Seaside - is the main attraction for visitors to Fort Stevens. Most beach visitors will congregate near the large parking lot by the shipwreck remains of the Peter Iredale - a British four-masted sailing vessel that came to grief here in 1906 - but there are miles of open beach available for you to literally get away from it all. Remember that the water temperature is only 57-58 degrees F, so most of your time will be spent up on the beach and not in the water. The beach makes up the first miles of the 400 mile long Oregon Coastal Trail which runs from the South Jetty at the mouth of the Columbia River, all the way to the Oregon-California border, just south of Brookings. About 200 of the 400 miles is right on the beach.
Organized by NCWC and Friend of Old Fort Stevens, this is a great event to attend weather you are a history buff or a flunky like me. The reenactors really get into character of the era and not just the dress. Lots is going on throughout both camps all day - from field hospital demonstrations to traitor executions, and the battles are a real eye candy. The sound of cannons, the smell of powder, the sights of past so reallistic, this one is definatelly an attention grabber. Fort Stevens is the only place that ties Oregon to Civil War times - the Old Fort was built between 1863 and 1865.