Fort Stevens State Park, Oregon

Morning on Coffenbury Lake

Morning on Coffenbury Lake

Fort Stevens State Park is one of Oregon’s best parks. In addition to a camp ground, miles of bike trails and a lake, there is an Old WWII Fort to explore. We had the extreme good fortune to be there Memorial Day weekend. Despite the less then stellar weather it was still a pretty good time.

There seems to be very little information on the naming of Coffenbury Lake. The Fort’s graveyard is a couple of miles to the north, so the obvious macabre nom de plum is puzzling. The lake apparently has great fishing though and is heavily used for such.

Coffenbury Lake, Fort Stevens, Oregon

Being the history buff I am, I especially love the old Fort. The remains of the original fort still stand to this day. It’s basic Civil War Era fort with dirt walls about 20 feet high and surrounded by a moat. My uneducated guess is that the wall was topped with logs to screen artillery and riflemen at the top. Either way the fort is not terribly large. A modern sized house would just barely sit snugly inside. Built in 1863 it’s purpose was to protect the Columbia River from the British in case they decided to help out the Confederacy and declare war on the United States.

Fort Stevens was upgraded in 1897 and became one of three Forts protecting the mouth of the Columbia River. Across the river were Fort Columbia and Fort Canby. All three forts received further upgrades in time for World War II. At it’s height, Fort Stevens housed 2500 men in rows of wooden barracks.

Battery William Murphy at Fort Columbia

Battery William Murphy at Fort Columbia

Fort Stevens has the distinction of being the only military installation attacked by enemy action since the war of 1812. On the night of June 21st, 1942 a Japanese submarine fired at the southern emplacement, Battery Russel in an attempt to gain intelligence about the defenses there in preparation of a possible Japanese invasion. The Batteries commander declined to return fire as the submarine was out of range of his guns. After eliciting no response the submarine sailed away and was later sunk in the Pacific Ocean.

Fort Stevens remained in service until 1946 and was stripped of all guns by 1947. The US Army Corp of Engineers used it as a base for their dredging operations in the mouth of the Columbia River. IN 1975 the State of Oregon leased the Fort and began turning it into the park we enjoy today.

In addition to the State Park staff, the Friends of Old Fort Stevens help maintain the fort part of the park. During Memorial Day Weekends they put on demonstrations with Civil War and World War II reenactors. Old WWII Era US Army Deuce Trucks take visitors around the park, and enough money has even been raised to restore one of the original 6 inch guns.

Battery Meriwether with restored gun at Fort Stevens

Battery Meriwether with restored gun at Fort Stevens

The Old Fort can easily be reached by bicycle from the camping portion of the park, or by driving a mile and a half or so up the road. I highly suggest taking the drive out to the South Jetty and look for elk or deer in the wildlife area. Other attractions include the wreck of the Peter Iredale, and the cities of Seaside and Astoria which both have plenty to do and see.

Civil War Reenactors readying a volley fire

Civil War Reenactors readying a volley of fire

3 Responses to “Fort Stevens State Park, Oregon

  • I’ll check with our local staff, but I think the Coffenbury’s were an early prominent local family. I found this citation regarding the first Territorial Court:

    “On October 6th, 1849, the Oregon Territorial Court met for the first time in Clatsop County. Orville Pratt sat as a Circuit Court Judge. The Grand Jurors were James Welch, A. Van Dusen, Samuel Gardner, Ashael P. Edwards, Ira McKean, Eli C. Crow, Ambrose McKean, Henry Marlin, John W. Camp, Henry Aiken, Samuel Ransom, John M. Shively, Orin Pottle, W. W. Raymond, W. L. Plummer, Alfred Smith, G. W. Coffenbury, Conrad Boelling and Robert Shortess.”

    — Chris, Oregon Parks and Recreation Dept.

  • Thanks for looking into it Chris, it’s really appreciated.

    Are any of those documents on line by chance as I’d love to peruse them sometime.

  • The photo at Fort Columbia above is not Battery Murphy, it is Battery Jules Ord at Fort Columbia State Park in Washington State.

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