Wreck of the Peter Iredale
Graveyard of the Pacific
The Columbia River Bar is where the Pacific Ocean and Columbia River meet. Rough waters, thick fog, strong winds, and deadly rocks have sunk approximately 2,000 ships since 1792. Over 700 people have lost their lives in the shipwrecks, which is why it’s become known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific.”
A lot of work was done to make the Columbia River Bar safer for mariners. The United States added the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse in 1856, and later added more lights to Cape Flattery and Shoalwater Bay on the Washington side of the Bar. While this gave seamen points of reference, ships were still running afoul.
In the early 1880’s businessmen from Portland petitioned Congress to do more to help the situation. Congress approved funds for a jetty to be built out from the Clatsop Spit on the south side of the mouth of the Columbia, near Fort Stevens. By 1894 the jetty was five miles long, helping keep the sand from building up in the channel. A north jetty, on the Washington side of the mouth, was completed in 1925 and helped even more to stabilize the bar. However, even to this day the channel has to be dredged to accommodate larger ships.
The most famous victim of the Graveyard of the Pacific was the Peter Iredale.
The Peter Iredale was a four-masted steel sailing ship that was built in England in 1890. In September of 1906, the Iredale left Salina Cruz, Mexico for Portland, Oregon. They reached the mouth of the Columbia River safely, despite heavy fog. But early in the morning of October 25, 1906, heavy winds hit, followed by strong currents causing the ship to be caught in the large breaking waves. The Iredale ran aground on Clatsop Beach, hitting the shore so hard that three of her four masts snapped.
She was abandoned on Clatsop Spit near Fort Stevens, about four miles south of the Columbia River channel.
The Peter Iredale has rested on Clatsop Beach for 114 years.
The fog was light. Summer had arrived on the calendar, but the spring-time temperatures held firm. Most of the soldiers of the 249th Coast Artillery Corp were bedded down for the night. Guard duty shifts were manned, and talk was light.
To the southwest of the fort, just beyond the break point of the waves, a dark figure rose up from the depths. Unseen as it took aim, the Japanese I-25 submarine prepared its attack. The flash of a muzzle and the explosion of the enormous shells striped away the quiet of the night leaving craters in the beachhead. Soldiers scrambled and stumbled from their bunks as they raced to their stations.
Plotters prepared firing orders as spotters watched the muzzle flashes from the submarine, but the order came to hold. Nine shots were fired towards them, all falling short and harmlessly away into the surrounding vegetation. With bated breath everyone waited, and although the submarine retreated and submerged once again, there would be no sleep for the remainder of the night.
– M.D. Parker
Fort Stevens in Hammond, near Astoria, Oregon original construction began in 1863, near the end of the Civil War. By 1904 the fort had expanded. Multiple cannon batteries were constructed with the intention of defending the mouth of the Columbia River.
On June 21, 1942 Fort Stevens was attacked by an Imperial Japanese Navy submarine. The submarine seemed to be shooting blind. They were still looking for a target, not firing at one yet. There was no return fire from Fort Stevens that night. Since the fort remained silent, the Japanese didn’t know where exactly to attack, so they ceased fire and submerged their submarine in retreat.
And the award for hide-n-seek 1942 Summer Championship goes to Fort Stevens!
The majority of the buildings and structures in Fort Stevens are still intact. You are able to enter a lot of the structures, though some only on scheduled tours. There are plenty of volunteers for the guided tours, history lessons, and information. There is an onsite Military Museum with a small rose garden.
The fort is now part of a 4,200 acre Oregon State Park that includes camping, wildlife viewing, more than five miles of hiking and biking trails, Frisbee golf and the ability to explore Fort Stevens remains and buildings. There is also access to the final battery built at Fort Stevens, Battery Russell. Within walking distance is a fresh water lake for swimming and fishing and kayaking. There is easy beach access nearby for walks, beach combing, stunning sunset views, and even a ship wreck.
The campground has around 500 campsites available with various amenities, including yurts, cabins, tents, and various RV hookup sites available. The sites are level with an abundance of trees for shade and wind block. Each loop has it’s own bathroom and shower facilities.
If you manage to see and do everything on your Fort Stevens bucket list, you can also go visit the Lewis and Clark National Park nearby. Nearby towns include Hammond, Warrenton, Seaside, and Astoria.
There are wonderful local restaurants, including plenty of nearby breweries and wineries for the adults, and Seaside has a boardwalk with a few fun rides and games for the kids. We recommend Ship Out Fish and Chips in Astoria for delicious local seafood. The fish is thick, flaky, and crispy and the clam chowder…*chef’s kiss*