Fort Columbia, Chinook Point

Fort Columbia, Chinook Point

by | Jul 30, 2019

Fort Columbia State Park is a public recreation area and historic preserve at the site of former Fort Columbia, located on Chinook Point at the mouth of the Columbia River in Chinook, Washington. The state park is 618 acres (250 ha) and features twelve historic wood-frame fort buildings as well as an interpretive center. U.S. Route 101 passes underneath the park through a tunnel.

The mouth of the Columbia River was missed by several early European explorers. In 1775, the Spanish explorer Bruno de Heceta discovered a large bay penetrating far inland and is credited with being the first European to sight the mouth of the Columbia. He tried to sail upriver but strong currents prevented any progress. British Captain James Cook explored the coastline in 1778 but missed the entrance bay entirely due to bad weather. In April 1792, Captain George Vancouver also sailed the area but did not see the river mouth. Also, in April 1792, Captain Gray made note of the strong currents but was unable to enter the river mouth. He returned in May and succeeded in entering the river on May 11 and is officially credited for discovering the river. This formally established an American claim to the region that withstood later challenges. Gray made landfall near Chinook Point to trade with the local Chinook people for whom the point is named. When the Lewis and Clark Expedition was organized in the early 19th century, the river named Columbia by Gray was one of its objectives. The overland expedition reached Chinook Point in November 1805.

The area became of military interest in the 1860s when the United States embarked on systematic improvements to its coastal defenses in the Pacific Northwest. A military reservation was established at Chinook Point in 1864 but was not developed until 1898 when both the Spanish–American War and heightened tension with Britain over the Alaska boundary dispute prompted formal development. Fort Columbia was completed in 1904 to support the defense of the Columbia River. The fort was constructed on the Chinook Point promontory as part of a “triangle of fire” defensive strategy that included Fort Canby in Washington and Fort Stevens in Oregon. Fort Columbia was declared surplus at the end of World War II and was transferred to the custody of the state of Washington in 1950. Chinook Point is now part of Fort Columbia State Park, which is in turn part of the Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks, a series of parks preserving and commemorating sites related to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Read more here and here. Explore more of Fort Columbia here:

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