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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Fort Cascades, Washington ... (Lower Blockhouse)"
Includes ... Fort Cascades ... "Lower Blockhouse" ... Cascades Townsite ... Great Flood of 1894 ... Fort Cascades Historic Site ...
Image, 2006, Fort Cascades area, from Hamilton Island, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Fort Cascades area. View from downstream on Hamilton Island, Washington. Image taken July 2, 2006.

The Forts of the Cascades Rapids ...
Throughout history four different forts or blockhouses existed along a rough 4.5 mile stretch of the Columbia River Gorge between Hamilton Island and Cascades Locks, known throughout history as the "Cascade Rapids".

  • The first fort built was Fort Gilliam, established in 1848 and located at the upper end of the Rapids. Fort Gilliam was a supply depot for the Cayuse Indian Wars.

  • Next came Fort Cascades, built in 1855 at the lower end of the Rapids. It was built to defend the portage and was known as the "Lower Blockhouse".

  • Next came Fort Rains, also built in 1855. It was located at the lower end of the portage around the "Upper Cascades" and was known as the "Middle Blockhouse".

  • The last fort built was Fort Lugenbeel, built in 1856 and located at the upper end of the "Upper Cascades" portage, and was known as the "Upper Blockhouse".


Fort Cascades ...
Fort Cascades, also known as the "Lower Blockhouse", was located on Hamilton Island downstream of the Bonneville Dam. Tanner Creek, Lewis and Clark's campsite of April 9, 1806, is located across the Columbia on the Oregon side. Fort Cascades was built overlooking the Columbia River, at River Mile (RM) _____. The compound was enclosed by a fence measuring 590 feet on the north by 338 feet on the west. The south and the east were bordered by the Columbia River. Stuctures included in the compound included the commanding officer's quarters, officers' quarters, commissary storehouse, company kitchen, bakery, and guard house. The fort was completed on September 30, 1855 and was built to guard the portage road around the Cascade Rapids. Slightly upstream the town of Cascades, also known as "Lower Cascades", was developed around the fort. In March 1856, Fort Cascades burned during an indian attack known as the Cascades Massacre. It was rebuilt. In 1861 the Army abandoned the fort to turn its attention to the Civil War. In 1894 the largest recorded flood on the Columbia River wiped out the town of Lower Cascades and the abandoned fort.

Location ...

Image, 2005, Fort Cascades Historic Site, Hamilton Island, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Sign, "Fort Cascades Compound, 1856 to 1861", Hamilton Island, Washington. Image taken April 2, 2005.
Image, 2005, Fort Cascades, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Location of Fort Cascades, Hamilton Island, Washington. Image taken April 2, 2005.

The Blockhouse ...
The blockhouse located at Grande Ronde, Oregon, was an exact duplicate of the blockhouse at Fort Cascades. Each blockhouse was a two-story structure with each floor consisting of a 22 by 22-foot room. The upper story was offset from the bottom floor, resulting in an aerial view of the blockhouse appearing in the shape of a star.

Image, 2014, Fort Cascades Historic Site, Hamilton Island, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
1850s image of the Blockhouse near Grand Ronde, similar to the Fort Cascades blockhouse, Hamilton Island, Washington. Detail from information sign, Fort Cascades Historic Site, Hamilton Island, Washington. Image taken April 7, 2014.

Fort Cascades blockhouse model, Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center ...
(to come)

Image, 2011, Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Model, Fort Cascades, Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center, Stevenson, Washington. Image taken July 15, 2011.

Note: sign leaning on model is not correct sign.
Image, 2011, Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Information sign, Fort Cascades, Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center, Stevenson, Washington. Image taken July 15, 2011.

Johnson Donation Land Claim ...
In July 1850, George W. Johnson filed the first Donation Land Claim (DLC) in the Cascade Rapids area, for 320 acres of T2N R7E, Sections 17, 20, 21, and 29 (area now called Section 38). At the same time the area was platted as the town of Cascades, Washington Territory, becoming only the third town north of the Columbia to be platted. Johnson built a home, and with others, built a trading store, bakery, and public house for travelers. In 1855 the U.S. Army aquired the land from Johnson for their fort site. At the time the Army moved onto the Johnson Land Claim the property included a wharfboat, three buildings, and a small field enclosed by a split fence.

Cascades Townsite ...
The town of Cascades developed around Fort Cascades, and took over the buildings when the Army moved out. The 1880 census showed 134 residents of the town. Cascades was destroyed in the Flood of 1894 and never rebuilt.

Great Flood of 1894 ...
The "Great Flood of 1894" was the highest-recorded flood along the Columbia of all time. This flood destroyed the town of Cascades. Downstream, a gage at Vancouver, Washington, reached a record 36 feet, while Longview, Washington hit a record 24 feet (June 7, 1894). The force of the flood waters removed several feet of soil and exposed many boulders now visible in the area of Fort Cascades.

Fort Cascades Historic Site ...
The Fort Cascades Historic Site is located one mile downstream (west) of the Bonneville Dam, and is reached from the Dam Access Road on Hamilton Island, off of Washington State Highway 14. The site is on the Register of Historic Places, and features a 1.5 mile interpretive trail which leads to the Cascades Townsite and Fort Cascades Compound. The trail follows the bed of the portage railroad as it was in 1836.

Image, 2004, Fort Cascades kiosk, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Kiosk for Fort Cascades Historic Site, Hamilton Island, Washington. Image taken August 1, 2004.

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, October 31, 1805 ...
A Cloudy rainey disagreeable morning I proceeded down the river to view with more attention [Cascade Locks area] we had to pass on the river below, the two men with me Jo. Fields & Peter Crusat proceeded down to examine the rapids the Great Shute [Cascade Rapids] which commenced at the Island on which we encamped [Ashes Lake, now under the waters of the Bonneville Reservoir] Continud with great rapidity and force thro a narrow chanel much compressd. and interspersed with large rocks for a mile, at a mile lower is a verry Considerable rapid at which place the waves are remarkably high, and proceeded on in a old Indian parth 2 miles by land thro a thick wood & hill Side, to the river where the Indians make a portage, from this place I dispatched Peter Crusat (our principal waterman) back to follow the river and examine the practibility of the Canoes passing, as the rapids appeared to continue down below as far as I could See, I with Jo. Fields proceeded on, at a mile below the end of the portage [Fort Rains] ...     at 2 miles lower & 5 below our Camp I passed a village of 4 large houses abandend by the nativs, with their dores bared up, ...     from a Short distance below the vaults the mountain which is but low on the Stard. Side leave the river, and a leavel Stoney open bottom Suckceeds on the Said Std. Side for a great Distance down, the mountains high and rugid on the Lard Side this open bottom is about 2 miles a Short distance below this village is a bad Stoney rapid and appears to be the last in view I observed at this lower rapid the remains of a large and antient Village which I could plainly trace by the Sinks in which they had formed their houses, as also those in which they had buried their fish- from this rapid to the lower end of the portage [vicinity of Fort Cascades at the lower end of Hamilton Island] the river is Crouded with rocks of various Sizes between which the water passes with great velociety createing in many places large Waves, an Island which is Situated near the Lard. Side [Bradford Island] occupies about half the distance the lower point of which is at this rapid. immediately below this rapid the high water passes through a narrow Chanel through the Stard. Bottom forming an Island of 3 miles <wide> Long & one wide, I walked through this Island [Hamilton Island] which I found to be verry rich land, and had every appearance of haveing been at Some distant period Cultivated. at this time it is Covered with grass intersperced with Strawberry vines. I observed Several places on this Island where the nativs had dug for roots and from its lower point I observed 5 Indians in a Canoe below the upper point of an Island near the middle of the river Covered with tall timber [???],    which indued me to believe that a village was at no great distanc below, I could not See any rapids below <for> in the extent of my view which was for a long distance down the river, which from the last rapids [Middle Cascades] widened and had everry appearance of being effected by the tide,- I deturmind to return to Camp 10 miles distant [on an island by Ashes Lake, across from Cascade Locks, Oregon], a remarkable high detached rock Stands in a bottom on the Stard Side [Beacon Rock] near the lower point of this Island on the Stard. Side about 800 feet high and 400 paces around, we call the Beaten rock.     a Brook [Hamilton Creek] falls into the narrow Chanel [Hamilton Slough, today's Greenleaf Slough] which forms the Strawberry Island [Hamilton Island], which at this time has no running water, but has every appearance of dischargeing emence torrents &c. &c. Jo. Fields Shot a Sand hill Crane. I returned by the Same rout on an Indian parth passing up on the N W. Side of the river to our Camp at the Great Shute [an island near Ashes Lake, across from Cascade Locks, now under the waters of Bonneville Reservoir]. found Several Indians from the village, I Smoked with them; Soon after my return two Canoes loaded with fish & Bear grass for the trade below, came down from the village at the mouth of the Catterack River [Klickitat River], they unloaded and turned their Canoes up Side down on the beech, & camped under a Shelveing rock below our Camp ...

This Great Shute or falls [Upper Cascade Rapids] is about a mile with the water of this great river Compressed within the Space of 150 paces in which there is great numbers of both large and Small rocks, water passing with great velocity forming & boiling in a most horriable manner, with a fall of about 20 feet, below it widens to about 200 paces and current gentle for a Short distance. a Short distance above is three Small rockey Islands, and at the head of those falls, three Small rockey Islands are Situated Crosswise the river, Several rocks above in the river & 4 large rocks in the head of the Shute; those obstructions together with the high Stones which are continually brakeing loose from the mountain on the Stard Side and roleing down into the Shute aded to those which brake loose from those Islands above and lodge in the Shute, must be the Cause of the rivers daming up to Such a distance above, <and Show> where it Shows Such evidant marks of the Common current of the river being much lower than at the present day

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*River Miles [RM] are approximate, in statute miles, and were determined from USGS topo maps, obtained from NOAA nautical charts, or obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2003

Sources:    see Cascade Rapids;   

All Lewis and Clark quotations from Gary Moulton editions of the Lewis and Clark Journals, University of Nebraska Press, all attempts have been made to type the quotations exactly as in the Moulton editions, however typing errors introduced by this web author cannot be ruled out; location interpretation from variety of sources, including this website author.
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April 2014