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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Point Adams, Oregon"
Includes ... Point Adams ... South Jetty ... Clatsop Spit ... Point Adams Lighthouse ... Desdemona Sands Lighthouse ... Desdemona Sands Light ... Point Adams Life Saving Station ... Fort Stevens ...
Image, 2009, Point Adams from Clatsop Spit, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Point Adams as seen from Clatsop Spit. Saddle Mountain is in the distance. Image taken September 27, 2009.

Point Adams ...
Point Adams lies on the Oregon side of the Columbia River and once defined the southern edge of the mouth of the Columbia River while Cape Disappointment, Washington defined the northern edge. Now to the west is the Clatsop Spit and the South Jetty of the Columbia River, along with Trestle Bay and the Pacific Ocean. To the east of Point Adams is Hammond, Oregon, Tansy Point, the Skipanon River and the community of Warrenton. Further east is Youngs Bay and Astoria, Oregon. Point Adams is the location of Fort Stevens, a military fort dating from the Civil War era. Today Point Adams is located at Columbia River Mile (RM) 7.

The name "Adams" was given to this southern Columbia River point by Caption Robert Gray on May 18, 1792, in honor of John Adams, former President of the United States.

Discovered by Heceta ??? ...
Point Adams was thought to have been discovered by Captain Bruno Heceta on August 17, 1775, while he was off the North American coast. Some historians however, even as early as 1889, question whether Heceta did not see Point Adams, but instead saw Tillamook Head.

From Heceta's journal:

"... On the evening of this day [August 17, 1775] I [Heceta] discovered a large bay, to which I gave the name Assumption Bay ... Its latitude and longitude are determined according to the most exact means afforded by theory and practice. The latitudes of the two most prominent capes of this bay are calculated from the observations of this day. ... Having arrived opposite this bay at six in the evening, and placed the ship nearly midway between the two capes ...

The two capes which I name in my plan, Cape San Roque and Cape Frondoso, lie in the angle of 10 degrees of the third quadrant. They are both faced with red earth and are of little elevation.

On the 18th I observed Cape Frondoso, with another cape, to which I gave the name of Cape Falcon, situated in the latitude of 45 degrees 43 minutes, and they lay at an angle of 22 degrees of the third quadrant, and from the last mentioned cape I traced the coast running in the angle of 5 degrees of the second quadrant. This land is mountainous, but not very high ... ..." [W.D. Lyman, 1909, The Columbia River, repeating paragraphs from Heceta's writings.]

From the 1889 U.S. Coast Survey "Coast Pilot" in a description of Point Adams:

"... On August 17, 1775, he [Heceta] was off the mouth of the river, which he supposed to be a great bay, but he was so far distant that he noted only the Cape, on the north, and Tillamook Head on the south. ..."

Early Point Adams ...
On May 19, 1792 Captain Gray, in the official log of the Columbia called the point "Adams' Point" while fifth mate John Boit wrote "Point Adams".

"... Captain Gray gave this river the name of Columbia's River, and the north side of the entrance Cape Hancock, the south, Adam's Point. [Gray, May 19, 1792]

"... Capt. Grays named this river Columbia's, and the North entrance Cape Hancock, and the South Point Adams. [John Boit, May 18, 1792] ..."

Later in 1792 Captain George Vancouver called it "Point Adams".

"... The next day, being the 22d of October, the wind blew strong from the eastward, and there was little probability from the appearance of the weather of soon being able, with any degree of safety, to remove the vessel further up the inlet. That intention being laid aside, Mr. Broughton proceeded with the cutter and launch to examine the shores of its southern side. He first landed at the deserted village, on the northern shore, and on the eastern side of Village point; which he found a good leading mark for clearing the shoals that lie between it and cape Disappointment, carrying regular soundings of four fathoms. From this point he passed over to point Adams, the starboard of S.E. point of entrance into this inlet; and in his way crossed a shoal bank, supposed to be a continuation of that on which the Chatham had grounded. The least water found upon it was two and a half fathoms, and the sea was observed to break at intervals in several places. Point Adams is a low, narrow, sandy, spit of land, projecting northerly into the ocean, and lies from cape Disappointment, S. 44 E. about four miles distant. From this point, the coast takes a sudden turn to the south, and the shores within the inlet take a direction S. 74 E. four miles to another point, which obtained the name of Point George. From point Adams the breakers stretched into the ocean, first N. 68 W. about a league, then S. 83 W. about four miles, from whence they took ____ course to the southward, extending along the coast at the distance of two leagues and upwards. ..." [Vancouver, October 22, 1792]

Point Adams in 1853 ...
From the 1853 U.S. Coast Survey "Coast Pilot":

"... Point Adams, on the south side of the river, is distant from Cape Disappointment nearly 5 miles. It is low and sandy, and has, at its extremity, an Indian village, named Clatsop, which merely consists of a few rough lodges, constucted of boards, or rather hewn planks, of large size; the interior resembled a miserably constructed ship's cabin, with bunks, &c., the only light being admitted from above, near the ridge and gable end. Around the whole is a palisade, made of thick planks and joists, about 15 feet in length, set with one end in the ground, to protect the inhabitants from attack. ...   From each point of the entrance of the river a sand-spit runs off nearly 4 miles; that from Point Adams projecting to seaward of the other, begin nearly at right angles to it; the distance between them is nearly one mile. These sand-spits have been formed by the deposits of the sands brought down by the river, or washed by the abrasion of the sea from their respective capes. ..."

Point Adams in 1858 ...
The 1858 U.S. Coast Survey "Coast Pilot" describes Point Adams as being low and sandy and "covered with bushes and trees to the line of sand beach and low dunes; and although it is reported to have washed away over half a mile since 1841, we find comparatively small changes since the survey of Broughton in 1792."

Point Adams in 1862 ...
From the 1862 U.S. Coast Survey "Coast Pilot":

"... Point Adams is low and sandy, covered with bushes and trees to the line of sand beach and low dunes; and although it is reported to have washed away over half a mile since 1841, we find comparatively small changes since the survey of Broughton in 1792.

The geographical position of the triangulation station of the Coast Survey on the point is: Latitude 46 12 30.4 north, Longitude 123 56 55.8 west. ... This station is on the inside of the point, and almost half a mile from it.

No light-house exists here, but the necessity for one has been so repeatedly urged that we cannot refrain from calling attention to a few facts bearing upon the question ... This point was called Cape Frondoso by Heceta, who discovered, but did not enter this river in August, 1775; and named Adams' Point by Captain Gray, in 1792. The Indian name of the point is Klaát-sop. It is now called Point Adams.

The beach around Point adams and to the southward some distance is usually called Clatsop beach. ..."

Point Adams in 1889 ...
From the 1889 U.S. Coast Survey "Coast Pilot":

"... The southern Point of the Entrance to the Columbia River is Point Adams. It is a low, sandy point, covered with fir and undergrowth to the edge of the sand beach and low dunes. The forest is dense and the trees high so that the point has an appeareance of height and is somewhat readily made out, especially if the atmosphere is hazy inside.

The point remained with very little change from Broughton's survey, of 1792, to 1867, as it indicated by a comparison of shore-lines, and also by the existence of trees of large growth out to the edge of the point. Since the latter date the point was cut away by the river very rapidly for a few years, and the great trees were undermined and fell into the water. This line of destruction changed some of the details of character of the point; but the cutting stopped, and accretion has been going on to a considerable extent, leaving, however, the extremity of the point denuded. ...

Stretching out from Point Adams is the great shoal known as the Clatsop Spit, whose normal direction points towards Cape Disappointment. It frequently stretches more than half way across the mouth of the river, and is then usually marked by the breakers around its whole extent, except in exceedingly smooth weather and at high water. But there have been periods when its northern edge stretched straight out to sea, and then swept in far to the southward of Point Adams.

The shortest distance from Point Adams to Cape Disappointment is a little over five miles, and the bearing northwest by west (NW. by W.). The distance from Point Adams Light-house to Cape Disappoingment Light-house is five and seven-eighths miles, and the bearing north fifty-five degrees west (N.55 W.).

On the inner side of Point Adams is an earth fortification known as Fort Stevens. In 1877 the river had cut away much of the old shore outside of it, but subsequent changes of the channel led to redeposits; and now a small stone jetty is being carried out to give protection against further encroachment, to aid deposits, and to direct the course of the river under the south shore. There is a stake white light placed at the end of this jetty which is now (1877) surrounded by sand. ...

[The light-house on Point Adams is] a primary Sea-coast Light. The Light-house is not on the northern extremity of the point, but on the outer one of the low sand ridges which run parallel with the ocean shore-line. It is almost one mile south of the point and two hundred and eighty-five yards inside the high-water mark. ...

This point was not named by Heceta. On August 17, 1775, he was off the mouth of the river, which he supposed to be a great bay, but he was so far distant that he noted only the Cape, on the north, and Tillamook Head on the south. It was not distinguished by Cook or by Meares. It was called "Adams' Point" by Gray in 1792; and later in the same year Vancouver named it Point Adams. Lewis and Clarke, 1805-'6, speak of it in their narrative as Point Adams, but on the chart of the entrance to the river it is called Point Round, and on their general chart P. Ronde, the name applied to it by La Pérouse. The name Point Adams was retained by the United States Exploring Expedition in 1841, and it is never known by any other. De Mofras calls it C. Frondoso ou Pte. Adams. The Indian name of the point is Klaát-sop.

The beach around Point Adams and to the southward for some indefinite distance is locally known as the Clatsop Beach. ..."

Point Adams in 1903 and 1909 ...
From the 1903 and the 1909 U.S. Coast Survey "Coast Pilots":

"... The old light-tower on Point Adams, on the south point at the entrance, shows fairly well from seaward. The trestle work of the jetty extending seaward from Point Adams is prominent from southward; it shows well when entering by the main channel. ..."

Point Adams in 1917 ...
From the 1917 U.S. Coast Survey "Coast Pilot":

"... Point Adams, the south point at the entrance, is a low sandy point covered with fir and undergrowth to the edge of the sand beach and low dunes. The point usually shows well from seaward, particularly if it is hazy inside. ..."

Point Adams, etc.

  • Fort Stevens ...
  • Point Adams Coast Guard Life Saving Station ...
  • Point Adams Fog-whistle ...
  • Point Adams Lighthouse ...
  • Point Adams Station ...

Fort Stevens ...
In 1865 Fort Stevens was established on Point Adams, and for the next 84 years it defended the mouth of the Columbia River.

Point Adams Coast Guard Life Saving Station ...
The Point Adams Life Saving Station, also known as Life Saving Station #311 and later Coast Guard Station #326, was located at Hammond, Oregon, near Point Adams. The station was established in 1888, built in 1889, and was placed in active service in December 1889. The station began with a crew of eight and by 1900 increased to nine during the summer months. The station was discontinued in 1967, with its search and rescue duties taken over by the Cape Disappointment station.

Life Saving Station #311
Coast Guard Station #326

"Coast Guard Lifeboat Station Point Adams is lcoated at Hammond, Clatsop County, Oregon. The station was established in 1888, built in 1889 and was placed in active service in December of 1889. ...

Point Adams Station was so badly affected by erosion in 1913-1914 that it was necessary to move the boathouse to another location. Sometime between 1905 and 1923 another boathouse was also added to the station. This one was built on piles in the Columbia River. The next major modification came during Franklin Roosevelt's tenure as the nation's chief executive. During his second term in office, the main station house was replaced by a Roosevelt-type building as a PWA project beginning in October of 1938 and was in use the following year. A new boathouse was also constructed during this time. At some point in the 1930s, all stations were renumber "for aviation purposes" and Point Adams was designated as Coast Guard Station No.326. A wooden sign was laid out flush to the ground with "326" painted in large numerals facing skyward. ...

In January of 1967 the Coast Guard decided to close the lifeboat station although one source notes that it may have been closed as early as 1963. Its SAR responsibilities were taken over by the station at Cape Disappointment. The Point Adams Station buildings were then used by the Clatsop Community College before the National Marine Fisheries Service bought the station and surrounding land from the Coast Guard."

Source:   U.S. Coast Guard website, 2011, "U.S. Coast Guard History Program"

Point Adams Fog-whistle ...
A steam powered fog-whistle existed at Point Adams until February 1, 1881, when it was discontinued "because the sound could not be heard far enough seaward in bad weather on account of the terrific noise of the great breakers" (U.S. Coast Survey, 1889). In the late 1800s and early 1900s a fixed red lantern light at "Fort Stevens Wharf Post Light" existed, at 14 feet above mean high water, located on a small dark-brown wooden house.

Point Adams Lighthouse ...
Four lighthouses have been located near the mouth of the Columbia River and two more were located inland. They are the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse (1856), Point Adams Lighthouse (1875), North Head Lighthouse (1898), and the Desdemona Sands Lighthouse (1902), and inland were the Warrior Rock Lighthouse (1888), at the lower mouth of the Willamette River, and the Willamette River Lighthouse (1895), at the upper mouth of the Willamette.

"... On a case-by-case basis Congress appropriated funds for design and construction of important facilities. These included lighthouses: Cape Arago (1866), Cape Blanco (1870), Yaquina Bay (1872), Cape Foulweather (1873), Point Adams (1875), Tillamook Rock (1881), Warrior Rock (1888) at the mouth of the Willamette River, Cape Meares (1890), Umpqua River, Heceta Head, Coquille River (all 1894), and Desdemona Sands (1905 [error ???, 1902, see below]). The goal was to create a system of stations with interlocking lights. On a clear night at sea, a mariner might expect to sight at any point a distinctive beacon on shore to pinpoint the location. Fog signals powered by steam engines blasted warnings from a number of the stations to tell captains to drop anchor or beat a retreat until the mists cleared. ..." [Oregon State "BlueBook" website, 2006]

The Point Adams Lighthouse was built in 1875, discontinued in 1899, and destroyed in 1912 with the building of the South Jetty. The 1889 U.S. Coast Pilot gives a nice description.

"... This is a primary Sea-coast Light. The Light-house is not on the northern extremity of the point, but on the outher one of the low sand ridges which run parallel with the ocean shore-line. It is almost one mile south of the point and two hundred and eighty-five yards inside the high-water mark. The structure is a low, square tower rising from the keeper's dwelling. The buildings are painted white, the lantern and dome black. The buildings show against the dark back-ground of the high fir forest, which is about three hundred yards inside.

The Light is of the fourth order of the system of fresnel; it was first exhibited in 1875, and shows from sunset to sunrise a fixed red light:

The present characteristic of the light was given to it on January 21, 1881, when the Tillamook Rock Light was first exhibited. Previous to that date it was a flashing red light. The light shows round the entire horizon, but the compass range useful to mariners is from southeast by south (SE. by S.), through the south and west to north by west half west (N. by W. 1/2 W.), where it is cut off by the trees nearer the extremity of the point.

The base of the tower is fifty feet above the mean level of the sea; and the focal plane is ninety-feet above the sea, so that in favorable conditions of the atmosphere the light should be visible from a height of fifteen feet at a distance of about eleven or twelve miles.

In summer, during the early part of the evening, dense fogs, which are formed over the waters and low beaches of Gray's Harbor and Shoalwater Bay, are brought southeastward by the summer winds and roll over Cape Disappointment, which they completely shut in before reaching across the river, so that a vessel may make the Light-house on Point Adams when the Cape is invisible. ..."

In 1902 the Desdemona Sands Lighthouse was built near Point Adams. The Desdemona Sands are shoal sands off of Point Adams named after the bark Desdemona who, while inbound to Astoria, grounded there in December 1856.

Point Adams Station ...
The SP&S railroad had a station named "Point Adams" which served the Point Adams Coast Guard Station just east of Hammond.

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, November 18, 1805 ...
A little cloudy this morning I Set out [from their camp at Station Camp] with 10 men and my man York to the Ocian by land. i. e. Serjt. Ordway & Pryor, Jos. & Ru. Fields, Go. Shannon, W. Brattin, J. Colter, P. Wiser, W. Labieche & P. Shabono one of our interpreters & York. [according to Moulton, Clark gave the other men's names in two inconsistent lists --- those named included Clark, Ordway, Charbonneau, Pryor, the Field brothers, Shannon, Colter, Weiser, Labiche, Bratton, and York.] I Set out at Day light and proceeded on a Sandy beech

N. 80 W. 1 Mile to a point of rocks about 40 feet high [Chinook Point, now the location of Fort Columbia], from the top of which the hill Side is open and assend with a Steep assent [Scarboro Hill] to the tops of the Mountains, a Deep nitch and two Small Streams above this point, then my course was

N. W. 7 Mile to the enterance of a creek [Chinook River] at a lodge or cabin of Chinnooks passing on a wide Sand bar the bay to my left [Baker Bay] and Several Small ponds Containing great numbers of water fowls to my right; with a narrow bottom of alder & Small balsam between the Ponds and the Mountn. ...     This Creek appears to be nothing more than the conveyance of Several Small dreans from the high hills and the ponds on each Side near its mouth. here we were Set across all in one Canoe by 2 Squars to each I gav a Small hook

S. 79 W. 5 Miles to the mouth of Chin nook river, [today's Wallacut River] passed a low bluff of a small hite at 2 miles below which is the remains of huts near which place is also the remains of a whale on the Sand, the countrey low open and Slashey, with elivated lands interspersed covered with pine & thick under groth This river [Wallacut River] is 40 yards wide at low tide- here we made a fire and dined on 4 brant and 48 Pliver which was killed by Labiech on the coast as we came on. ...     after dineing we crossed the river in an old canoe which I found on the Sand near Som old houses & proceeded on-

S. 20 W. 4 Miles to a Small rock island in a deep nitch     passed a nitch at 2 miles in which there is a dreen from Some ponds back, the land low opposite this nitch a bluff of yellow Clay and Soft Stone from the river to the Comencement of this nitch     below the Country rises to high hills of about 80 or 90 feet above the water- at 3 miles passed a nitch- this rock Island is Small and at the South of a deep bend [near Illwaco, Washington] in which the nativs inform us the Ships anchor, and from whence they receive their goods in return for their peltries and Elk Skins &c. this appears to be a very good harber for large Ships. here I found Capt Lewis name on a tree. I also engraved my name & by land the day of the month and year, as also Several of the men.

S. 46 E. 2 Miles to the inner extremity of Cape Disapointment passing a nitch [location of Fort Canby] in which there is a Small rock island, a Small Stream falls into this nitch from a pond [today O'Neil Lake lies between Fort Canby and McKenzie Head] which is imediately on the Sea Coast passing through a low isthmus. this Cape is an ellivated <Situat> Circlier point [location Cape Disappointment Lighthouse] Covered with thick timber on the iner Side and open grassey exposur next to the Sea and rises with a Steep assent to the hight of about 150 or 160 feet above the leavel of the water <from the last mentioned nitch-> this cape [Cape Disappointment] as also the Shore both on the Bay & Sea coast is a dark brown rock [basalt]. I crossed the neck of Land low and of a mile wide to the main Ocian [today Waikiki Beach is located on the ocean side of this isthmus], at the foot of a high open hill projecting into the ocian, and about one mile in Sicumfrance. I assended this hill [McKenzie Head] which is covered with high corse grass. decended to the N. of it and camped. I picked up a flounder on the beech this evening.-

from Cape Disapointment to a high point of a Mountn. which we shall call [the Nicholas Biddle version has Clarke's Point of View inserted here. "Clarke's Point of View" is today's Tillamook Head, a name received when Clark visited and climbed the formation in Janaury 1806.] beares S. 20 W. about <40> [WC?: 25] miles, point adams is verry low and is Situated within the direction between those two high points of land, the water appears verry Shole from off the mouth of the river for a great distance, and I cannot assertain the direction of the deepst Chanel, the Indians point nearest the opposit Side. the waves appear to brake with tremendious force in every direction quite across a large Sand bar lies within the mouth nearest to point Adams [Point Adams] which is nearly covered at high tide. I suped on brant this evening with a little pounded fish. Some rain in the after part of the night. men appear much Satisfied with their trip beholding with estonishment the high waves dashing against the rocks & this emence ocian.

Journey to the PacificReturn to




*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: CORIE website, 2006; Howay, F.W., editor, and courtesty University of Washington website, 2007, "History and Literature of the Pacific Northwest"; "The Long Beach Peninsula, Where the Columbia Meets the Pacific" 2005, Arcadia Publishing; Lyman, W.D., 1909, The Columbia River, Its History, Its Myths, Its Scenery, Its Commerce: G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York; McArthur, L.A., and McArthur, L.L., 2004, Oregon Geographic Names, Oregon Historical Society Press, Portland; NOAA Office of Coast Surveys website, 2005, "United States Senate's 'Report of the Superintendent of the Coast Survey showing the Progress of the Survey during the Year 1858'"; NOAA Office of Coast Surveys website, U.S. Coast Pilots, 1853, 1858, 1862, 1889, 1903, 1909, 1917; NOAA Office of Coast Surveys website, 2005, Historical Information; Oregon "BlueBook" website, 2006; U.S. Coast Guard website, 2006.

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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October 2009