Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Svensen and Svensen Island, Oregon"
Includes ... Svensen ... Svensen Island ... The Golden Age of Postcards ...
Image, 2005, Svensen Island, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Old house, Svensen Island, Oregon. Image taken November 15, 2005.

Svensen and Svensen Island ...
Svensen and Svensen Island, Oregon, lie on the south side of the Columbia River at River Mile (RM) 24, between Settler Point downstream and Knappa upstream. Lewis and Clark passed by this area on November 26, 1805, on their way to build their winter camp on the Lewis and Clark River, and they again passed through the area on March 24, 1806, as they began their journey back home.

Early Svensen ...
Often seen spelled "Svenson", in 1941 the U.S. Board of Geographic Names made "Svensen" the offical spelling.

Svensen and Svensen Island were named for Peter Svensen, an early settler, who, according to Keith G. Hay in The Lewis and Clark Columbia River Water Trail (2004):

"... This Finnish emigrant community derives its name from a sailor named Peter Svensen, who reportedly jumped ship in Astoria and settled in the area in 1877. It was not until 1895, however, that the name of the local post office was changed from Bear Creek to Svensen. ..."

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records, however show a Peter Svenson being issued a land title on March 1, 1872, for 160 acres of parts of T8N R8W Sections 15 and 22, under the 1862 "Homestead Entry Original".

The Svensen Post Office was in operation from 1895 until 1944.

Svensen in 1940 ...
From the Oregon State Archives "A 1940 Journey Across Oregon":

"... At 92.5 m. is a junction with an improved road.

Right here to SVENSON, 0.7 m. (10 alt., 100 pop.), less a town than a series of fishing wharves, extending into the Columbia River, which broadens to a width of five miles. Tied up at these docks are many fishing crafts. These small boats, their engines hooded for protection from spray and weather, ride restlessly in the tide's movement. Net drying racks stretch at length over the salt soaked planking, where fishermen mend their linen nets between catches.

It is from these docks, and the many that closely line the river's south shore from this point to Astoria, a distance of eight miles, that a large portion of the salmon fishing fleet puts out. ..."

Views ...

Image, 2005, Svensen Island, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Slough, looking downstream, between Sevensen Island and the mainland. Image taken November 15, 2005.
Image, 2005, Svensen Island, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Bridge crossing to Svensen Island. Image taken November 15, 2005.

"The Golden Age of Postcards" ...

The early 1900s was the "Golden Age of Postcards", with the "Penny Postcard" being a popular way to send greetings to family and friends. Today the Penny Postcard has become a snapshot of history.

Penny Postcard, Svensen, Oregon, 1912
Click image to enlarge
Penny Postcard: Svensen, Oregon, 1912
Penny Postcard, "Svensen, Ore., Coe Photo, U.F.B. Picnic 1912". Divided back. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, November 26, 1805, first draft ...
Cloudy and Some rain this morning at daylight wind blew from the E N. E, we Set out and proceeded on up on the North Side of this great river to a rock in the river from thence we Crossed to the lower point of an [blank] Island passed between 2 Islands to the main Shore, and proceeded down the South Side [Cathlamet Bay] passed 2 Inlets & halted below the 2d at a Indian village of 9 large houses [Knappa, Oregon] - those Indians live on an emenence behind a Island or a Channel of the river not more than 300 yds wide, they live on fish & Elk and Wapto roots, of which we bought a few at a high price they Call them Selves Cat-tar-bets description

We proceeded on about 8 miles and Encamped in a deep bend to the South [location of today's Twilight Eagle Sanctuary], we had not been Encamped long ere 3 Indians Came in a Canoe to trade the Wapto roots - we had rain all the day all wet and disagreeable a bad place to Camp all around this great bend is high land thickly timbered brushey & almost impossible to penetrate we Saw on an Island below the village a place of deposit for the dead in Canoes-

Great numbers of Swan Geese Brant Ducks & Gulls in this great bend which is Crouded with low Islands covered with weeds grass &c. and overflowed every flood tide [today the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge] The people of the last village is-[blank] ...     We are now decending to see if a favourable place should offer on the So Side to winter &c.

from a high Point opsd. a high Isd down the South Side is S. 30 W 6 mls to a point of low land opsd. upr. pt of Isd. passed lowr. pt. 1st Isd. marshey. at the upr. pt. of 2 low Isd. opsd. each other at 4 miles

S. 12 E 2 miles
to an Indn. Cat-tar-bet vilg of 9 houses [Knappa, Oregon] passed an inlet 300 yds wide on Std at 1/2 a mile

S. 60 W 1 mile
to high land on the South

S. 70 W 1 do.
to a South point Low land a low Isd. opsd. pass the former

S. 50 W. 6 miles
to a high point S.

South 2 miles to a bend Camped

N. 70 W. 6 miles
to a point No. 1 a deep bend to the left

S. 50 W 8 miles
to Point No. 2 passing a deep bend to the South

S. 50 W 1 1/2 miles S. 40 W 1 1/2 miles
to Pt in Bay

The bay turns to the N of East & recves 2 other small Brooks

Clark, November 26, 1805 ...
Cloudy and Some rain this morning from 6 oClock. wind from the E. N. E, we Set out out early and crossed a Short distance above the rock out in the river, & between Some low marshey Islands to the South Side of the Columbia at a low bottom about 3 miles below Point Samuel [Aldrich Point] and proceeded near the South Side leaveing the Seal Islands [islands in Cathlamet Bay, today a part of the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge] to our right and a marshey bottom to the left 5 Miles to the Calt-har-mar Village [location of Knappa, Oregon] of 9 large wood houses on a handsom elivated Situation near the foot of a Spur of the high land behind a large low Island Seperated from the Southerly Shore by a Chanel of about 200 yards Wide, ...    

we proceeded on through a Deep bend to the South and encamped under a high hill [past Settler Point to the location of today's Twilight Eagle Sanctuary], where we found much difficuelty in precureing wood to burn, as it was raining hard, as it had been the greater part of the day. ...     from the Village quite around this bend to the West the land is high and thickly timbered with pine balsom &c. a Short distance below the Calt har mer Village [Knappa, Oregon] on the Island which is Opposit I observed Several Canoes Scaffold in which Contained their dead, as I did not examine this mode of deposing the dead, must refer it to a discription hereafter.

Clark, March 24, 1806 ...
Sent out 15 men verry early this morning for the flesh of the two Elk killed by Drewyer and Fields yesterday. they returned at 8 oClock ...     Set out at half past 9 a. m. [from their camp at Mill Creek, on the east side of Tongue Point] and proceeded [South Channel, along the shore of Cathlamet Bay. They pass the John Day River, the location of today's Twilight Eagle Sanctuary, and today's Svensen Island] to the Cath lah mah Village [near Knappa, Oregon] at 1 P. M. and remained untill after 3 p. m. at this village ...     we proceeded on through Some difficult and narrow Channels [possibly Knappa Channel] between the Seal Islands [islands in Cathlamet Bay, today part of the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge], and the south side to an old village on the south side opposit to the lower War ki a com village [Skamokawa, Washington], and Encamped [Aldrich Point]. to this old villg. ...     Soon after we made our Camp 2 Indians visited us from the opposite Side, one of them Spoke Several words of English and repeeted the names of the traders, and many of the Salors.     made 16 Miles

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

  • Hay, K.G., 2004, The Lewis and Clark Columbia River Water Trail, Timber Press, Portland;
  • McArthur, L.A., and McArthur, L.L. 2003, Oregon Geographic Names, Oregon Historical Society Press, Portland;
  • Oregon State Archives website, 2009, "A 1940 Journey Across Oregon";
  • U.S. Bureau of Land Management website, 2005, General Land Office Records;
  • U.S. Geological Survey's Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) 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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August 2011