Fort Clatsop
Lewis and Clark Trail from Fort Clatsop to the Clatsop Plains
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The history of the trail after Lewis and Clark abandoned Fort Clatsop on March 23, 1806, is somewhat obscure. It is reliably reported that Chief Coboway and other Clatsop Indians continued to occupy Fort Clatsop during the hunting season for 10 or 15 years after the expedition's departure. [20] It can be assumed that these Indians at least occasionally used the old trail opened by Lewis and Clark when coming and going between the abandoned fort and their villages on the coast.

At any rate, the trail apparently was still open in 1842. An American missionary who visited the Fort Clatsop site in that year and who was familiar with the Clatsop Plains vicinity, soon afterwards stated: "The Indians have often pointed out to me the trail by which a gang of their [Lewis and Clark's] men went daily from their hut to the coast." [21]

Settlement of the Fort Clatsop vicinity began about the middle of the century. In 1850 Carlos W. Shane located a donation land claim which included the site of the winter encampment . During the next year he built a house near the ruins of what were pointed out to him as the "Lewis and Clark cabins." [22] In 1852 Richard M. Moore came to the neighborhood with the intention of building a large steam sawmill, and shortly there after the mill was in operation on the site of the old Lewis and Clark landing place . The vicinity of Fort Clatsop soon became quite a lively settlement, "with 35 or 40 people, all busy clearing land, cutting sawlogs, sawing lumber, etc.'" [23]

Early in 1852 the County Commissioners of Clatsop County, in which the Fort Clatsop area was located, appointed three commissioners to "'View out and Locate a Road from some point on the Lewis & Clark's River to Clatsop plains." Believing it necessary to "open a means of communication" between these two areas of settlement, the appointees selected a route for a road leading from Carlos W. Shane 's house westward over the ridge, across the marsh of the Skipanon River, and out to the Clatsop Prairie, a distance of "3 miles and 2 chains." They caused this route to be surveyed, and on May 13, 1852, they recommended to the County Commissioners that it be "Established and Opened'" as a public road "according to Law." [24]

This recommendation was adopted on September 7, 1852. The County Commissioners ordered the road to be established and named it "the Lewis and Clark Road." [25] As far as is known, the road so established has never been vacated or abandoned by Clatsop County. [26]

There apparently is no evidence to show that the old Lewis and Clark trail was used or taken into consideration by the commissioners in laying out their road. The notes for the survey of this road are still in existence, but when the courses and distances are plotted on a present-day map the resulting route does not seem to coincide with either of the main Lewis and Clark trails or, for that matter, with the present logging road which runs westward from the fort site to Clatsop Plains. However, all of these routes were governed by the same terrain factors, and they must virtually have coincided at certain points.

In the limited time available for this study, the present writer was unable to uncover any evidence in the county records that the new road was actually constructed. Evidently the vicinity of the Lewis and Clark trail had not been much disturbed by the spring of 1853 when George Gibbs, a well-known Pacific Northwest pioneer and a keen observer, visited the Fort Clatsop site. In a letter to his mother, dated April 13, 1853, he described the site of the Lewis and Clark camp and then stated: "Their old trail to the coast is just visible being much over grown with brush." [27]

During October, 1853, another well-known pioneer of the Fort Clatsop vicinity, Preston W. Gillette, visited the old encampment site. He later stated in a sworn deposition: "When I first knew this spot the trail cut by Lewis and Clark through the timber to the ocean was plainly visible, it having been kept open by the Indians and elk, and it continued as a traveled passage for some fifteen years after my arrival in the country [in 1852]." [28]

Perhaps the county road was not actually opened at this time, since a drop in the price of lumber in 1854 caused the closing of Moore's mill, and it was reported that by 1856 there was ""only one inhabitant in the entire precinct." [29] Carlos W. Shane had sold his donation claim to his brother, Franklin W. Shane, evidently in late 1852; but Franklin moved away from the property about 1856 or 1857. [30] Seemingly the immediate site of Fort Clatsop was largely deserted from that time until 1872.

Meanwhile, there apparently was some use of the old Lewis and Clark landing and of the route westward from there to Clatsop Plains. During the 1850's residents of Portland and other inland settlements began to seek relief from the summer heat by spending vacations along the fine sea beaches south of the mouth of the Columbia. Generally, these visitors traveled by small boat up the Skipanon River to a place known as Lexington, Upper Landing, or Skipanon, situated near the southern limits of the present Warrenton. From this point a road of sorts led southward over the sandy Clatsop Plains to the resorts. [31]

It was found, however, that a more convenient and attractive route was to go by boat to the Fort Clatsop landing and then by hired horse or, perhaps, by carriage over the hills to the Clatsop Plains road. One student of early transportation in Oregon states that in July, 1862, the Oregon Steam Navigation Company inaugurated a regular summer service by the steamer Jennie Clark directly from Portland to Fort Clatsop Landing. [32]

Such a service would presuppose the existence of a fairly good road between the landing and the Clatsop Plains . On the other hand, any regular carrying of passengers on this route before 1875 has been directly denied by Mr. Harlan C. Smith, who lived in the vicinity as a small boy in 1872. [33]

At any rate, the summer visitation to the beaches increased considerably after 1873, when Benjamin Holladay opened his famous Seaside House. Meanwhile, in May, 1872, the daughter of Franklin Shane and her husband, William Hampton Smith, had moved onto the family claim and had built a new house on the Fort Clatsop site. Smith reasoned that a good road from the old Lewis and Clark landing place on his property over the ridge to the Clatsop Plains would prove more attractive for the summer visitors than the sandy road to Skipanon. [34] As early as June, 1873, he proposed to the Oregon Steam Navigation Company that he build such a road. [35] Negotiations with the firm dragged on for nearly two years, but finally, on May 6, 1875, Smith and his wife sold five acres of land along the west bank of the Lewis and Clark River to the company for wharf and transfer facilities . As part of the transaction, the Navigation Company agreed to subscribe $500 to be used by Smith to open his proposed road. [36]

Work on the road evidently began during the latter part of June, 1875. According to his son, William Smith ""spied out" the route; and the heavy labor was performed by Chinese hired in Portland. [37]The task seemingly was completed before the end of 1875, and certainly the new road was ready for use before the next tourist season. [38]

Mr. Harlan C. Smith, who as a small boy watched his father construct the road, stated on July 6, 1957, that the new route ""probably"" followed "the old Indian trail and the elk trail [Lewis and Clark trail], in the main." However, he did not remember having discussed this particular point with his father. Mr. Smith recalled that this road was maintained for a number of years after its completion. He and his family moved from the Fort Clatsop area in 1880, but he occasionally returned to the vicinity. He remembered that as late as ""sometime after 1900, but not very long after,"" the road was still passable . It was his recollection that the road was maintained by county funds. [39]

Little is known concerning the history of this road after 1900. It is still considered a county road, but scant attention is given to its maintenance. In places it is choked with alders and brush, and it is passable by an ordinary passenger automobile only during the dry season. The road has been extensively used as a logging access road, and no one now seems to know if this logging road of 1958 still follows the exact location of Smith's road of 1875. Because of the dictates of the terrain, it is fairly certain that the present road lies directly on, or very close to, certain sections of the Lewis and Clark trail (see Map 3).

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Last Updated: 04-May-2004