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[photo] Aerial view of Fort Clatsop National Memorial
Photo from National Park Service digital archive

Having reached the Pacific Ocean over a year and a half after departing from Camp Wood, the Corps of Discovery realized that the rough and miserable winter of 1805 to 1806 would have to be spent thousands of miles from the warmth and comfort of their homes back east. Resigned to this reality, the crew quickly set to building a suitable shelter that would provide protection for the upcoming months. The result of their efforts was the creation of Fort Clatsop, a reconstruction of which is found at its original site, located in Astoria, Oregon. The expedition's presence in this area strengthened the United States's claim to the Northwest, and paved the way for the first American settlement--the Pacific Fur Company Post, established at the mouth of the Columbia River in 1811 by John Jacob Astor.

One of the reconstructed Fort Clatsop buildings
Courtesy of the Oregon Tourism Commission

When complete, Fort Clatsop consisted of two parallel rows of huts, separated by a 20 foot by 48 foot parade ground. Due to the complement of firepits and bunkbeds, it is thought that the three huts on the south side of the fort housed all of the enlisted men. In contrast, on the north side of the complex, lay a series of four rooms, only two of which actually opened onto the central promenade. The room to the farthest right was most likely used for meat storage, while the other three huts served as interconnected private rooms for the leaders of the expedition and possibly for the family of Sacagawea as well. In furnishing the reconstructed fort, historians have made sure to handcraft all items using the same types of tools originally used by the expedition. Adding to the interpretive quality of the site, special displays are showcased during the summer months. From animal skins to dried plants to bullet-making equipment, each room provides a tangible way to interact with the history of the Corps of Discovery.

Not inclined to waste away their time, the Lewis and Clark pioneers remained busy throughout the winter season. Whether they were distilling salt at the nearby cairn, compiling scientific observations or trading and communicating with neighboring indigenous groups such as the Clatsop or Chinook, the members of the Corps of Discovery did not lose sight of the exploratory nature of their mission. Nevertheless, the expedition was more than ready to begin the return trip home on March 23, 1806, setting out at the first sign of spring.

Fort Clatsop National Memorial, administered by the National Park Service, is located four and one half miles southwest of Astoria, Oregon. The Visitor Center is open from 8:00am to 6:00pm during the summer, 8:00am to 5:00pm the remainder of the year. Please call 503-861-2471 ext. 214, or visit the park's website for further information.

Fort Clatsop National Memorial is the subject of an online-lesson plan produced by Teaching with Historic Places, a National Register program that offers classroom-ready lesson plans on properties listed in the National Register. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page.

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