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How Should Fort Clatsop Be Rebuilt?


    As investigators continue to comb through the ashes and charred timbers that once were a replica of the fort that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and their entourage spent three cold, dreary months in 200 years ago, there's already talk of rebuilding Fort Clatsop.
    But a question that's been swirling around some circles is this: Should you rebuild a replica that wasn't a very good reproduction of the original?

    A fire that erupted on October 3 after the Fort Clatsop National Memorial Park closed for the day swept through the 50-by-50-foot fort. Investigators haven't determined whether the fire was caused by an ember in one of the fort's fireplaces, or by an arsonist.
    Regardless, local officials want to quickly rebuild the replica. But there are those who are deadset against it.
    The Fort Clatsop replica was built 50 years ago by community leaders from Warrenton, Oregon, the town closest to the site near the mouth of the Columbia River where the Corps of Discovery raised a rough-hewn mud-and-timber shelter to weather the winter of 1805-06.
    But the replica didn't exactly mirror that structure. While it's said that the replica was based on drawings from the Lewis and Clark expedition, some criticize the resulting fort for its appearance. They say it was too finely constructed, with carefully peeled and milled logs that were chemically treated to fight off rot in the moist environment, and with Scandinavian building techniques.
   One retired National Park Service historian has said very directly that "the replica should not be rebuilt. It should not have been built in the first place. NPS policy bans reconstructions unless documentary, archaeological, and architectural evidence exists in such abundance as to permit an accurate reconstruction and in no other way can a site be interpreted."
    Another adds that "rebuilding a reconstruction, which itself was largely speculative in form, is suspect -- especially in a tight deadline that would rush the project's research, design, and construction. It's almost certain that the result would be a Rube Goldberg slapped-together affair."   
    The "tight deadline" stems from the upcoming bicentennial celebration. In early November, 12 sites along the Oregon and Washington coasts that are affiliated with the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park will be spotlighted as part of the overall Lewis and Clark Bicentennial. The "Destination: The Pacific" commemoration is set for November 11-15.
    Park superintendent Chip Jenkins says the fire, which burned half of the replica to the ground and damaged the rest enough to make it unsalvageable, says the opportunity now exists to make a more historically accurate replica.
     But the question that remains is whether enough evidence remains from the Lewis and Clark expedition to construct a meaningful and historically accurate replica.

    You can learn more about the site by visiting the official NPS web site here.

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