A new angle on history
Viewing site will showcase Battle Rock and more
PORT ORFORD – Climb to the top of Fort Point on a clear day, and you’ll be rewarded with a jaw-dropping, 180-degree view of Oregon’s gorgeous southern coastline. The Siskiyou Mountains stand to the south. The Redfish Rock marine reserve lies below. To the north are Humbug Mountain and a working port.
The view is so compelling, the city of Port Orford plans to build a trail and overlook that will make the coastal bluff easier to reach. The path to that project just got a little clearer thanks to a $10,000 grant from the Coquille Indian Tribe’s Community Fund.
The project started in July 2016, when a group of Port Orford citizens became concerned about foot traffic on a nearby sea stack called Battle Rock.
“We needed to redirect people off the rock to reduce the impact of human erosion, and look for another place where people could still have a panoramic view,” said Steve Lawton, the volunteer spearheading the project.
“This grant for the Fort Point Bluff project will make a long lasting impact on a beautiful Oregon landmark,” said Community Fund Administrator Jackie Chambers. “We are excited to see the project come to life and be open for all to come and enjoy.”
Battle Rock was the site of a famous 1851 skirmish between land-hungry European settlers and local Native Americans. Capt. William Tichenor had dropped off nine men to set up a settlement. When the Indians tried to evict them, the white men wielded a cannon to protect their perch atop the rock.
The battle ended when the surviving white men escaped northward by cover of darkness. Tichenor returned later that year with 70 soldiers and established what is now called Port Orford.
Since then, Battle Rock has been a popular destination for visitors– whose relentless footsteps have begun to damage the historic site. At the City Parks Commission’s request, Lawton began seeking an alternative viewing spot.
Fort Point caught his attention in 2017. After much research, Lawton determined that the city owned the land. A viewing site there seemed like an obvious solution.
“I got encouragement from city councilors and the community, and we moved forward in 2018 to propose it,” he said.
State law requires local authorities to consider a project’s effect on cultural resources before approving it. So Lawton contacted the State Historic Preservation Office to make sure the project would honor indigenous interests as well as the community’s needs. Project supporters met with Kassandra Rippee, the Coquille tribe’s historic preservation officer, to discuss a collaboration.
“We met with Kassie and it was a really positive experience,” Lawton said. “We need to embrace the history of this region, and it starts before we arrive. I think that’s really important for people to recognize.”
Tribal people were Oregon’s stewards for thousands of years, and tribes still care about the land that holds the history of their village sites and way of life. Coquille people still live and work in the Port Orford area.
Thanks to the tribe’s grant and a previous $20,000 donation from another source, the Fort Point overlook will be a low-profile viewing site. Building it on pressure-treated poles, atop a concrete pier, will minimize impact to the land.
“This is a lovely site,” Lawton said. “We plan to have an interpretive sign here that’s going to talk about history and the modern economy. We have forestry over here, you have commercial fishing over here, we have a community that’s expanding and people recreating … so it’s a living, working landscape as well.”
“I’m excited about this project,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a lasting resource for the community.”
A resource that will help preserve Battle Rock.
About Coquille Tribal Grants
The Coquille Tribal Community Fund’s grant to Port Orford was part of $366,126 awarded during the tribe’s 2020 Grant Week. Fueled by revenue from The Mill Casino-Hotel & RV Park, the grants help 71 community agencies in southwestern Oregon.
The Fort Point project was one of two projects to 2020 tribal grants in the Historic Preservation category. The Bandon Historical Society Museum received $2,750.
Since 2002, the tribal fund has distributed nearly $6.8 million to organizations in five counties.