janet fisher~writer

Following strong women through history

Reviving Fort Umpqua

Tomorrow the people of Elkton will bring the old Fort Umpqua back to life with a flourish in their annual Fort Umpqua Days celebration. Folks from around the state and beyond will join in the fun, whether history buffs, reenactors, the simply curious, or those just looking for a good time or a good buy. Welcome to the party.

Ft.Ump.Inside 69Activities in the palisade walls will run from 10 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon on both Saturday and Sunday, September 3 and 4. While things are happening down at the fort, a lively market behind the ECEC library will offer crafts, books, and other items for sale. I’ll be there both days with my books set in the fur trade and pioneer era, and my friend Lynn Ash will join me with her books Saturday.

Ft.Ump.Inside 63Something new this year: The second building reconstructed at the fort, shown above, now has furnishings displaying living quarters where the Hudson’s Bay Company men lived. The rustic but comfy interior gives an idea of the kinds of gear they had–the typical Hudson’s Bay Company blanket, animal-skin rug, moccasins.

Ft.Ump.Inside 67The simple table setting illustrates the difference between the simplicity of life here in the southernmost outpost of the Company and the finery back at headquarters.

Ft.Ump.Inside 66No Spode china here, like that enjoyed by the senior officers at Fort Vancouver.

This project in Elkton has been a work in progress for several years, and as I mentioned in a previous post or two the reconstructed fort found its home a little downriver from the original.

When history buffs, modern mountain men, academics, and reenactors began contemplating the project, they discovered that the original site was not available. So this location down the hill from the Elkton Community Education Center was offered as an alternative.

If you drive south from Elkton on Highway 138 you’ll see a historical marker on your right which points out the original location of the fort across the river. The setting has many similarities, and the new site was selected.

Ft.Ump.Inside 77After the palisade walls went up, volunteers constructed the first building, the Company store and storehouse. Come inside and you’ll find the treasure that brought the British Hudson’s Bay Company into the region.

Ft.Ump.Inside 73The beaver pelt.

Ft.Ump.Inside 71There’s a touching table where you can stroke your fingers over the furs and feel how soft they are.

The sad news for the beaver was that his soft inner fur could be made into exquisite felt for the popular hats of the day.

That made the pelts extremely valuable and trappers combed the creeks of the wilderness to find them. Competition grew fierce between the British traders and the American mountain men, and rumors of war stirred as Britain and the United States shared the Oregon Country while London and Washington tried to come to terms on a boundary.

Ft.Ump.Inside 75Trappers, both white and Native American, could trade their furs for goods here in the Company store. Or today you can ask a knowledgeable young helper your questions about the history of the fort and the fur trade. Tomorrow and Sunday they’ll be dressed for the part in period costume, adding to your sense of stepping back in time.

Following the activities at the fort and market each day, the traditional historic pageant will be performed at the amphitheater, both nights. That’s always fun too as we play with history. I have the pleasure of serving on the writing team for that. Others did the lion’s share this time, but I had fun doing my little bit.

For more information on daily activities see the Fort Umpqua Days website.

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