The original Fort Stevens consisted of a fort made mainly of dirt with gun emplacements and several buildings, all completed in 1865.
To protect it from land attack, the original Fort was surrounded by a moat with a drawbridge!
In 1897, as part of a nationwide program to improve coastal and harbor defenses, Fort Stevens started a massive fortification program.
When the program was completed, eight concrete batteries – including mortars and long and short-range rifles – were constructed.
Fort Stevens was one of three forts built at the mouth of the Columbia River. Forts Canby and Columbia were on the Washington State side.
The principal armaments of the new Fort Stevens were 10-inch rifled cannons placed at Batteries Russell, Walker, Lewis and Mishler. Mounted on disappearing carriages, which hid the guns behind concrete and earth walls when not being fired, these guns could fire 617-pound shells at a distance of nine miles.
To complement the 10-inch rifles, Fort Stevens was armed with 6-inch rifles at Battery Pratt and 12-inch mortars at Battery Clark. Also, to protect the mine fields at the mouth of the Columbia River, there were two small-caliber rapid-fire batteries – Smur and Freeman.
The Columbia River forts reached their peak of activity during World War II, when there were approximately 2500 men stationed there.
To house all the troops, new barracks were constructed. At Fort Stevens, Battery 245, a new gun emplacement, was armed with two 6-inch rifles that had a range of about fifteen miles, almost double the range of the 10-inch rifles. Also a 90mm AMT battery was placed on the south jetty.
On June 21, 1942, Fort Stevens saw its only action when a Japanese submarine (the I-25) fired 5.5 inch shells in the vicinity of the fort. The shelling caused no damage. The Fort Commander refused to allow return fire. The incident made Fort Stevens the only installation to be attacked by an enemy since the War of 1812.
During the attack, Colonel Doney contacted the local lighthouse at Cape Disappointment and requested they shut off the light. The Coast Guard refused – COL Doney instructed the USCG that if the light was not extinguished he would shoot it out. The lighthouse light was shut off.
Shortly after World War II, Fort Stevens was deactivated as a military fort. The development of improved air power and guided missiles made coastal artillery forts such as Fort Stevens obsolete. By 1947, all of the guns were removed and much of the fort was turned over to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.