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Umpqua volunteers craft a resurrection.

Byline: Andrea Damewood The Register-Guard

ELKTON - First it rotted. Then it burned. Then the floods came.

And now, more than 150 years after Fort Umpqua disappeared from its spot by the river, its rebuilding is busting backs.

About one mile from where the original fort stood, four dedicated residents - all pushing or over the age of 70 - are trying to do what a dozen burly Hudson's Bay Co. fur traders did in five months.

One 78-year-old volunteer, Keith Carr, has hand-peeled more than 300 logs. Another member is having an MRI for his aching spine brought on by the grueling work. They all don support belts to haul lumber.

"It's kind of backbreaking work. Most of the people who show up to do it, they don't even get half a log done," volunteer Don Guentner, 72, said. "I don't think we're going to last. Some of the hardest working guys are getting a little worn out."

Though Guentner, Carr, Merrel Smith, 70, and Marv Hendricks, 68, have grown tight working 12-hour days together, they would welcome a few extra hands - besides the occasional buddy they call in from the senior center.

"We just call each other crazies," he said. "Everybody thinks we're kind of a little bit nuts working on this."

But they have shored up some serious progress.

After more than two years of preparation, the first logs in the planned 12-foot-high fence were set into 5 1/2 feet of concrete last week. Since then, they have been scrambling to get 300 feet of the fort's fence, a massive gate and a 24-foot-high guard tower up before the Fort Umpqua Days this weekend.

All funding has come from individual sponsors, out of organizers' pockets, and from donations provided by Weyerhaeuser, Rosboro Lumber and other local businesses.

"We figured if we could accomplish (the fence) we would be able to go out to the business community and write grants and see if we could get the money to build the rest of it," Guentner said. "We've kind of had to prove ourselves."

The fort will benefit the festival, which celebrates Elkton's history, and will be an asset to the community year-round, said Joanne Smith, 70, who had to leave the manual labor to her husband, Merrel, after she hurt her knees removing the limbs from 80 logs with a chain saw.

"One thousand people go by here every day, going to the dunes, going to the coast," she said. "They go right by ... and they don't stop."

While not visible from the highway, the fort, located on Elkton Community Education Center property, will be well advertised, she said.

Fort Umpqua was built in 1836 as an outpost along the Umpqua River for the trade of beaver and otter furs, Joanne Smith said. The little fort was built in hostile Indian territory, but soon became a gathering and supply post for whites and Indians alike, she said.

But by 1850, the fur trade had gone bust, and the only British Hudson's Bay Co. fort in the future state of Oregon was abandoned. The untreated logs began to rot. It was used as a post office until 1852, but then it burned to the ground. A flood washed away many of its last traces.

The owner of the property where the original fort was located became tired of folks poking around the site looking for relics, so he bulldozed the area, Smith said.

No blueprints remain, so volunteers scoured historical texts, viewed sketches and toured similar forts in Tacoma and Vancouver, B.C.

The group's goal, Smith said, is to finish the project by summer 2009, when the state celebrates its 150th birthday.

Once complete, Fort Umpqua will have a servant's bunkhouse, a granary, a fort master's home, and orchards and gardens with trees and plants that would have been grown there in the mid-1800s.

Of course, building codes of 2007 mean there will be some differences from the fort of 1836. Logs must be weather and bug proofed. The local power company donated a truck to dig post holes, so logs could be sunk well into the ground, allowing them to sustain winds of 80 mph.

"(The fort) was before Douglas County, it was before the state of Oregon," Guentner said. "It's kind of a forgotten little Shangri-la, and its certainly worth rebuilding."

FORT UMPQUA DAYS

Free two-day festival in Elkton celebrates the area's history from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Saturday: Bass tournament at 6 a.m., parade, car show, music, crafts and food booths, and the pageant "Echoes of the Umpqua - Revisiting the Past"

Sunday: Tricycle races, quilt show, music, craft and food booths, butterfly release and "Echoes of the Umpqua - Revisiting the Past" pageant

Where: Elkton Community Education Center,

15850 Highway 38

FORT SUPPORT

Organizers rely on volunteer labor and donations to get their project off the ground

Donate: Tax-deductible donations earn a certificate and a small plaque at the completed fort. Donations are $25 for a log and $15 for a timber. They can be mailed to Fort Umpqua Volunteers, 23155 Highway 38, Elkton, OR 97436.

Volunteer: Volunteers are needed for every aspect of building. Call Joanne Smith, (541) 584-2160, or e-mail manygreatquilts@aol.com.
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Title Annotation:Festivals; Four men labor to bring history to life and life to their city
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 31, 2007
Words:871
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