Little more than a hint of Fort Clatsop remained in 1855, half a century after it was constructed by the 33-member Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery. Even official government map makers had only a vague idea where it had been.
So there is an interesting historical symmetry in Monday's fiery destruction of the replica Fort Clatsop that was constructed half a century ago. It is a useful, if painful reminder of the impermanence of all human endeavors. There is understandable dismay about the wasteful destruction of a structure that was a powerful symbol of community cooperation and an icon of the Lewis and Clark story. The loss is especially hurtful for its timing, so soon before Bicentennial events.
But what was built twice before can be built again.
If this was arson, whom- ever was responsible surely must have poison for blood. Every day of living within a mind capable of such an act is certain to be its own punishment. Nevertheless, we hope the arsonist, if there was one, is brought to justice.
We have a rare and historic opportunity to build the third Fort Clatsop. We have been handed a chance to show the nation that we can rise phoenix-like from the ashes. It will take sweat, blisters, generosity and more than a little luck. But just imagine how good it will feel if can pull it off - a strong new fort to make Lewis and Clark proud.
It is important to remember that it took the Astoria Jaycees 18 months to build the replica that was burned Monday night. It is also important to remember that the thinking behind historic replicas has evolved over the half century since the first Fort Clatsop replica was built.
A combination of professionals and volunteers under the National Park aegis can roll up its sleeves and remake the fort, better than ever, with a contemporary understanding of the importance of being true as possible to the original 1805 version.
This can and should be a glorious event, a point of pride for future generations who will look back and see a toughness and ingenuity that honored our nation's most remarkable pair of explorers.