WHAT IT IS: The Peter Iredale is a classic story of sea change. She was making her merry way to Portland, to pick up a shipment of wheat. She left Salina Cruz, Mexico on September 26th, 1906, and met her fate in the early hours of October 25th. After a month of smooth sailing, Captain H. Lawrence spotted the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse – lovingly called “Terrible Tilly“. Tilly was his signal to turn toward the mouth of the Columbia River- also known as the Graveyard of the Pacific.
His guide through the graveyard was MIA, leaving him to duke it out with the elements. Thick fog cut visibility, and strong western winds forced the ship ashore. Despite efforts to correct steering, the storm forced them onto Clatsop Beach, in Astoria, with enough power to break three masts. All 27 of the crew made it off the ship, including two stowaways. Captain Lawrence saluted his defeated vessel, “may God bless you and may your bones bleach in these sands.”
SALVAGE STANDOFF: In 1960, a man named Cliff Hendricks tried to claim ownership of the wreck, for salvage rights. He fought with the city for weeks. Armed guards protected the shipwreck. It ended in disappointment for Hendricks.
WHY IT’S WORTH SEEING: Thousands of ships have run aground on the shores of the Pacific. Only a few exist today as a reminder of seafarers’ sacrifices. The Peter Iredale shipwreck is an iconic memorial of Oregon’s history; one that won’t be there forever. As it deteriorates, so does the fading narrative of Astoria’s past. See it while you can; learn, and share with others the haunting beauty of this Oregon icon.
HOW TO VISIT: What’s left of the ship is the bow, several ribs, and parts of the masts. It remains a popular destination, as one of the few accessible shipwrecks on the Oregon Coast. The Peter Iredale is in Fort Stevens State Park, part of the Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks. The shipwreck is best photographed on a stormy day or cloudy sunset.
Updated from a 2019 article.