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THE STOCKADE WALLS

The fort is in a constant state of deterioration.... The walls and buildings are constructed of weak timbers insufficient to withstand any attack except by the natives who have no heavy arms, only bows and arrows. The walls could not withstand a cannon ball of any caliber. Report by Mariano G. Vallejo, 1833.

Set upon a hill with a sharp descent to the sea, and upon a smooth, clayish terrain, the wooden stockade is shaped in a rather large square, which forms four right angles. In two corners, diagonally opposed to each other and connected to the stockade walls, two watch towers have been erected with guns that protect all sides of this so-called fort. Nevertheless, it appears quite strong, and perhaps even unconquerable, in the eyes of the Indians and the Spanish here. Baron Ferdinand von Wrangell's Report 1834.

A square fort, surrounded by a row of posts 172 sazhens long by 2 sazhens[1] high. There are turrets in two of the corners. Inventory for Mr. Sutter, 1841.

So the formidable facade did not fool the Spanish or Mexicans (who had few "heavy arms"[2] themselves!) And from the beginning, the heavy redwood posts, hewn, carried and set in 1812 by the Russian and North Pacific workers without "beasts of burden," must have rotted at an alarming rate. In 1830 a 75 foot section was blown over during a heavy wind. Baron von Wrangell was concerned in 1833. Photographs from the ranch era, from about 1865 on, show very little of the original stockade standing.

After the fort became a state park, the stockade walls were restored a portion at a time. In 1929, the east, south, and part of the west walls were rebuilt. Archaeological excavations were undertaken in 1953, and a year later the west and east walls were completed. In 1972, Highway One was rerouted to bypass the fort; in 1974 the stockade was completely enclosed, as it had been during the Russian occupation. Visitors from the 1940s to the 1970s who remember the eastern sally port gate, always open, will find it now often shut. The southern gate is the major opening, and gives access to the cliffs and coves below. Based on archival and archaeological evidence of its original location, the sally port gate in the west stockade wall was moved about ten feet to the north, and now opens to a trail leading to the Visitor Center. The walls have been rebuilt with foundations of structural steel and concrete—not as historically accurate, perhaps, but expected to be more permanent than redwood posts stuck into damp ground. In 1989 a portion of the east stockade wall was also rebuilt, after archaeological investigations found that the spacing of stockade posts should be corrected to comply with the Russian gauge. The north stockade wall was rebuilt in 1996-97.


[1] A sazhen (Russian) is seven feet or 2 1/3 yards. In the French version of the Inventory for Mr. Sutter the term is toise, in the Spanish, braza, each meaning fathom. The correct translation is the seven foot Russian fathom, called a sazhen.(Glenn J. Farris)
[1] A vara (Spanish) is almost a yard: 33 inches. The stockade is actually 92 varas or 100 yards.
[2] All unattributed quotations are from Russian-era visitors.