Locals volunteer time, labor and materials to repair historic Fort Borst Blockhouse on Thursday


With the ground finally dried out enough to support the weight of the structure on jacks, construction workers from Kifer Construction in Centralia, Lewis County Historical Society members Edna Fund and Peter Lahmann, retired carpenter Scott Tenant and others came together at Fort Borst Park as they worked together to repair the historic blockhouse on Thursday, June 20.

Repairs were needed on the blockhouse’s south face, as two fir logs on the structure had rotted to the point where it appeared they might fail, leading to the collapse of the whole structure. Kifer Construction Project Manager Sharla Allebaugh told The Chronicle custom jacks were built by Tenant to support the Blockhouse while the volunteers worked to remove the rotted wood and replace it with new fir wood.

“We took out the bottom one first, and we cut into the damaged log and it just shattered. When they went to take it out, it just fell apart,” Allebaugh said. “Now it’s a matter of getting (the new wood) to go back in and be secure.”

She expected repairs to be completed Thursday. Efforts to repair the Blockhouse started around two years ago, but needed to wait until both the weather was right and the Centralia City Council officially approved the volunteers’ donation of labor and materials.

“Now, two years later, we’re getting it done,” Tenant said.

Other volunteers who helped with the blockhouse repair efforts included former Centralia mayors Lee Coumbs and Bonnie Canaday. The blockhouse can be found in the north end of Fort Borst Park, located at 2020 Borst Ave. in Centralia.


History of the Fort Borst Blockhouse

The Fort Borst Blockhouse was constructed from 1855 to 1856 by the government at the junction of the Skookumchuck and Chehalis rivers. The blockhouse was built by Captain Francis Goff, commanding 26 Oregon recruits, with the help of local pioneers Patterson Luark, James Lum and Joseph Borst in the spring of 1856.

Logs were cut on the south side of the river, hauled to the stream by Borst with an ox team, floated across the river, and then peeled, scored and hewed. The fort’s near-perfect dove-tail corners and close-fitting sides are a monument to pioneer axmen skills since nothing other than axes was available to shape the logs.

It was never actually used for the protection of pioneers but was used extensively for the storage of grain brought down the Chehalis River by Native Americans and others in dugout canoes. The blockhouse is traditionally styled. It has the upper portion projecting 4 to 5 feet over the lower portion, which was 7 feet high and 24 feet square.

Originally, the structure had no windows and one door. It featured 12 loopholes for shooting in the upper portion, eight in the lower and several on the floor of the upper portion which overhung the lower. The loopholes were beveled on the inside to allow a marksman to swing his gun in nearly a 180-degree circuit, instead of being forced to shoot straight ahead.

The upper portion had puncheon, or split log, flooring, while the lower portion used the earth as floor. The blockhouse was built 100 yards from any object so Native Americans would have to cross a large open space to reach it. The building was convenient to the area quartermaster, believed to be James K. Hurd, to bring grain down from Claquato by Native American canoe prior to shipping it north to the White River and Puyallup River Native American campaigners.

Close examination of the exterior walls of the fort will reveal bullet holes — the result of target practice.

After the war, the blockhouse was purchased by Borst for $500 from the United States government. It was used twice as a residence: in 1857, James Smith rented the family farm, and Joseph and Mary Borst lived in the blockhouse.

It was at this time that the windows and the door on the upper level were added. Ada Borst, the second child of the couple was born in the fort. For a time the Borst children used the fort as a playhouse, but in the early 1860s, the entire family renewed their occupation of the blockhouse as a residence while their new home was being constructed nearby.