top of page


By Mark Magee

Across the mouth of the Columbia River from Astoria, Oregon’s oldest city, lies the remains of Knappton, Washington. Once described as the “Ellis Island” of the West Coast, the US Quarantine Station represents a past that never really ended, a notice that there are threats that may be greater than any wartime assault, always waiting for the United States. Truly mindless, dispassionate, and lethal, nature's tiniest aggressors wait patiently for their next opportunity to colonize and expand their dominance of the planet.


The first deepwater stop on the Columbia River in Astoria Oregon. Astorians, fearful of being the first stop for the unseen intruders of disease, determined the best place to stop and inspect shipping was six miles across the river in the ever-diminishing town Knappton. Knappton first rose and fell as a concrete manufacturer (use then overuse of nearby limestone deposits) and then rose and fell as a lumber mill (easy access to timber then falling timber prices). Knappton residents at first opposed this new opportunity but were soon convinced by the overwhelming commercial might of Astoria. In 1899 the US government opened the Quarantine Station to both assess and evaluate human immigrants and fend off the unseen threats of flea-carried plague and louse-carried typhus. It also served as an exit inspection site for all internationally bound shipping.


Quarantine Station(2) MM .jpg

On arrival, an immigrant was first examined by a panel of physicians for infestation, illness, or anything vaguely described as “below physical standards.” Those deemed unworthy were detained on the mothballed gunship Concord before deporting.  Those deemed ill moved onshore to the hospital to return to health or die. All clothing was subject to a hot tumbling dryer for delousing and the ships were loaded with great cauldrons of burning sulfur to de-flea and de-rat. The station operated until 1938.


Today the still standing hospital is home to a small museum documenting the role in maritime history.  A few private homes bookend the site, whose homeowners show by signs and gently waving flags strong and unwavering support for President Trump, the current president presiding over the latest pandemic.


Today the threat of a pandemic is as real as the threat was in 1899. This station stood as guardian to one entry point for our tiniest of foreign invaders. When they say “…who could have predicted this” and “there was no way to prepare for this,” there needn’t have been a prediction. Pandemics are an ever-present and possible, something that we have seen and experienced before. In 1899, the preparation was observation and response in advance, not excuses afterward.

bottom of page