One of eastern Oregon’s most well-known figures in history is Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Tribe. In the summer of 2019, our crew teamed up to improve the rock wall at the Old Chief Joseph Gravesite Memorial so future generations can continue to learn from the past and honor those who played a role in it.
The memorial is a National Historic Landmark along Highway 351 at the north end of Wallowa Lake, about a mile south of the town of Joseph. The four-foot-high wall was built by the Indian division of the Civilian Conservation Corps between 1938 and 1941.
In 2017, we built a new multi-use path near the site, fulfilling a long-requested wish of the tourism-based communities nearby. Those same communities expressed concerns that the new path might negatively impact the 80-year-old structure; these concerns prompted our funding of the repair project.
Working with local tribal leaders, we brought in experts from the National Park Service to assess the condition and provide guidance on making repairs.
“The restoration was really birthed out of an intention to preserve the wall and to draw more attention to it,” said Oregon DOT Architectural Historian Larissa Rudnicki. About $100,000 was budgeted for the project, which included matching the original tri-colored mortar scheme. It also included retaining some original history: various metal objects used to reinforce the original concrete. Machinery scrap iron, bolts, barbed wire, tools and what appear to be leaf springs from a car or wagon are imbedded in the exposed sections of the concrete cap. These items tell part of the history of the wall. Since they show minimal signs of corrosion after eight decades, some of the artifacts will be left exposed for visitors to discover as they explore the site.