RIDGEFIELD — A pair of former highway markers honoring Confederate President Jefferson Davis were defaced overnight Thursday just outside of Ridgefield.
Jefferson Davis Park sits on private land and is maintained and operated by the Sons of Confederate Veterans Pacific NW Division. The quarter-acre site was dedicated in 2007, and it contains two markers for “Jefferson Davis Highway 99,” one from Vancouver and one from Blaine.
In 1913, the United Daughters of the Confederacy launched an effort to designate a route across the south as “The Jefferson Davis Highway,” and later wanted to extend the designation up the west coast to Canada with markers at both ends of Washington state.
On Friday, one marker was covered in black tar or paint and the other was covered in red. The responsibility for defacing the markers was claimed by Portland antifascist activists, as first reported by the Portland Mercury. In a message to the Mercury, the activists wrote that they attacked the markers “in solidarity with our comrades in Charlottesville, Va.”
Confederate monuments have come under heavy pressure this week after Heather Heyer was killed by a motorist who drove a car into a crowd protesting a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.
In Bellingham, the city removed signs identifying Pickett Bridge, which was named for Confederate Capt. George E. Pickett. City officials in Helena, Mont., removed a granite fountain that stood in a park as a monument to Confederate soldiers since 1916. Activists in Durham, N.C., pulled down a monument honoring Confederate soldiers on Monday.
Clark County officials and Ridgefield city officials received emails asking if they could take down the Third National Flag of the Confederacy and markers after the events in Charlottesville, according to public records obtained by The Columbian.
“Keeping this memorial does not serve any positive purpose and in fact causes harm,” Kim Whitworth wrote in an email to all county councilors. “Please immediately remove the Jefferson Davis memorial marker.”
Ridgefield City Manager Steve Stuart wrote in an email that “every once in a while, we get a few inquiries, usually when something else is going on.”
Through a records request with the city of Ridgefield, it appears that as of Wednesday, two people had reached out to city councilors in the last year to ask why it was there and if it can be removed.
When questioned about it, Stuart wrote in an email that he usually tells people the marker does not reflect who Ridgefield residents are.
“The city of Ridgefield does not support or condone the racist symbolism of the marker, and would love if it wasn’t anywhere near Ridgefield,” Stuart wrote, adding, “the marker isn’t in Ridgefield. It’s on rural private property not associated with Ridgefield.”
That last point is one Clark County council Chair Marc Boldt said is confusing for some people. Boldt said some have also reached out to him about the county listing the highway marker as a historic site on the county’s website. Boldt said removing that from the site would be up to the Historic Preservation Commission, and he asked them to discuss it at their September meeting.
One of the neighbors who lives near the park said he hasn’t seen a lot of people visit it in the year-plus he has lived in the neighborhood. He would like to see it removed.
“I would love it,” he said. “I don’t think it belongs there. Vancouver was smart enough to get rid of it.”
Vancouver takes action
The marker ended up in Ridgefield about a decade ago after Vancouver officials wanted it removed. The highway marker was dedicated near Covington House in Vancouver in 1939, and remained there until former City Manager Vernon Stoner, at the urging of then-Councilman Jim Moeller, had it removed and placed in storage in May 1998.
In 2002, Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, unaware it had been removed, urged that the Vancouver marker and the other Blaine be removed. After much discussion, the council voted to place it at the Clark County Historical Museum, and that ownership of the monument would revert to the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
The marker was moved in 2006 as part of a construction project, and the Daughters were asked to find a new home for it. It was moved to the private property in 2007, and a nonprofit, the Jefferson Davis Park, was formed to maintain the site.
“We’re nonpolitical,” said Jay Willis, a board member with the nonprofit. “We don’t like to be pulled into these political issues. We’re there to preserve monuments.”
He said this is the first issue at the site since right after it opened, when a sign was stolen and found floating in Salmon Creek. Davis said the group has talked about putting some cameras and lights at the site.
Willis said the markers are a tribute to the work of Davis, who was also a U.S. Congressman, senator and secretary of war, where he was a key figure in the westward expansion via railway surveys.
While Highway 99 didn’t have an official name for many years, state officials changed that in 2016 when they voted to rename it the William P. Stewart Memorial Highway. Stewart was a black Snohomish County settler who fought for the Union during the Civil War.