Astoria! This was the first city in Oregon, founded in 1811, and was the first American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains. Lewis and Clark famously spent a miserable winter here in 1805-1806.They had hoped to hitch a ride home on one of the ships that would brave the treacherous Columbia River bar to trade with the Native American tribes, but ended up hiking all the way home across America.
Despite the terrible winter, Astoria soon became a thriving commercial hub, first for fur trading, and then for lumber mills, fishing and canneries. Unfortunately, in America, nothing succeeds like excess, and soon the fur trade collapsed, the best timber was gone, and the salmon nearly wiped out. Mills closed, canneries shut down, and the railroad left town. At the same time, ship traffic on the mighty Columbia increased, and continues to play a significant role in town.
Today Astoria continues to reinvent itself, and is a fabulous destination to spend a few days and explore. Besides the short walks I will take you on today, you can also visit Fort Clatsop, a reconstruction of the fort where Lewis and Clark and company stayed, and Fort Stevens. Fort Stevens was built in 1863-64 to protect the entrance to the Columbia River from the British as a result of the “Pig War.” It was an active military base until 1947, and is well worth the visit.
One of our favorite places to walk in Astoria is the Astoria Riverwalk. All total, we have probably done about four miles of the total length of six miles. It runs along the route of the former Astoria Trolley, built in the 1880’s, which ran from Astoria to Seaside. There is an interesting mix of sights to see: the Columbia River Maritime Museum, with a retired floating lighthouse ship, and a retired Bar Pilot ship.
Walking along the shoreline you will see the bridge that now links Astoria with Washington State, ships at anchor waiting to go upriver and be loaded with wheat from the inland empires of Oregon, Washington and Idaho, and abandoned canneries slowly collapsing near the shores.
You will also see many thriving businesses, waterfront hotels, and various oddities. Hungry? I recommend the Astoria Brewing Company, with decent waterfront views. You can read my review here (look for William G.). The city of Astoria has resurrected the old trolley line, and a vintage trolley car runs during the summer months (Covid permitting).
From downtown, it is an easy walk (well, more or less, Astoria is quite hilly) to the uptown residential area. While downtown burned twice, many of the great turn-of-the-century homes on the hill escaped, and you can see them today. First and foremost is the Flavel House, built in 1884-85 for Captain George Flavel, a Columbia Bar Pilot. The Columbia River was known as “The Graveyard of the Pacific”; the river deposited tons of sand and silt collected on its way to the ocean onto ever-shifting sandbars that wrecked many vessels attempting to reach Portland. It became common practice (and is now required) for local captains familiar with the frequent changes of the main channel to safely guide ships across the bar to a safe harbor in Astoria. Captain Flavel made an excellent living at this, and with his real estate investments. You can tour this magnificent home when you visit.
As you have figured out, Terri and I love to walk small, historic cities like Astoria to see what we can find, and we were not disappointed here. There is a significant number of historic homes; click here for a short video I took showing a few homes that remind me of San Francisco’s famous “Painted Ladies” homes.
Not least, but last for this post is a bit of a cheat; we drove here. The Astor Column (since renamed the Astoria Column) was built by a grandson of John Jacob Astor, who basically started the fur trade in Oregon. A mural spirals up the 125 foot column depicting the history of Oregon. Pre-Covid you could walk up the 164 steps to the top for an incredible view of surrounding territory. Still, the view from the 30 acre park is pretty impressive. This is a can’t miss on your visit to Astoria!
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Still reading? Here is a short video of a super-crazy street we found in Astoria. Don’t drive here!