Walk with me … in Astoria!

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. 

Abandoned cannery and piers with ships at anchor

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).

The Flavel House, the best preserved example of Queen Anne architecture in Oregon
Historic Uptown Home

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!

Questions? Comments? You can reach me at adventuresinaging@gmail.com

Still reading? Here is a short video of a super-crazy street we found in Astoria. Don’t drive here!

Historic Home Obsession, Take Two

Welcome back! Here is Part Two of my Historic Homes Obsession blog. To quickly recap:

Almost every place we have traveled it seems we managed to locate a historic home, and toured it. We are always fascinated by these snapshots in time, trying to figure out how people lived their everyday lives there. Makes no difference to us if its a one-room log cabin, or a huge mansion, these historic homes call to us, and we must tour them. I tried to think back and remember as many as possible, and came up with eight (not counting the mind-boggling home somewhere in Tuscany).

This is Part Two of Two parts. In no particular order, here is a snapshot of the homes, a wee smidgen of history, and my takeaway.

Kit Carson House, Taos, New Mexico

Built in 1825, purchased by Kit Carson in 1843

Siting by the outdoor oven

There is SO much history in the desert southwest, from prehistoric occupancy by Native Americans to a continuously occupied pueblo since circa 1000, then founded as a trading outpost by the Spanish in 1795! Kit Cason came to the area on the Santa Fe Trail in 1826, and worked multiple jobs for years. He bought this home as a wedding gift for his third wife, and they raised seven kids here. The structure is original, and the interior is basically identical to when they occupied it; the back bedroom was used as his office when he was a Federal Agent for the Ute and Taos Pueblo tribes. He also helped raise several native children who were rescued from slavery.

Bills Takeaway: I love how this home shows traditional territorial style adobe living, with a courtyard ramada and horno (outdoor oven). You can almost see the family sitting in the shade of the ramada while his wife bakes in the oven, and the hordes of kids kicking up dust playing in the courtyard.

Taos Pueblo, Taos, New Mexico

Built circa 1000 – 1400 AD

Such an interesting place! Built up to 1,000 years ago, and continuously inhabited since then. These days very few native people live here daily, but the pueblo population swells during their tribal ceremonies. The homes are passed down from generation to generation; some are very well maintained, others need some work. Several of the homes have been re-purposed into native businesses, selling art, jewelry, and foods like fry bread, so you can go inside get a sense of what it’s like to live there. This is in a beautiful setting, with mountains in the background and a stream running through the village. If you visit, remember that this is akin to a sacred place to the inhabitants, so treat it and everyone you meet with great respect. There are specific guidelines to be aware of as you visit. Enter with a sense of awe and curiosity about how much and how little has changed here over the centuries.

Horno oven at Taos Pueblo

Bills takeaway: I became fascinated by Native American culture and history years ago, and especially with the pueblo people. For an amazing sense of who they are, read The Book of the Hopi by Frank Waters, and House of Rain by Craig Childs for an interesting thesis on why so many pueblo cities were abandoned for no apparent reason 700 years ago.

Flavel House, Astoria

Flavel house
photo by Holly Whiting

Built in 1885 by Captain George Flavel

Crossing the bar at the Columbia River with old sailing ships resulted in dozens of shipwrecks and loss of life. Even today it commands respect – and maybe a bit of fear – for those who enter. So Captain George Flavel became an expert at guiding ships through these treacherous waters, and was very successful. He became a bit of a real estate mogul, and was able to retire at age 62, and built this 11,600 square foot mansion as his retirement home. It has been meticulously restored to its former glory. One cool feature is the tower; the Captain would often go up to the top, where he had a 360 degree view of Astoria and the Columbia River so he could keep an eye on all the ship traffic.

Bills takeaway: Somehow I lost all my photos of this amazing structure, so we are going to have to go back! The website talks about the ornate fireplaces built with exotic woods; this might be the place where one fireplace was built with over 100 types of rare woods from around the world. The grounds take up an entire city block, and are beautiful in their own right. While in Astoria, don’t miss the Astor Column, (now called the Astoria Column); you too can climb all 164 steps to the top of this 125 foot tall column for your own 360 degree view of Astoria and surrounds. 

Lynden Johnson Ranch, Johnson City, Texas

The Western White House for LBJ

Original Structure Built in 1894 by William Meier, emigrated from Germany

I have to admit the prospect of going to the “Western White House,” as LBJ’s Texas ranch was known, did not thrill me. I have vivid memories of the national turmoil caused by his support for the VietNam war, and it had left a bitter taste in my mouth. But this visit was actually one of the most rewarding trips to a historic home I’ve done. Note no photos – they aren’t allowed! And the home is closed to tours right now due to structural issues. One area was closed when we were there, looks like very poor engineering was done to ensure the house wouldn’t collapse! Anyhow, one of the best parts was the history. Yes the VietNam war was horrific and pointless, but it really overshadowed the great things he did accomplish in his life, both in the Senate and as President. The grounds are a National Historic Park; they also include his birthplace and the first school he went to.

Old Homestead on LBJ Ranch
with great travel friends

Bills takeaway: “Mid-Century” home design seems to be all the rage right now. The inside of this home embodies it all! I especially enjoyed seeing his office, and the jets parked in his hanger near the house.

I hope maybe this inspires a few of you to take a look at a bit of American history that is preserved in old homes across this great land. If you have some favorites, please let me know in the comments section of this blog! And look for Part Three later this summer…