Cute neighborhoods, a delicious culinary scene and a grand view of the Columbia River—it’s no surprise the little coastal town of Astoria made it onto Yahoo Lifestyle’s list of “50 Charming American Towns You’ve Never Heard Of.”
Astoria is the oldest city west of the Rocky Mountains. It was the finish line of Lewis and Clark’s transcontinental journey and the first commercial city established on the entire West Coast, from the North Pole to the South Pole. It has gone through many transformations over the past two centuries and each fascinating turn can be explored in the many museums located throughout the city. Here are just a few of my favorites.
The West Coast’s First City
Six years after Lewis and Clark presented their maps to the public, famed New York businessman John Jacob Astor saw the potential in this undeveloped land at the mouth of the Columbia River. From the comfort of his East Coast office, he instructed his men to build a trading post in anticipation of the busy port city to come. Naming it after their employer, they raised the American flag over Fort Astor in 1811, only two months before British explorers arrived in the area to claim it for their king.
Setting up shop as an outpost of the Pacific Fur Company, Fort Astor was the first enterprise to establish a commercial business anywhere on the Pacific Coast, trading with coastal tribes and ships that visited the area. Its reign was short-lived, however, with the British claiming the fort only three years later during the War of 1812.
During the short-lived war the fort was taken over by British occupiers (from 1813-1817) who renamed it in honor of their king George III. Today, the popular Fort George Brewery rests on that same lot. Enjoy a burger and their own house beer before venturing behind the building to see a partial replica of Astor’s fort and the site of the very first post office established west of the Rockies just across the street.
A History of Maritime Trade
Head to the Columbia River Maritime Museum for a lesson on Astoria’s long history as a center of maritime trade. It contains artifacts from the US Coast Guard, lighthouses, and ships of all sizes and uses.
Of special interest is the Lightship Columbia moored just outside the museum. It was commissioned in 1951 to guide ships across the dangerous Columbia River Bar. In 1979, it was replaced by an automated light system.
Completed in 1886, the Flavel House Museum is a grand example of Victorian Architecture and a monument to Captain George Flavel, one of the early entrepreneurs to settle in Astoria. His fortune was made with businesses built around the trade that flowed up the river to Portland and Flavel quickly became one of Oregon’s first millionaires.
Industrial Canning Companies
Further down the waterfront you’ll find the remnants of one of the first enterprises to cement its footprint in Astoria’s commercial history.
Located on Pier 39, the Hanthorn Cannery is a former supplier of tuna and salmon to the Bumble Bee Seafood Corporation. Inside,you’ll see the tools and read the headlines that tell the story of the rise and decline of the fishing and canning industry that employed thousands of Astorians from 1875-1981.
Hollywood Comes Calling
Astoria’s latest reincarnation is as movie location. From the 1909 silent film The Fisherman’s Bride, to much-loved adventure classic The Goonies, the Oregon Film Museum explores the history of filmmaking in our state. Explore the original jail cell seen in The Goonies or be the star of your own action flick in front of a green screen.
Clatsop County Historical Society
Get a comprehensive look into the entire history of the area at the Clatsop County Historical Society. The exhibits include information on Lewis and Clark, the early settlers, and a partial replica of a longhouse of the type used by Pacific Coast native tribes.
There are many more places to explore in this historic city. The waterfront shops and restaurants provided the perfect place to relax as you watch the traffic sail by on the Columbia River. Downtown antique stores are bursting with fascinating relics from the logging and sea trades and several other museums will help you dive deeper into the history of Astoria, the first West Coast city.