I visited Astoria a while ago and didn’t get around to writing about it. Since Peggy and I are now off playing on the Oregon coast, I decided today would be a good day for featuring this city that sits on the edge of the Colombia River.
The area off of Astoria, Oregon, where the Columbia River flows into the Pacific Ocean, is called the Graveyard of the Pacific. A combination of high seas with 40-foot waves, shallow, shifting sand bars, and the mighty Columbia River have sent some 2000 boats to their watery demise since 1792. It is considered one of the most dangerous navigation passages in the world.
It’s no wonder that you are greeted by a sign that proclaims Astoria is an Official Coast Guard City when you enter the community. The town is grateful that the organization is there when someone needs to be pulled out of the turbulent water. A dramatic, full-sized diorama of a Coast Guard rescue effort is featured at the Maritime Museum.
Astoria’s connection with the fledging United States dates all the way back to the Lewis and Clark expedition. The explorers sent out by Thomas Jefferson spent the 1805-6 winter in the area and built Fort Clatsop for shelter and protection. John Jacob Astor, who gave the city its name, followed up by building a fur trading post there in 1811 that became the first permanent settlement the US had on the west coast. Both the Lewis and Clark expedition and Astor’s post helped in the debate with England over who owned the land.
Logging and fishing followed fur trading as the mainstay of the area’s economy. By the mid-1800s, fisherman from around the world called Astoria home. Only 13 percent were born in the US. The majority came from the North Atlantic countries where over-fishing had caused the fishing industry to collapse, a fate that would eventually befall Astoria. A major canning industry that grew up to process the fish also faded when the fish ran out. The canning industry employees were mainly Chinese immigrants. An educational display in the Maritime Museum notes that the most efficient of the Chinese workers could clean a 45-pound salmon in 45 seconds and up to 1700 fish in a standard 11-hour work day.
With the boomtown days of fur hunting, logging, and fishing behind it, Astoria has turned to tourists to help support its economy. Nearby Portland (100 miles away) helps assure a continuing supply, as does the almost constant flow of tourist traffic up the Oregon coast in the summer. The museum, historic sites, fun shops, and several restaurants help meet the needs of visitors.
Wednesday’s Blog: You are going to meet the world-famous Traveling Bone.
On Friday we will return to Burning Man.