Western Trips

Western Trips

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Astoria Oregon

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columbia river ships
Ship on the Columbia River off Astoria

 Things to Do in Astoria Oregon

Astoria Oregon, located in the northwestern corner of Oregon at the mouth of the Columbia River, offers the western tourist plenty of things to do and many sites to explore. Make a note of great attractions such as the Columbia River Maritime Museum, Fort Stevens and Fort Clatsop. The Columbia River Maritime Museum is one of the finest museums in the United States and is filled with many authentic boat exhibits, some interactive, artifacts, photos and everything that details maritime history of the Pacific Northwest and the Columbia River.

How Astoria Came into Being

Astoria Oregon first came into being by the efforts of John Jacob Astor to establish a base for his new Pacific Fur Company. This was a pretty aggressive move since Astor would be challenging the Hudson's Bay Company along with the North West Company. Astor actually sent out two different expeditions to locate a satisfactory trading post. One was sent overland beginning from Montreal. The other expedition set out by sea, rounding Cape Horn and sailing all the way up the South American and North American coastlines to the mouth of the Columbia River. This all occurred in 1811-1812, just five years after the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition which also ended at the mouth of the Columbia. The overland party reached the mouth of the Columbia River in February of 1812 and the seafarers about a month later.

columbia river maritime museum
Columbia River Maritime Museum
The members of the expedition met with some local Indian hostility and suffered some fatalities but the site chosen was eventually cleared of timber and a fort/trading post was erected. The most significant loss of life occurred when the ship that arrived from the Cape Horn route, Tonquin, sailed north along the coast to trade with Indians. This trading expedition met with disaster when the party was massacred by Indians they were trading with.

Relations With Local Indians

In the book, It Happened in Oregon, author James A. Crutchfield describes how the party back at Astoria managed to keep the Indians around their fort under control after hearing about the Tonquin tragedy. One of the expedition leaders, Duncan McDougal, who also feared that his group might be attacked by the Indians around Astoria, devised a plan. McDougal gathered together the leaders of local tribes. At this gathering he showed them a bottle he was carrying and said to them " The white men around you are few in number, it is true, but they are mighty in medicine. See here, in this bottle I hold the smallpox, safely corked up. I have but to draw the cork, and let loose the pestilence, to sweep man, woman and child from the face of the earth". This startled the Indians. They greatly feared an epidemic and as a result swore peace with the settlers. Shortly afterward, the expedition resumed trading with the Indians.

columbia river logging industry
Logging industry along the Columbia River
Big Changes at Astoria

In regards to Astor's plans for his new fur company, by late 1813, the British owned North West Company took over Astoria including all of it's furs and furnishings after purchasing everything from Astor. This occurred after an Astor supply ship was late in arriving and because of the settlements vastly undermanned situation due to the Tonquin massacre. Interestingly enough, even though the fort was now owned by a British company, the British military took over the fort in 1814 and renamed it Fort George. The North West Company shortly thereafter continued it's fur operations from the fort. The British military aggressiveness in the region was an extension of the then War of 1812.

Eventually, in 1821, the North West Company merged with the Hudson's Bay Company. The Hudson's Bay Company wasn't satisfied with the location and constructed Fort Vancouver across the Columbia River from present day Portland Oregon. Fort Vancouver would go on to be the chief site of operations for the Hudson's Bay Company and eventually for the U.S. military..

astoria oregon
Astoria Oregon
The major change in the American Northwest occurred in 1846 when the United States and Great Britain divided up the entire region. What the U.S. would obtain from this division is now the states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and parts of Wyoming and Montana. Oregon's northern border with Washington was determined as being the Columbia River. Oregon would go on to become the official Oregon Territory in 1848 and eventually attained statehood status in 1859 as the nation's thirty-third state.

Today, Astoria Oregon is both a busy port as well as a very popular tourist destination. It's location at the mouth of the Columbia River on the Pacific coast makes it a very scenic area. Astoria Oregon lodging is plentiful and you'll find an excellent selection of restaurants.

clatsop county heritage museum
Clatsop County Heritage Museum
 In addition to the Columbia River Maritime Museum mentioned above, the area is also home to the Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks, Fort Stevens State Park to the west on the ocean, the Astoria Riverfront Trolley, Fort Clatsop National Memorial, the Flavel House Museum, the Clatsop County Heritage Museum which is housed in the old City Hall building constructed in 1904 and pictured at right and several other historical attractions. You'll find many fun things to do in Astoria.

Two additional Western Trips articles that you'll find interesting are Historic Oregon City and the story of Fort Kearney Nebraska, the key fort for immigrants along the old Overland Trail.

When you drive south from the Astoria area on US Hwy 101, tourists enjoy several of the beachfront towns such as Seaside and Cannon Beach Oregon, twenty-five miles south of Astoria. It's estimated that these two coastal towns receive about 750,000 tourists annually. The beaches are excellent and there's a large number of beach rentals and B & B's available as well as a great selection of restaurants.

(Photos from author's private collection)
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