Monday, January 23, 2012

Astoria and the Columbia River

On Saturday we drove up the beach to Astoria, a very historic and interesting little town. My friend Beth spent some of her growing up years there and graduated from Astoria High School. Astoria is the oldest permanent settlement west of the Rocky Mountains and is named for John Jacob Astor, the famous trader and first multimillionaire in the US. His interest in the area was fur trading. It was also the point at which the Lewis and Clark expedition finally encountered the Pacific Ocean. This is where the mighty Columbia river empties into the Pacific Ocean. Very historic, very significant. It is also possibly the rainiest, dreariest place I have ever been.

On a typically rainy, dreary day, we set out for the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, followed by an amazing lunch at Drina Daisy, the local Bosnian restaurant. The museum is terrific and features wonderful old photographs that tell the story of Astoria and the Columbia Bar—the treacherous crossing from the ocean to the river.

At one time Astoria was where nearly all the salmon sold in the United States was processed. Salmon canneries lined the river along the docks. Huge salmon, like the one in the photo above were regularly caught. With the damming of the Columbia, preventing the salmon from returning to their spawning grounds, the abundance of the fish and especially those of such incredible size has greatly diminished and the canneries are all gone now.

Colorful labels from canned salmon above. Professional salmon fishermen below.

Access from the Pacific Ocean to the port of Portland, upriver, was across the Columbia Bar at Astoria. It is a narrow passage with ever-shifting underwater shallows and sand. Ships are required to bring on board a "bar pilot" trained especially to direct the big ships through this treacherous area. It is a highly skilled and very dangerous occupation. This display shows the number of shipwrecks in the area from the early 1800's. Each red dot represents a wreck.

The Columbia River has huge ocean-going ships making the passage up the river, as well as excursion ships from early days to the present.

We loved the museum. It gives you such a sense of  the rich history of the area.

The river was gray and churning that day. The long, long bridge that spans the river, connecting Oregon and Washington state was visible through the mist and the sky briefly opened to expose a bit of blue late in the afternoon.

Turning our backs to the river, you see the trees and old houses perched along the bluff and at the top, the Astor column.


  1. It's been years since I've been to Astoria but a most interesting town. To clarify though, Astor had a rival company to the Hudson's Bay Company - he didn't own it. Astor started the American Fur Company. HBC was a British/Canadian company until recent times. Please see for complete details. Mary Ann

  2. Such a beautiful place. I love your picture of the bridge.

  3. Thanks for the wonderful history lesson---I truly enjoyed reading all about the area and learning.

  4. I have been following your blog for quite awhile now and so enjoy your writing. You really know how to evoke the feel of a place. Thanks for letting us in on your life. I'm looking forward to seeing the 12x12 quilts in Cincinnati later this spring. I'm from Wisconsin and am meeting up with my sister from W Virginia for a weekend of sisterhood and quilts. Can't wait to see the quilts 'in person'.

  5. Anonymous11:10 AM

    I was in Astoria last June and loved that museum too. We caught good weather and thoroughly enjoyed riding that little railroad just outside the musem, with the conductor giving us all the local history. The Columbia is an amazing and powerful river, and we were amazed at the history of all the shipwrecks at the mouth, or "bar".

  6. Like Diane, I've been enjoying your blog for a long time, both your art and the stories of your daily life. I lived in Spokane for many years as a child and remember learning all about the Columbia. Your pictures brought it all back. Thanks!

  7. Ah-h-h-h, wonderful memories of trips during my childhood. And look at those FABULOUS hats assembled on the bow of the excursion boat - both women and men wore hats in those days, before the restrictions of automobiles. The"good old days"!
    Love from the behatted Del!