Astoria is the oldest American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains. The city's history is deeply connected to the discovery of new Pacific territories in 1804.
Lewis and Clark Expedition
Captain Meriwether Lewis and second lieutenant William Clark led their Corps of Discovery, consisting of 40 soldiers and crew members, to find a route to the Pacific Ocean.
Lewis and Clark arrived at the mouth of the Columbia River on November 7, 1805. They established Fort Clatsop to spend the winter of 1805-1806 there while gathering information on resources, land, and native inhabitants. They were also actively preparing for the return journey, hunting, making salt, gathering and preserving food, as well as trading with the Clatsop, Chinook, and Tillamook indigenous tribes.
The tremendous success of the Lewis and Clark expedition opened a new page in the discovery, mapping, natural resource exploration, and settling of the new Pacific territories.
John Jacob Astor and the Pacific Fur Company
In 1810, another expedition on the ship named 'Tonquin' was sent by John Jacob Astor, the owner of the Pacific Fur Company, to establish a fur-trading post. In 1811, Fort Astoria, which later became the town of Astoria, was formed at the mouth of the Columbia River. This town was the first primary and permanent settlement in the Pacific Northwest.
Conflict for Astoria with Great Britain
In 1811, the British explorer of the Pacific Coast, David Thompson, became the first pioneer who navigated the Columbia River to Fort Astoria. David Thompson arrived at the fort two months after the Pacific Fur Company's ship did.
This timeline led to establishing Astoria as a U.S. settlement instead of a British territory. With this outpost, it became easy for the Americans to solve the land's boundary dispute with Great Britain.
In 1813, during the War of 1812, the Pacific Fur Company sold its assets to its competitor, the Canadian North West Company. After this event, the British warship captured the fort and sold it to Britain in the same year.
In 1818, the United States received Astoria back. However, it remained under British control until the American pioneers who followed the Oregon Trail came and settled in the Astoria area in the mid-1840s.
In 1846, the Oregon Treaty facilitated the ending of the boundary dispute. Britain got control over Vancouver Island north of the 49th parallel, while the United States obtained the lands south of the 49th parallel.
The town, which started as a small settlement, grew rapidly. Astoria, as a port city, attracted a lot of immigrants from the East Coast of America, Finland, Norway, and China. In 1847, the first U.S. post office in the American Northwest was established in the city.
Human traffic flourished in Astoria, just like it did in Portland. From the 1850s to the 1950s, the most common practice was shanghaiing - forcefully making men work at sea.
There was a consistent shortage of strong young men to work on merchant and military ships. To solve that issue, ship owners paid gangs, bar owners, and brothels to supply the needed labor.
Drunk or drugged men were taken to the ships sailing into the ocean and forced to work since there was no escape.
Astoria could have become a multi-million industrial and tourist city, repeating the economic success of San Francisco and Seattle. However, two fires in 1883 and 1922 destroyed the city's business center almost to the ground.
The city's commercial center was built on wooden stilts and piers along the Columbia River. Most buildings were also made of lumber placed on wooden pillars adjacent to the docks. Both fires destroyed the entire city center, while the fire of 1922 was especially devastating. It lasted 11 hours and turned 32 blocks, 40 acres of buildings, and the whole commercial center to ashes.
After the last fire, the new downtown and business center of Astoria was reconstructed with better fire safety. Nowadays, the city center is a National Historic District representing 1920s America contrasting with the 1880s-era Victorian houses on the hills.
You May Also Like