Two hundred years after Lewis and Clark slept here, Astoria still welcomes visitors.
Astoria, overlooking the meeting of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean on the Oregon coast, has been busy getting ready for the Lewis and Clark bicentennial. Hordes of history buffs are expected to descend on Astoria, mainly to visit the Fort Clatsop National Memorial on the site where Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and the other 33 members of the Corps of Discovery spent the rainy winter of 1805–06.
This small fishing town, which was known as the "Salmon Cannery Capital of the World" from the 1890s through the 1930s, has always been worth visiting for its rich past. But now, with new and newly restored res-taurants, shops, galleries, and hotels, Astoria has its welcome sign in plain view.
You'll get a good introduction to the town on a four-mile ride aboard the 1913 Riverfront Trolley. For the $1 fare, the conductor provides informational tidbits while pointing out highlights. Pedestrians can stroll the Astoria River-walk, which features a viewing platform on the banks of the Columbia as well as a speaker that broadcasts radio communications from passing ships.
At the Columbia River Maritime Museum on the riverbank, you can tour the lightship Columbia, which once served as a floating lighthouse. Inside the museum are exhibits ranging from ancient dugout canoes built by the Clatsop Indians to a 44-foot U.S. Coast Guard rescue boat used at the "Graveyard of the Pacific," as the treacherous mouth of the Columbia River is sometimes known.
Astoria's downtown lies on the flats stretching south from the riverfront, and behind the city center rise its steep hills. Coxcomb Hill, 600 feet high, is home to the 125-foot Astoria Column, built in 1926. A sgraffito pictorial frieze spiraling up the column depicts the history of Northwest exploration, including the arrival of the Pacific Fur Company (owned by John Jacob Astor) in 1811. Climb the 164 steps to the tower's viewing platform, and from there you'll see the water route Lewis and Clark took to find the site of what would become Fort Clatsop.
Fort Clatsop National Memorial, across Young's Bay to the southwest, can be reached from downtown Astoria and other coastal towns by shuttle bus. The cost of the bus ride is included in the fort's $5 timed entry ticket, which you must purchase in advance. Behind the visitor center sits a log replica of the fort, where buckskin-clad park rangers demonstrate some of the skills used by the explorers, such as candle making and flintlock rifle shooting.
Anyone seeking more history will find plenty of noteworthy sites. Several Lewis and Clark landmarks dot the coast, and a number of small local mu-seums trace the region's chronology from the heyday of Native American tribes to the decades when salmon canneries lined the riverfront.
The Uppertown Firefighters Museum on the east end of Astoria displays fire trucks dating back to 1878 in an old fire-house complete with pole. The Heritage Museum, located in a 1904 neoclassic building that was formerly city hall, showcases the town's past. There you'll find the original stained glass windows from a saloon called the Louvre, which operated in the late 1800s and at various times housed a roller-skating rink, a billiard parlor, and a concert hall.
Today, many beautiful Victorians grace Astoria's hills. The Flavel House, now a museum, is an 1886 Queen Anne that once belonged to Captain George Flavel, an enterprising river pilot. His home is topped with a cupola from which Flavel could keep an eye on the river traffic.
After a visit to Astoria, it's easy to imagine two-masted sailing ships coming upriver or even a dugout canoe approaching shore and Lewis and Clark stepping out onto dry land.
Photography by Robbie McClaran
This article was first published in September 2004. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
Area code is 503 unless noted. Pick up AAA's Oregon & Washington map and TourBook. Contact the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce, 111 W. Marine Dr., (800) 875-6807, www.oldoregon.com .
TO DO AND SEE
Astoria Column Atop Coxcomb Hill, 325-2963. Columbia River Maritime Museum 1792 Marine Dr., 325-2323. Flavel House, Uppertown Firefighters Museum, and Heritage Museum 325-2203. Fort Clatsop National Memorial 92343 Fort Clatsop Rd., 861-2471 ext. 214, www.nps.gov/focl . Purchase timed tickets in advance. (800) 967-2283, reservations.nps.gov .
Baked Alaska Northwest cuisine. 1 12th St., 325-7414, www.bakedak.com . Fulio's Pastaria Homemade Italian fare. 1149 Commercial St., 325-9001.
Clementine's Bed & Breakfast $75–$160. A Victorian. 847 Exchange St., 325-2005, (800) 521-6801, www.clementines-bb.com . Hotel Elliott $105–$650. A 1924 craftsman building. 357 12th St., 325-2222, (877) 378-1924, www.hotelelliott.com .