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Astoria History Timeline: 200 of Years At the Top of Oregon Coast

Published 08/24/21 at 5:38 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Astoria History Timeline: 200 of Years At the Top of Oregon Coast

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(Astoria, Oregon) – One place on the Oregon coast is singular in its truly dichotomous existence, a kind of aesthetic plurality where it manages to straddle the quirky and downhome while still going upscale. Astoria is a unique place with likely the richest history on the coastline as well, and it surrounds you at every turn.

Yet you often don't know what you're really looking at around here, so in that spirit comes this timeline of Astoria's history.

Winter of 1805-06. Lewis & Clark and the Corps of Discovery settle in the area for the winter, laying out Fort Clatsop in a spot that is very likely where the replica and national park are now.

1811. A small group of Americans sent by John Jacob Astor established Astoria and claimed the land for the U.S. as well as made their stamp on the area for fur trading. A mere two months later, a group of British came by to do the same thing but were thwarted by the Americans' presence. They named it after their employer – who never set foot in the place. However, some of his descendants did.

This was the first permanent settlement west of the Rockies.

1812. As the War of 1812 broke out, the Astorians sold everything to a British fur trading company. Then in 1813, the Brits invaded the north Oregon coast and Washington area and took over Astoria, renaming it Fort George. You can see that very spot next to Fort George Brewery in Astoria now.

1818. Fort George was finally turned back over the U.S. after a treaty was signed.

1846. In this year, the Canadian – U.S. border was established, giving the U.S. the northwest territories that would soon become Idaho, Washington, Oregon and more. It wasn't until about now that the area was resettled. At this point, just a few remnants of Fort George remained, but at least they had definitive proof of where it was.

Throughout the next decade, the town began to explode in population and activity with fishing and logging.


Astoria in the 1840s

1847. First post office was established in the north Oregon coast town.

1866. The first fish cannery sprouted along the lower Columbia, with Astoria getting its first in 1874. Within a decade, dozens populated the region, employing many Finnish and Chinese. The latter were shut out of the work force with the Chinese Exclusion Act later on.

1876. Astoria was officially incorporated. By the 1870s, locals began fearing the fish population might be coming to a breaking point in this part of Oregon coast. It did by the end of the century.


St. Mary's Hospital in the 1890s (courtesy Oregon State Archives)

1883. The first of two devastating fires in Astoria history hits, likely started by two kids smoking in a sawdust pile.

1911. Astoria celebrated its centennial, and then in 1914 the city bought the area now known as Coxcomb Hill. This was the beginning in earnest of the Astoria Column.

1922. Planning progress was made on the Astoria Column, but a massive fire destroyed just about all of downtown Astoria. It was especially destructive because so much of the town was actually built on wooden piers. Sidewalks were wooden beneath as well, all of which caused a conflagration considered one of the worst in Oregon history.

1925 – 26. The basic concept of the Astoria Column was dreamed up, and then finalized just before building began in spring of ‘26. It opened to the public on July 1 (see history of Astoria Column).

1930s. Albacore tune appears off the Oregon coast and a new canning industry is born, taking over salmon.


Most pilings you see in Astoria are where canneries once thrived

World War II Years. The Column was shut down and used by the military, and the port becomes a naval hub to some degree. Fort Stevens is fired upon by a Japanese sub early in the war, but never shoots back. Where a Japanese Sub Fired on Oregon: Battery Russell and Fort Stevens


Astoria in the '40s (Oregon State Archives)

1961. Canneries in Astoria unite under one name: Bumble Bee Tuna.

1966. The Astoria-Megler Bridge opens, uniting the Washington coast with the Oregon coast via cars. The region soars in tourism interest.

1980. The last of the tuna canneries close and Astoria's economic focus becomes logging and tourism. In the early ‘80s, a string of highly successful movies get filmed here (see Filming Goonies in Astoria), later including Kindergarten Cop, Short Circuit, and later on Free Willy and The Ring, among others.

Some of the stately Victorian homes here – still fixer-uppers – go for as little as 10 grand during this decade.

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