ASTORIA, Ore. — ounded a little over 200 years ago as America’s first settlement in the West, this port city finds itself buoyed these days by a tourist-fueled revival.
Yet history lingers here, palpable and powerful, just a two-hour drive from the state’s metropolitan center of Portland.
At the apex of Coxcomb Hill, the muralwrapped Astoria Column traces the area’s evolution, from Capt. Robert Gray’s 1792 discovery of the Columbia River (named for his ship, the Columbia Rediviva) to the Lewis and Clark Expedition to the railroad’s arrival in the late 1800s.
At the Columbia River Maritime Museum, vivid exhibits paint a cycle of risk and reward. The river’s violent collision with the ocean at the Columbia River Bar spins a constant tale of destruction and death — some 2,000 vessels and 700 lives later, it’s known as “the graveyard of the Pacific.”
A reminder of the long-gone Astoria trading post survives in a green-paint street outline. A monument stands there, but the city’s economy has moved along: a thriving bakery/cafe and a popular brewery on the site signal commerce’s turn toward tourism.
Brightly painted Victorian homes beckon from the hillsides. Downtown, a bit of
FAmericana lives on in the form of spice shops, a butcher shop, bookstores and Gimre’s Shoes, which opened in 1892 and is believed to be the oldest family-run shoe store in the West. Parks, beach and the waterfront are eminently explorable on foot or bike.
Back in the early 1800s, after Lewis and Clark wintered near here, a German immigrant named John Jacob Astor envisioned this confluence of the Columbia and the Pacific as the hub of an international trading empire. From his home in New York, Astor accrued a fortune in real estate and trading animal furs — soft gold. But his dream for the city that ultimately bore his name was never realized, in large part because of bad timing: War broke out in 1812 between England and