Fort Astoria, located near the mouth of the Columbia River, was founded by John Jacob Astor’s fur trading company in 1811. The first permanent U.S. settlement on the Pacific coast, today Astoria has more registered historic buildings than any other city in Oregon.
Though the fur company failed three years after it began operations at Fort Astoria, in 1926 the Astor family, along with Ralph Budd, president of the Great Northern Railway, and architect Electus Litchfield, built a monument to commemorate the early history of the region. Set atop Coxcomb Hill, the Astoria Column reaches 125 feet into the sky, providing breathtaking views of the Columbia, the town, and the surrounding landscape. Restored in 1995 by Frank Preusser, the column’s internal spiral staircase climbs 168 steps to the top. On the outside, 14 murals depict important events in Oregon’s history beginning with the discovery of the Columbia River.
Other notable historic landmarks in Astoria include the Flavel House, once the home of Captain George Flavel and his family. Built in the 1880s, the historic mansion is one of the best preserved examples of Victorian-era architecture. Astoria’s waterfront district was the site of over 30 fish canneries during the height of commercial fishing in Astoria; today all that remains are the pylons that supported the buildings. A trolley car ride features narrated tours of this historic area.
Another important structure still in use today is the Astoria-Megler Bridge. The 4.1-mile-long bridge spans one of the widest parts of the lower Columbia River and enables Highway 101 to cross from Washington to Oregon. Completed in 1966, the bridge replaced a ferry system that transported people from state to state. After its completion, the bridge was humorously called “The Bridge to Nowhere” or “Hatfield’s Folly”—many skeptics thought it would be of little or no use since no major town sits on the Washington side of the span. It was a toll bridge until 1993, when the debt associated with the bridge’s construction was paid off 2 years ahead of schedule and the toll was abolished.
While the fur trade and canning industry have gone to the wayside, many international ships pass by Astoria today. These vessels cross the treacherous Columbia River bar aided by a bar pilot and then continue upriver to the ports of Portland, Vancouver, Longview, or Kalama.