Every week, Oregon Experience shares a photo highlighting the state’s diverse, exciting history. All photos are courtesy of The Oregon Historical Society.
In the early 19th century, the fur-rich coastline between Alaska and the San Francisco Bay drew entrepreneurs from many countries. A wealthy New Yorker, John Jacob Astor, financed the first American fur-trade outpost, Astoria, in 1811.
“Fort Astoria” was short-lived. And the fur trade itself declined in the years that followed, due both to over-trapping and to changes in fashion. But Astoria proved to be powerfully significant in other ways.
It had been the first settlement west of the Rocky Mountains established by any European or American country. And that “foot in the door” played a big part in the United States’ ultimately gaining possession of what became the Oregon Territory.
As Americans came across the country and settled in the West, they began to exploit other natural resources. In Astoria, Oregon, fishermen employed several methods to bring countless tons of salmon out of the lower Columbia River, and canneries sprang up to process the catch. Loggers felled large trees in the temperate rainforest and nearby sawmills turned the logs into lumber.
Export markets developed for both the fish and the forest products, and the Port of Astoria became a very busy place. But as the timber companies moved on to harvest other forests and the numbers of fish in the Columbia plummeted, local production declined.
Because of Astoria’s relative isolation, getting goods to and from the port there can be costly. And in time, the Port of Astoria began to lose shipping business to other ports upriver, which were closer to the sources of timber, wheat and other Oregon cargo — and more economical for the shippers.
Today large numbers of logs still ship from the Astoria piers. But most other cargo ships pass by as they sail upriver to Longview, Vancouver and Portland. The Astoria fishing fleet remains one of the most productive in the state. It catches a vast diversity of fish and shellfish, though most are shipped fresh or frozen, not canned anymore.
Today Astoria is becoming a popular stop for the major cruise lines. Big cruise ships, en route up or down the coast, often stop over in Astoria, allowing sometimes thousands of passengers to disembark and spend the day shopping, sightseeing and eating in this visitor-friendly little city.
To learn more about the town’s significant history, watch the Oregon Experience documentary “Astoria.”