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Our Town: Astoria

OPB | Dec. 21, 2011 9:06 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 10:59 p.m.

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John Rosman/OPB

Astoria is the oldest settlement in Oregon. In fact, the Chamber of Commerce is among those who regularly boast that it’s the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies. Just a few years before fur trader John Jacob Astor set up the fur trading post that would become Astoria, explorers Lewis and Clark arrived on the west coast under orders from President Thomas Jefferson and established a base at nearby Fort Clatsop. Now Astoria is wrapping up its bicentennial celebration with a big, blowout New Year’s Eve bash.

And you don’t get to be 200 years old without collecting some pretty interesting characters. Willis Van Dusen is a Native Born Astorian (or “NBA,” as it says on his business card) and not the first in his historic family to have represented the city. He also played a part in the movie Free Willy — just one of a number of Hollywood movies that have been shot in Astoria. Of course, the movie that brings the most movie buffs to town has to be The Goonies. City manager Paul Benoit estimates about 10,000 people a year come to look up places in the city where the Speilberg cult classic was filmed. The Clatsop County Historical Society and the Daily Astorian newspaper teamed up to publish two books profiling some of the town’s most interesting historic and current personalities. 

Astoria’s traditional natural resources like fishing, canning and logging are no longer the main fuel in the economic engine. They’ve been supplemented by new businesses and industries. And although it’s a working waterfront, where logs and other cargo are regularly loaded and unloaded, it’s also become a regular port of call for cruise ships. Sometimes as many as 3,000 cruise ship passengers will flood the town, wearing little identifying pins, so that the volunteer “Astoria Cruise Hosts” can help them navigate the town and find what they’re looking for.

Over the last decade, the historic Liberty Theater has been restored, along with the Elliot hotel. The Cannery Pier Hotel and restaurants like Fort George Brewery and The Astoria Coffeehouse and galleries like Lunar Boy are a just a few fixtures in what has become a thriving downtown. Mac Burns who directs the county’s historical society says many people think that their favorite attraction is what really pulls people to Astoria (The Astoria Column, the Maritime Museum, the Flavel House or the waterfront to name a few). But, he says, the whole of the town equals much more than just a sum of its parts — as richly varied and historic as many of those parts are.

Do you live in Astoria? Have you visited there recently? What makes it unique? What are the challenges Astoria faces? What do people not know about this historic town? What do you hope Astoria looks like 200 years from now? What will make that happen?

We’ve put together a companion website for the Our Town series. Head over there to check out our interactive map of Astoria, which includes interviews and photographs of interesting people and places in Astoria. Come back to this page to share your thoughts and opinions.

Here are some photos from the live show at Astoria’s Historic Liberty Theatre

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