LEWIS & CLARK
New charms of old Astoria
At the mouth of the Columbia River, it's back to the future
(article from Sunset Online Magazine, June 2002 edition)
By Bonnie Henderson
Take a boat a few miles up the Columbia from Astoria, and the view isn't too different from that spied by Captain Robert Gray when he sailed the Columbia Rediviva over the bar in 1792 and became the first European to set eyes on this river shore. Nor is it dissimilar to what Lewis and Clark and Corps of Discovery saw, floating downstream at the end of their cross-continental trek 13 years later. It's something every visitor to Astoria should see at least once.
There's plenty to see in Astoria off the boat as well: century-old gun batteries at Fort Stevens, a world-class maritime museum, and flintlock rifles and dugout canoes at a replica of Lewis and Clark's winter quarters. "Astoria has never lost sight of what it is," says Jerry Ostermiller, executive director of the maritime museum.
Ornate Victorian homes line the broad streets; most are still family homes, though several now house B&Bs. Giant container and grain ships still pass so close to the waterfront, you feel you could almost reach out and touch them.
By foot, boat, or trolley
Just getting around is part of the fun. Columbia River EcoTours, which debuted its jet boat trips last year, is the best way to get onto the river and among its wildlife-rich islands and sandbars. For more hands-on adventure, make arrangements with Pacific Wave for a guided sea kayak day trip.
Whether you stroll or ride, the museum is a mandatory stop, especially since its $6 million expansion this spring. Your first hint that this is no ordinary museum is the Coast Guard motor lifeboat that's perched on the museum's outside wall, seeming to climb a wave. Already one of the most respected museums of its kind in the country, it has added more interactive exhibits and expanded displays about the local fishing and canning industries. The museum reopened on May 11—not coincidentally the 210th anniversary of Captain Gray's "discovery" of the great river of the West.
A few miles southeast is a replica of a much older fort: Lewis and Clark's 1805–06 winter quarters. Archaeologists are still working to pinpoint the site of the original fort, but every indication is that it was at or near what's now Fort Clatsop National Memorial.
The fort is one of several local historical sites gearing up for the Lewis and Clark bicentennial, which is bound to bring more travelers to Astoria in the next few years.