Ron Foss found an intriguing object on the Astoria waterfront somewhere between Sixth Street and the Astoria Bridge. A photo of it is shown. It looks like a handmade brick with lava on it. A friend of Ron’s says the “lava” is melted asphalt. And maybe it is.
After some puzzling, it seemed the most likely answer is that it is rubble from a structure that was destroyed in one Astoria’s notorious fires. But which one? A consultation with Liisa Penner, archivist at the Clatsop County Historical Society, was in order.
Liisa thinks the brick probably wasn’t from the 1883 fire, since it raged mostly from 13th to 17th streets along the waterfront. And, it wasn’t likely the 1922 fire, either, since that one stopped at Eighth Street. But it could well have been from Astoria’s 1877 fire, which burned several blocks around Fifth and Astor streets, up to about Eighth Street.
It’s a safe bet most people don’t even realize there was a fire that year, but most people aren’t historians. Liisa found an article in a June 1877 Weekly Astorian that revealed the “first fire of consequence in Astoria” started under Mr. Borglund’s ’49 Saloon on Astor Street.
He thought he could put it out with one bucketful of water, but no bucket was handy. He dashed off and grabbed an iron pot and filled it with water from a tub, but spilled the water on his way back to the fire. By then it was too late, anyway; the blaze was already spreading rapidly.
A citizen bucket brigade and the Astoria Fire Department’s old hand engine brought the fire under control, but it had already caused a considerable amount of damage — $20,000 to $30,000 then, about $480,000 to $720,000 now. “But for that fire engine that has been condemned and offered for sale,” the article said, “Astoria might now possibly be in ashes.”
And there you have it. Another little almost-forgotten Astoria history nugget, thanks to Liisa Penner.