ASTORIA — Andrew Benoni Hammond was an entrepreneur extraordinaire. He built the Columbia River Railroad, was a founding member of the Columbia River Packers’ Association, and was the president of the Hammond Lumber Co.
Hammond’s local mill was not in the town of Hammond, but in Astoria’s easternmost neighborhood: Alderbrook. The mill was not new, either. In 1908, Hammond purchased the former Hume Lumber Mill as his latest conquest. Set between 53rd and 54th streets on Alder, the Hammond Lumber Mill stretched into the Columbia River, encompassing an area now occupied by an informal park. Its loading docks spread northward from the railroad tracks.
On Sept. 11, 1922, the Hammond Lumber Mill was destroyed by fire. It was said 600 men lost their jobs. Hammond never rebuilt the mill. However, some of the housing he constructed for his workers remains.
In 1917, the Astoria Evening Budget announced J. L. Burgess was awarded a contract to build 25 new bungalows, on Birch between 47th and 49th streets. The five-room dwellings, with “modern appointments,” were specifically constructed for those Hammond Lumber Co. employees with families. It is not known if the 900 sq. ft. houses were mail-order, but their form and plans are well within what was available at the time.
Hammond provided other housing, too, including a hotel and boarding house. Perhaps the most curious dwellings were a set of 18 small houses on Birch between 51st and 52nd streets. The cabins were less than 500 sq. ft. and may have housed several single men. Misnamed “Hindu Alley,” the group of cabins were largely occupied by Sikhs.
There is an interesting historical side note regarding these men. The newspaper reported in 1914 that Hammond — who also hired Italians, Greeks, Japanese and men from the Middle East — used exclusionary laws to fire all “Hindu” men. Although he did fire them, he must have had second thoughts; records from 1915 show Sikhs among the mill workers.
Constructed by Burgess, the house at 4806 Birch is one of a dozen such houses left and is also one of the most intact. It is not known who lived in the house during the time of the Hammond Mill, however Louis Henningsen, a fisherman, and his wife, Kirstine, lived there in 1934. By 1949, the house was occupied by Harold M. Olsvick, an assistant City engineer, and his wife, Marjorie. By 1960 Walter Aho, a fleet patrolman for the U.S. Maritime Commission, lived there with his wife, Sally.
Now owned by Margaret Nikkila, the house is a rental. Its floor plan is both efficient and airy. Although oral history says a family with four children once lived there, it is easy to see how a small, young family could live comfortably within its walls.
An original living room and front bedroom are now expanded to a single space. The kitchen, which may have had a small pantry, now occupies a quarter of the house. Its old-style cabinetry fills one wall and includes a large porcelain sink. Its breakfast nook has views to the Columbia River. The home’s bathroom, though small by today’s standards, retains its original claw foot tub.
Astoria’s working class houses are often not recognized for their value. First and foremost, they provide modest, well-built and well-designed homes for a broad range of people. Second, as in the case of Alderbrook’s housing stock, their roots go to the deepest level of the community…. inhabited by immigrants from around the world.
Now a century old, the Hammond Lumber Mill houses have earned a place in Astoria’s rich history.
For more information about renovating an old home or commercial building, visit the Lower Columbia Preservation Society website at lcpsociety.com.