Last week, this column ran a story about what a writer from Seattle thinks of modern Astoria. “A San Franciscan’s Estimate of Our City,” ran in The Daily Morning Astorian in December 1885. At the time, the population was about 5,000, and Astoria was a thriving commercial center.
“The streets are planked, and the planks rest on piles — it is a city of innumerable piles,” he wrote, and was doubly impressed that because most of businesses were built out over the river, there was no need there for underground infrastructure. “The surging sea beneath provides a sewer system with which no human agency can compete … Drinking water, however, is but very feebly patronized. One can never consider an Astorian ashore. He is always three sheets in the wind half seas over, or half over the sea.”
The four sections of the town at the time were Upper Town (canneries), Middle Town (private residences), Lower Town (shipping) and Slum Town (saloons, houses of ill repute, opium dens). Overall, Astoria “contains the most polyglot collection of humanity on the American continent …” including laborers of many trades and nationalities, and “men and women of culture and refinement …”
“The place contains two good hotels and a sprightly daily paper,” and the waterfront, then, as now, was compelling, but he was most fascinated by Astoria’s fishermen. “The waters are dotted with boats flitting in and out while the shore is lined with a wilderness of outfits, comprising boats, nets, reels, drying racks and knitting lofts, among which boys are gamboling while men are knitting, mending, drying and arranging their nets.
“Abreast of the city, and looking seaward, the grandest fishing spectacle in the world may be seen. To see the fishing fleet at work is a sight to be remembered … ”