In its beginning, Uppertown was separated from lower Astoria by Scow Bay, site of today's Astoria Aquatics Center. Although a wood trestle was constructed across the bay in 1878, the communities maintained separate identities for many years.
Uppertown was a neighborhood largely averted by the upper class. Christian Leinenweber, Benjamin Young and Gustave Holmes were among the few exceptions. Its working class roots preceded those in Uniontown and its story is one less frequently told in historical accounts.
In 1844, Col. John McClure and John Shively platted much of Astoria's north slope: McClure extending west from downtown, Shively extending east. About that time, A. E. Wilson claimed the area just east of Shively's and commenced a sawmill and general store.
All three areas were laid in a grid that took their cues from the shoreline rather than the hillside's rough terrain. At today's 24th Street for instance, Shively's grid shifted 30 degrees. The juncture was separated by a 120 foot wide boulevard called Broadway. The south end of Broadway, where Lexington Avenue would be if it were extended, was reserved for public schools. The north end of Broadway, near today's Marine Drive, was earmarked for a fish market. Public squares were provided at each location.
One block to either side of Broadway were Salmon Street and Roman Street: a classically named road that conjures images far different than today's reality. Actually, many of Uppertown's street names - Pine, Wing, Tulip and Fir - suggested a picturesque, forested burg where living was easy.
When Col. John Adair arrived in 1849, Upper Astoria was not his first choice. Col. Adair was commissioned by President Polk to establish a customshouse in Astoria. Shively platted an open square for the customshouse on the site where Fort George once stood. But, he wanted to make a tidy profit and wasn't about to donate property to the Federal government. Instead, a disgruntled Col. Adair settled on A.E. Wilson's claim which spread east from 32nd Street.
Col. Adair constructed a fine house near what is now a triangular traffic island shaped by Franklin Avenue, Marine Drive and 33rd Street. A sign welcomes visitors to Astoria on the site of his former house. The customs house was constructed on a knoll, near the foot of 34th Street, now the parking lot of the Bethany Lutheran Church Uppertown never developed into the boulevards of Adair's or Shively's dreams. By 1868, a handful of houses were constructed between 33rd and 35th streets, immediately above John Adair's house. An 1888, Sanborn Fire Insurance Map illustrates a thriving district adapting to steep and uneven slopes.
By 1892, the Sanborn Map notes 36th Street was "impassible for (horse) teams," while 33rd Street was "impassable except for planked road." Another section, below Harrison Avenue on 33rd Street was labeled "steep wooded hillside." It is not clear if the note was a warning or just an observation; houses were already constructed above and below the demarcation.
And while the land was an inconvenience for some, others took advantage of the situation. A ravine and small creek were used as a culvert for waste water. It spilled down the hill, passing beneath the North Pacific Brewery on Grand Avenue between 34th and 35th streets. Then, it slid below the Astoria Hemlock Tannery on Franklin Avenue and 34th Street before belching into the river just south of Safeway's proposed parking lot. We might be repulsed by the environmental hazards that were a part of every day life in Uppertown. But, its character was a down-and-dirty, honest-to-goodness, industry-infused neighborhood.
Famous namesBesides the brewery and tannery, there were the Clatsop Saw Mill and Astoria Box Factory. And in 1888, there were 11 canneries recorded in the vicinity. They included: Columbia, Occident, Booth, Hanthorn, Badollet, George and Barker's, Fisherman's and White Star. There also was a small commercial district. It included saloons and billiard halls, boarding houses for the Europeans and bunkhouses and mess halls for the Chinese.
Walking the planked streets of Uppertown one might hear a host of names ranging from the lyric to the difficult to pronounce: Rigstad, Hjelkrem, Bogdanovich, Kauppi, Yjolz, Kanto, Karakalos, Caviglia and Dybvig. These were the working-class people who made Astoria's east-end their home and lived within its vernacular or low-style structures.
The next few columns of Great City Rising will explore these buildings, both extant and long-gone, in an attempt to tell the story of Astoria's often neglected history.
John E. Goodenberger is a historic building consultant who lives in Astoria.