Sunday, June 14, 2009


The Astoria Heritage Museum was built as the City Hall and Police Department. Next it served as the Clatsop County Library. During the WWII it served as a USO Club for servicemen and later housed the Columbia Maritime Museum. It has a wonderful interpretive area about the local indian tribes. It covers settlers, maritime events, logging, lumbering and fishing. But, the most interesting part is the disreputable, wiley cheats, slavers, dishonest politicians, gambling, bordellos, hangings, bootlegging, shanghaiing, and wide open exploitation of the people by their own governing officials.
Astoria had the reputation for being the seediest, roughest town on the Pacific Coast. Men floated into town with pockets full of money and wanted wine, women and song. Entreprenuers without morals provided. Men looking for work, found it, as long as they were willing to look the other way when things weren't on the up-and-up. Shanghaiing sailors was a huge business, as was prostitution, participated in by otherwise upstanding business people. Often their wives knew nothing of their husband's real activities in business. For some years, Astoria even had an active Klan. Bribing judges, jurors, councilmen, senators and lawyers was brazenly commonplace. It is a fact of human nature that the many stories of individual shiesters, shady ladies, and ear biting bad guys was the most interesting part of the museum. I mean, the Chief of police sold bootleg whiskey in milk bottles painted white. I couldn't help being fascinated.

Now, listed on the National Register of historical buildings, it is owned by the Clatsop County Historical Society. Its kind of ironic that it was built as a city hall and maligns the very people who "served" as city officials and business leaders of the community.

At a later time in the history of Astoria, (mid 1800's,) Captain George Flavel was an innovative entrepreneur who bypassed opportunities in San Francisco and chose Astoria instead. He realized the potential to make money by becoming a river bar pilot, the first, in fact, licensed on the Columbia.
Money, of course, begets money and he eventually had his fingers in farms, other businesses, property, banking- you name it. An upstanding citizen, charitable and influential, as was his frugal wife, the family built this 11,600 sq. ft. house, now a museum. The back of the house, left is more beautiful than the front of the house. I could happily find enough space to live in their carriage house. My favorite spot, though, was under the huge old growth tree in their front yard. These buildings are close to each other and both worth visiting.

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