Tucked away in the northwest corner of Oregon lies the small town of Astoria. Once the destination of John Jacob Astor’s pipe-dream, it’s resisted empiric grandness since day one, and has stayed content for decades hovering around a mere 10,000 souls.
But while the size of the town itself hasn’t grown much, the people and what it offers has. It’s been called “Little Portland”; with delicious coffee, fine dining, interesting museums, and a host of talented artists. The improvements bedeck the streets with culture and flair, giving color to a town lovingly known for its gloomy weather.
This past weekend I visited the Heritage Museum on a quest for tidbits of information for my new work-in-progress, When the Sun Stands Still (a time-travel novel set in 1811 Astoria).
I’d never set foot in this museum before and what a shame! Because for a modest $4, I was pleasantly tickled at what I found.
Built in 1904, the building is an exhibit in itself; housing Astoria’s first city hall, an annex for the armory and USO during WWII, and the Columbia River Maritime Museum. In 1985, it became the Heritage Museum, a place to expand one’s knowledge about the oldest settlement west of the Rockies.
Psst…if you are still enough, you can almost see ghosts of soldiers lounging on the front steps smoking a cigarette, reading a letter, or whispering sweet nothings in an excited girl’s ear. (You looked didn’t you?)
Step past the shadows, acknowledge them with a tilt of the head and a knowing grin. Pass through the heavy wooden doors and look up.
The Clatsop County Historical Society has done wonderful work restoring the building. Take a gander at the interesting lighting. Kinda reminds me of Saturn.
My two-dimensional renderings will not hold a candle to experiencing the real thing. But I’ll show you just a few pictures to whet your appetite.
Speaking of candles…
And copper kettles and silverware; highly-prized and common items for trade between the fur traders and the Native Americans.
Ever wondered what a ‘bunghole’ really is? It’s the hole in the barrel. The stopper is called a ‘bung’. Beavis and Butthead knew this. You should, too. 😉
Yikes! Angry beaver.
And now he’s a hat.
I’m certain this is history’s ‘First Selfie’. This is John Trullinger, a celebrated painter in 20th century Astoria. Handsome dude.
Some of Trullinger’s work hanging in the creaky, but cool, stairwell leading to the upstairs where you can take a stroll through a mock saloon, complete with wooden bar, mirrors, and a brass spittoon.
Don’t spit in it, that would be gross.
Euphemistic terms for Prostitutes: Colorful, to say the least, each name conjuring up an image of the kind of person who’d use it.
You’ll find this in the museum’s most recent gallery addition: Vice and Virtue in Astoria from 1890 to Prohibition.
Shanghaiing, prostitutes, and murder, oh my!
If you do decide to wander about the floors of the Heritage Museum, you won’t regret it. You’ll leave with a keener eye and a deeper understanding for the steep evergreen-covered hills, ‘The Painted Ladies’ (the Victorian-style houses, not prostitutes!), and the majestic Columbia River.
Life in the Slow Lane
You probably just came from the upstairs of the Heritage Museum and learned all about Astoria in the early 20th century. I can’t think of a better transition back into the modern day than lunch at Life in the Slow Lane.
It occupies a new jelly bean-blue building on 16th and Duane; and is a must see for the friendly owners, delicious food, and atmosphere.
Why you ask?
The first thing you’ll see when you enter is a Model “A” car, in cherry condition, parked right in the middle of the restaurant. In that moment, I knew my hubby and I were in for a unique experience. And I’d expect nothing less from Donna and Tracy Black, a couple from Hollywood, a place where stories and imagination come to life.
‘Life in the Slow Lane’ gives off a ‘modern meets early 20th century’ vibe, complete with 1920’s and 30’s-themed music, tables decorated with old photos, and said owners dressed to the nines in vintage attire.
We both immediately zeroed in on the blackberry Italian soda (look at the mound of whipped cream!)
And the non-messy chili cheese dogs are sure to knock your socks off. Why? They’ve taken a hoagie bun, bored out the inside and put everything inside. Neat and tidy. Clever! But the genius doesn’t stop there.
Check this bad boy out.
And if this didn’t fill you up, they also have a wide selection of handmade gelato and sorbetto; every one of them delicious. Donna ‘made’ me (oh, the arm-twisting!) try them all.
Samples, people, samples!