A R P A
Located in Astoria, Ore., the Astoria Railroad Preservation Association was formed in the fall of 1990. This diverse group is dedicated to promoting public appreciation of the historical importance of railroads on the north Oregon coast. The initial objective is to restore a steam locomotive for operation in the Astoria area. We incorporated in March 1991 and have since received 501c(3) status. Membership is open to any and all who share an interest and enthusiasm for our goals.
C I T Y O F A S T O R I A
The oldest European settlement west of the Rockies, Astoria is steeped in a rich and colorful history. Located near the mouth of America’s second-largest river, the city is being “discovered” again by history buffs and visitors alike who share an interest in this rugged and picturesque river town.
This historic waterfront still boasts an active rail line and skeletons of a few of its legendary canneries. The hills are still dotted with beautiful Victorian homes and breath-taking views. The local culture mixes fishing, historic preservation, an emerging tourist economy and a desire to stay true to its famous past.
There is also a growing interest in the important role that the railroad played in our heritage. Locals even recently rallied to save the old Astoria railroad depot from demolition.
Although Indian tribes inhabited the area for thousands of years, Capt. Robert Gray was the first to get his ship over the dangerous Columbia River bar in 1792. Since then the mighty Columbia has been moving people and commerce along 1,200 winding miles between Astoria and the Canadian Rockies.
But before the ships and the steamers came Lewis and Clark. The Corps of Discovery spent a rain-drenched winter just outside of Astoria in 1805-06 before starting its homeward journey.
Founded in 1811 as an American fur trading post, Astoria quickly became an important hub for moving pelts and other commodities to eager buyers in the East and Europe. The city, just upstream from the mouth of the Columbia, was named after John Jacob Astor, a New York millionaire who made much of his fortune from trading and exploration. Astoria soon earned a reputation for its abundant natural resources. Salmon and timber began to dominate the region’s economy as commercial fishermen and loggers flocked to the area.
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The railroad was also becoming an important ingredient in Astoria’s development. In 1890, the Astoria and South Coast Railway linked Astoria to its growing neighbors to the south, including the coastal resort communities of Warrenton and Seaside. By 1898, a local industrialist named A.B. Hammond had built 50 miles of track along the Columbia River connecting Astoria with the tiny town of Goble and, more importantly, the Northern Pacific Railroad. The Astoria & Columbia River Railroad thrived for years and caught the attention of railroad magnet Jim Hill, owner and builder of the Great Northern Railroad.
Hill bought the A&CRR; in 1907 – along with Northern Pacific’s tracks between Goble and Portland – so his company would have water-level access to the Pacific Ocean. Dubbed the Spokane, Portland & Seattle, the line followed the Cascade Gorge and then switched sides to the south shore of Vancouver for the final leg to Astoria. Hill bought two large and fast steamships to provide trans-Pacific service from the West Coast. The steamers linked up with the SP&S; railroad at Flavel (now present-day Warrenton) just a few miles west of Astoria. Brochures from the old SP&S; run bragged about the scenery along the line, including views of Mount St. Helens, solid rock tunnels and the wide sandy beaches around Seaside. Portland families often escaped the Willamette Valley in the summer by moving, frequently by train, to the coast. Another regular feature on the line were the so-called “Daddy Trains,” which shuttled working fathers back and forth on the weekends between Portland and the coast.
For generations the railroad played an important role, delivering people and goods between Astoria and Portland – and beyond. But freight and passenger service dried up in the last few decades under economic strains. The line, though, is showing new signs of life. In 1995 (double check), the 90-mile stretch of railroad between Portland and Astoria was purchased by Portland & Western Railroad. A landslide near Brownsmead closed the rail line but plans are afoot to restore the railroad and make freight and passenger service a regular part of life again on the North Coast.
As Astoria and other local communities prepare to celebrate the Lewis and Clark bicentennial, the historic railroad will also be a major point of interest for locals and visitors alike.
Through its work, the Astoria Railroad Preservation Association is hoping that the joy of trains and railroading will be remembered and celebrated by all who come to Astoria looking at the history of those who made this place such an important and cherished American city.
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Watch the restoration — visit our Photo Journal.
Astoria Railroad Preservation Association
P.O. Box 541
446 W. Marine Dr.
Astoria, Oregon 97103
e-mail: [email protected]
An Educational Non-Profit Corporation
Dedicated to Promoting Public Awareness of Railroad History
Through the Preservation and Operation of Vintage Railway Equipment.