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The story behind the story of the Astoria Column

Janet Filips, Communications
Janet Filips

At a wedding a few years ago, a fellow guest introduced himself. A history professor at Oregon State, he’d heard about a brochure I’d written, years earlier, for Friends of Astoria Column.

Would I write an entry about the Astoria Column, he asked, for the Oregon Encyclopedia? He was one of many volunteers working to build this online repository of the state’s history and culture.  

“Sure,” I said, thinking to myself: “This will be a snap. I’ll just rework my Astoria Column brochure.”

But no. The Oregon Encyclopedia uses only articles that have never been published elsewhere. It has a particular format. And it requires footnotes for all facts.

I’d done a ton of research for that earlier brochure, but I sure hadn’t footnoted it with sources.

So for our anniversary that fall, my husband and I headed to Astoria. Luckily, he loves history. After a bowl of clam chowder, I spent a chunk of the day squirreled away at the Clatsop County Historical Society, losing myself in manila folders stuffed with 1920s artifacts and 85 years’ worth of news clippings.

This time I paid attention to the source of each scrap of info about the Column—dedicated with great fanfare in 1926, honoring the Native peoples, intrepid explorers and early settlers of the West.

The process of researching, writing, fact-checking, editorial review, rewriting and editing stretched over two years. And last month, “Astoria Column” at last appeared online, nestled between entries on the “Astoria and Columbia River Railroad” and “Astoria streetcar system:”

This first settlement on the West Coast was crucial to the U.S. beating out competing claims by Russia, Spain, England and France. And Astoria is back in the news now, with the newly published, “Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire—A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival,” by Montana writer Peter Stark.

In the news or out of the news, this has remained true through time: Astoria Column is a magnificent monument that offers a sweeping, glorious view – and a window to pivotal moments in Oregon’s and our nation’s past.