Weekly Gem #196 A cylindrical snapshot about 100 years tall

Published 5/18/2019

Location: This hidden gem is located at the top of Coxcomb Drive, in Astoria, OR (see the Clue Me! Map). 

Astoria was named for John Jacob Astor, a German immigrant who founded the American Fur Company and its subsidiary, the Pacific Fur Company. Fort Astoria, later known as Astoria, was the primary post of the latter.

The Astoria Column is a striking piece of art and a nod to Astoria's European settlers. It stands 125 feet tall and 164 steps will take you to the observation deck. It's modeled after the Trajan Column in Rome. (The Trajan column was built about 2,000 years ago and has influenced monuments all over Rome... AND, it is still standing!)

The scenes depicted on the outside mural were created using a technique called sgraffito. This is a process by which layers of colored plaster or cement are applied, darker layers on the inside and lighter on the outside, and then selectively removed to form the image. Making a mural this large using sgraffito was a ‘monumental’ task!

Attilio Pusterla, the Italian artist who made the mural, wasn't familiar with Oregon weather. He didn't realize that only a few years after completion, his work would begin to deteriorate in the rain, salt, and wind. The column was restored twice, and has now been treated with a water repellent to protect it against further damage.

The Astoria Column was the last of 12 markers placed between St. Paul, Minnesota and Astoria, Oregon as part of a project led by Ralph Budd, the president of the Great Northern Railroad. He and other businessmen wanted to "properly salute Astoria's explorers and early settlers for their critical role in the United States' stretch to the Pacific Coast." For hundreds of years, England, Spain, France and Russia claimed the Pacific Northwest as their own. The U.S. government was able to argue that through exploration by water (Captain Gray), land (Lewis and Clark) and settlement (John Astor), they knew the area best and could lay claim.

The murals depict about 100 years of Astoria history. The text spiraling up the tower reads:

Before the White Man Came

Robert Gray in the Ship Columbia in the Great River of the West, May 11, 1792

Gray finds an Indian Village on the Bank of the River

Lt. Broughton Names Mt. Hood, Oct. 1792

The Lewis and Clark Expedition Crossing the Mountains

Indians Greet the Explorers

Lewis and Clark Reach the Pacific

They Obtain Salt by Boiling Sea Water

Fort Clatsop Established December 1805

Fort Clatsop is Completed

Indian Fishing and Boat Building Industry

Astor Overland Party Leaving St. Louis

Tonquin (ship) Sails from New York September 8, 1810

Tonquin Arrives at Mouth of Columbia Spring 1811

Overlanders Cross the Divide Led by Wilson Price Hunt

Destruction of the Tonquin, Summer of 1811

First Overland Astorians Arrive

Arrival of Astoria to the Northwest Company, Oct. 1813

U.S. Ship Ontario Flying American Flag, 1818

Coming of the Pioneers - 1837-1848

The Railway Arrives 1893

P.S. John Jacob Astor never visited Astoria. Maybe because he didn't know it was his name too.


Here's the hidden gem entry from our Clue Me! map.


A cylindrical snapshot about 100 years tall


The Astoria Column

Why It's Interesting

The mural on the outside of the Astoria Column shows a snapshot of the area's history from about 1792 to 1893. This includes Captain Robert Gray "finding" the Columbia River, Lewis and Clark reaching the Pacific Ocean, and the arrival of the railroad to the area.

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