A sheltered port situated near the mouth of the Columbia River, Astoria (and Clatsop County, for which it was the county seat) at the time of World War One was home to several groups of Asian immigrants as well as immigrants from a number of European countries, including the largest Finnish population in the western United States.
Chinese, predominantly from Canton (modern Guangdong Province), had been recruited to work in Astoria's canneries, which took advantage of the port town's proximity to salmon in the Columbia River, in the 19th century. By 1880, they comprised thirty percent of the town's population. Following enactment of Chinese exclusion, Astoria's Chinese population declined, although its community remained large enough to establish a Chinese school in 1913. By the early 20th century, sizeable numbers of Japanese and some Filipino migrants worked alongside Chinese in the fishing and canning industries, which had expanded to include harvests from Alaska, as well as in an emergent lumber industry. Workers mostly lived in communal lodging that was provided by companies or arranged by labor contractors and with members of their own ethnic group – although the Elmore Cannery's "China House" housed both Chinese and Japanese workers.
During the 1910s and early 1920s the Hammond Lumber Company built and ran a large mill site the eastern edge of Astoria along the Columbia River. The mill employed workers of many backgrounds including Japanese and South Asian (Indian) migrants, specifically Punjabi Sikhs – many of whom found employment in the lumber industry up and down the Columbia as well as on the Pacific Coast. Both the Japanese and Indian groups were numerous enough to employ their own cooks and lived in company housing built near the mill site; the section housing the Sikhs was mistakenly referred to as “Hindu Alley.” Bhagat Singh Thind, whose naturalization later was challenged to the U.S. Supreme Court, was one of the draft registrants, under the name Bhagat Singh, who listed the Hammond housing as an address.
Connected to other members of their diasporic migrant network, the Astoria Sikh community was also significant for its role in the Ghadar Party, an international movement to overthrow British colonial rule in India. The Pacific Coast Hindustan Association, the North American branch of the Ghadar Party, was founded in Astoria in 1913 at a conference hosted in the Finnish Social Hall.
For more information, see:
- "Uniontown-Alameda Historic District" Registration Form, National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior (1988).
- Astoria's Historic Resources and Heritage (City of Astoria: August 2006).
- Aaron Daniel Coe, "Chinese Merchants and Race Relations in Astoria, Oregon, 1882 - 1924" (Portland State University, Dept. of History, M.A. thesis 2011), doi:10.15760/etd.422.
- Johanna Ogden, “Ghadar, Historical Silences, and Notions of Belonging: Early 1900s Punjabis of the Columbia River,” Oregon Historical Quarterly, 113:2 (2012): 164-197.
- Regan S. Watjus, "Contours of Race: The Chinese in Astoria, Oregon" (University of Oregon, Dept. of History, M.A. thesis, 2013), http://hdl.handle.net/1794/13322.
- Sarah L. Steen, "Expanding Context: A Look at the Industrial Landscapes of Astoria, Oregon, 1880-1933," (University of Oregon, Interdisciplinary Studies Program: Historical Preservation, M.S. thesis 2009), http://hdl.handle.net/1794/10186.