In 1849, the U.S. Government established the first U.S. Customs Office on the Pacific Coast in Astoria. Located just 200 feet west of this site, the founding of the original Custom House brought change to the Northwest. It signaled a growing U.S. presence on the Pacific Coast and heralded Astoria's role as a vital port into region's growing economy.
A Seismic Shift
In the mid-1800s, the minor act of erecting a small wooden building on the Oregon coast brought huge changes. In 1849, Astoria became the first U.S. port of entry for goods reaching the west coast. Previously, ships that wanted to trade in the area dealt with officials from the Hudson's Bay Company.
After the construction of the Astoria Custom House, import duties and taxes were collected from ships by John Adair, an American official, as they crossed the bar from the Pacific Ocean on their way to Fort Vancouver, or later to Portland and the Willamette Valley.
As an official port of entry, business in Astoria revolved around the Custom House. At the time of its construction, Astoria consisted of two small settlement spread along the Columbia River shoreline with fewer than 200 people. However, when a ship appeared along the horizon, it brought about a burst of frenzied activity. Kitchen stoves were lit, fur traders brought out their pelts,
mills called workers to help load timber bound for San Francisco, and merchants readied their pocketbooks.
Ships brought more than just business. Mail, residents, and news from the rest of the world came ashore. Even things like the latest songs and fashions came to Astoria first and then filtered into the rest of the region because of the Custom House.