There is more to Alderbrook, a neighborhood in East Astoria just off highway 30, than meets the eye. Peel back the layers of history that is all but forgotten and its past comes alive. There was a school, a church, a street car, several canneries and a mill in what was a once a thriving self-contained neighborhood.
Bill Moberg’s family has lived in Alderbrook since 1895 when his grandfather August Vilhelm Moberg built the house where he currently resides with his wife Pauline on Cedar Street. Bill, a jack of all trades who worked as a school teacher, pastor, cannery worker and Astoria Oil company worker before retiring, said he hopes the house will remain in the family. “I hope one of our four children will continue to live in the Moberg house where my family has always lived,“ Bill shares.
Bill has fond memories of growing up in Alderbrook in the days when all the youth were outside playing games. “Back in the day kids would play kick the can,” he recalls. “There was a basketball hoop on every street corner and the baseball field games were in full swing.” In fact, he said in Alderbrook’s early days there was even a stadium where the city’s waste pumping station now stands that took up some of the area behind the current Violet LaPlante Park. “That area behind 47th Street was the social center of Alderbrook,” Bill adds.
Bill’s maternal grandmother, Betsy Dalgity, also lived in Alderbrook and often rode to town on the streetcar, which was started in 1904. “The streetcar ran along the current Highway 30 from the Alderbrook Station, currently Alderbrook Hall, to Uniontown in West Astoria,” Bills says. “In those days Highway 30 ran right through Alderbrook on Cedar Street and the streets were made of wooden slats.”
Alderbrook had a school that was established in 1890 at the foot of 47th Street, according to a book on Alderbrook that was written by Sheryl Baker Ginn, a former Alderbrook resident. An actual school building between 50th and 51st Streets was erected in 1892 on Date Street, which is now Leif Erickson Drive, and closed in 1930. On 50th Street, a Presbyterian church stood that was founded by Bill’s Dalgity grandmother. There were also several stores interspersed throughout the neighborhood.
The Hammond Mill, which was also in Alderbrook, was originally owned by George Hume and purchased in 1908 by Andrew Hammond, a local railroad magnate who built the Astoria Railroad and was originally from Montana. The mill was located between 53rd and 54th on Alder Street and spread to the Columbia River. Mill housing was on Birch Street and included bungalows between 47th and 49th Streets and smaller cabins on 52nd Street. The cabins were said to have housed Sikhs, so the area was called “Hindu Alley.” But according to Bill’s late father James Moberg, there were workers from several nationalities such as Yugoslavians and Chinese, as his father would watch the mill’s wrestling matches that were held every year between employees. “Workers at the mill held a wrestle-off each year with each nationality such as Greeks and Turks competing against each other,” Bill shares. Records attest to the fact that at least 450 people worked at the Hammond Mill that was destroyed by fire in 1922.
August Moberg, Bill’s paternal grandfather, was originally from Västervik in Southern Sweden and was a merchant marine who sailed around the world. He left Sweden during a potato famine and came to Astoria where he worked at Alderbrook canneries as a fish receiver and boat carpenter. Bill’s maternal grandfather, James Dalgity, worked as a manager of the Scandinavian Cannery. Both grandfathers played a part in setting up the Columbia River Packers Association.
Bill has fond memories of the Scandinavian Cannery, which was one of five or six canneries operating in Alderbrook. He also worked there when he was young, as did his father before he became an engineer, pastor and teacher. Bill also worked for another Alderbrook cannery named Eagle Packing, located at the foot of 46th Street, as a fish receiver, sleeping in a small hut and waking when the fisherman would bring in fish to the cannery early in the morning. Bill enjoyed his interactions with fishery workers and their families in the area.
According to records, early Alderbrook in the 1870s was formed around the fish canneries and mainly consisted of bachelor fisherman or fishery workers who lived in scows or bunkhouses. The neighborhood continued to develop throughout the years and was mainly comprised of fishing families.
Bill said the canneries are one of the things he misses the most about Alderbrook. “I was dismayed to find the old Scandinavian Cannery that was so important to our family history had blown away in a storm when I returned to Astoria after living in Minnesota for a few years in the 1970s,” he says.
Another long-time resident of Alderbrook, Peggy Olson, has lived in the neighborhood since the 1940s on Birch Street. She lived in the house across the street from where she now lives, which is now occupied by her son and daughter-in-law. She moved to her current house in 1964. Her husband, Eldred Olson, passed away in 2011. Turning 90 this July, Olson believes she is the oldest resident of the neighborhood. She moved with her parents to Astoria in 1943 from Michigan when her father came here to Astoria for health reasons. Peggy, like many other Alderbrook and Astoria residents, spoke Finnish. “I learned to speak Finn from my grandparents whom I spent a lot of time with,” she explains. “I learned Finn before learning English.”
Many people in Alderbrook were of Nordic descent and spoke Finnish, Norwegian or Swedish in the early days. Finnish was one of the most popular languages in the Alderbrook and Astoria area.
“I like the fact that everyone knows everyone else and neighborhood bonds are strong,” Peggy says about why she loves her home. Bill agrees. “My dad said heaven would be like Alderbrook because everyone knew each other and was so friendly,” he adds.
For more information, visit the Alderbrook website.