Is there anything more exciting for a child than waiting and watching for Mom or Dad to get home from work (unless it's Santa, of course)? Think how much more exciting it must have been for Kate and Nellie Flavel as they watched and waited high up in the cupola of the four-story tower of their 1885 Victorian mansion in Astoria, Oregon watching for their father's ship.
Their father, George Flavel, was a river and bar pilot-boat captain guiding large ships in and out of the Columbia River, at the mouth of the Pacific Ocean. Captain Flavel had done very well for himself and his family, so well in fact, he was able to build an eleven-thousand-six-hundred square foot house overlooking his 'job-site' - the Columbia River. It is said he "parlayed his extraordinary seamanship and business instincts into Astoria, and became one of Oregon's largest fortunes. He was much admired in the city of Astoria for his philanthropy and support, as was his wife Mary, who was also involved in all manner of activities helping the townspeople.
Born in Norfolk Virginia in 1824 ( date uncertain), Flavel came around Cape Horn in 1849 as Captain of the prig, John Patty. He spent some time in the gold fields of California before settling in Astoria (www.oregonlive.com/0/index.ss2011/04/capt_george_flavel) In 1854 he married Mary Catherine Boelling. He was thirty years of age, she, fourteen. Together they had three children, Nellie, Kate and George Conrad.
The house, which by the way, is also known as The Flavel Mansion, The Flavel House Museum and The Grand Dame of Astoria, is Queen Anne Style. Taking up one entire city block, it sets on a mound overlooking not only the river, but the city of Astoria, as well. It is two- and-a-half stories high with indoor conveniences not common to that period - a built-in copper bathtub upstairs, a flushing toilet, five bedrooms, six fireplaces, (with intricate hand-carved mantels), a rear kitchen, butler pantry, attic, basement and as mentioned, a four-story tower that was a favorite 'perch' for the family to watch the river- traffic. All this for the incredible sum of $36,000.00 - which today might buy an average mobile home - property not included.
There's almost as much beauty outside the house, as in. The grounds include a carriage house, stables, a hayloft, orchards and multiple flower gardens. Wandering is encouraged.
George died, at the house, in 1893 leaving an estate of over one million dollars. Depending on who you talk to, his associates and friends have vastly different views of Georges' character. He was described as "grave, saturnine, dour, cold. . .but able to turn gold into everything he touched." Another, Brig. General Joseph Wall said " He was the bravest seaman I ever saw. I would have come from the other end of earth to bid him goodbye."
The house, located at 441 8th Street in Astoria, is now owned and managed by the Clatsop County Historical Society. There is an attendant on duty and they do allow self-guided tours. The house is open Nov-April (10:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.), and Oct-March (11:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.).
And of course, how remiss would a writer be not to include a word or two about (alleged) paranormal acticity attributed to the former occupants? Many visitors to the house 'swear' they have experienced unexplained "sweet floral scents" in rooms where there are no flowers or perfume bottles, strange music filtering out of nowhere, and photographic anomalies. One self-proclaimed psychic declared he had found a "center of evil" on the floor in one of the rooms. Sometime later, around Halloween, two town notables spent the night in the house. One laid his blanket exactly on the "center of evil" (spot) and slept there all night, reporting the next morning that nothing unusual had happened.
This author has visited the house within the last two years. It's lovely, massive, impressive and almost impossible to comprehend as a family home. The upstairs hallway is what I remember most vividly. I must admit - I didn't feel alone - even in the rooms in which there was no one beside myself. Just saying. . .
And while you're in the area you might want to check out these other historical sites:
- The Heritage Museum
- Astoria Column
- Hanthorn Cannery
- Fort Clatsop
- Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, and,
- Peter Iredale Shipwreck