A trip to Astoria in Oregon would not be complete without a visit to the Knappton Cove Heritage Centre, once called the “Ellis Island of the Pacific.’ From Astoria, one turns right on to the Astoria-Meglar Bridge that straddles the Columbia River. At the end of the bridge, a right turn on to the Highway 401 and a further drive of three miles, leads to the Heritage Cove on the left side of the road. It is situated on the north side of the Columbia River in Washington County, across the city of Astoria.
A large yellow board draws attention to the building that once used to be the U.S. Public Health Quarantine Station. It was established in May 1899 and functioned till 1938. The federal Law required all immigrants to the U.S. to be quarantined. About 80,000 to 1,00,000 immigrants passed through this quarantine facility in the forty years that it was operational.
The immigrants had to strip, shower, and undergo dry heat treatment to kill lice on their clothing. The hospital had large wards with isolation facilities, bath tubs and showers. Public Health Inspectors used to board the ships that brought people in, climbing in over long ladders.
If anyone was found carrying disease, he was isolated in the hospital building, and the ship on which he travelled was fumigated. Of course “all idiots, insane persons, paupers and those with contagious diseases were barred entry.
Today, the hospital and quarantine building has been converted into a museum and declared a National Historical Site. The exhibits on display are vintage photographs, artifacts and objects from the quarantine station. The walls are covered with historical pictures. The old wards have display cupboards with medicine bottles, instruments and other hospital paraphernalia.. A corked bottle of purgative pills called “Rush’s Thunder Clippers” can also be seen. Those were the days when Quinine, purgatives and Codeine were magic drugs used for all illnesses. One bed is made up on which lies a plastic skeleton dressed in a sailor’s uniform.
An ancient wooden wheel chair with a hand crank is also seen.
There are some historic signboards on display which are quite amusing. A particular one is directed at the ships’ captains. It says, “Rats carry plagues. Mosquitoes carry yellow fever. Plagues and yellow fever require quarantine. Quarantine means expense. Ship captains destroy your rats and mosquitoes and not only save your own money but save lives.”
In the driveway of the hospital is a vintage gillnet boat. Opposite the hospital, some old pilings are seen on the Columbia River. There used to be a wharf here, where ships docked to unload passengers.
Knappton Cove Heritage Centre is an interesting place to visit. The museum is opened from May to October between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.