1906-1922 “Hindu Alley”

"Hindu Alley" Men Were Peaceable (1906-1922)

                  For more than 15 years Astoria had a Hindu Alley, a block of houses on Birch                                                                                Street near the old Hammond Mill in Alderbrook.

Contemporary photo of "Hindu Alley", Astoria (Photo by T.S.Sibia, 1999)

Old-time Astorians estimate that there may have been nearly 100 Hindus from India among the 600 employees of different nationalities working for the mill, which burned Sept. 11, 1922, before the great Astoria fire in December of that year. There were also Greek, Japanese, and Arab workers. The Mohammedan Arabs and the Hindus were often confused.

Mention the Hindus to an old-timer, and the immediate response is, "Yes, I remember them. They all wore white turbans. They were tall men. They were good wrestlers." But beyond that very little is commonly known about the Hindus, because, as most of the immigrant groups in the early days, they kept to themselves.

No one could know exactly when the Hindus came to Astoria, but from piecing together the information from about 20 old-time Astorians interviewed, this reporter has concluded that they probably came in 1906.

According to Cecil Moberg, who grew up in Alderbrook, there were 12 bunk houses along the waterfront between 51st and 52nd Streets on Birch where the most of Hindus lived. He said that about four men lived in each house.

Hattie Spencer said that 12 Hindus lived in the house behind her home at 4777 Cedar, renting it for a dollar each for a month.For the "Hindu Alley," bunkhouses, there was a central cook house, said Chris Simonsen, where they ate Indian food. He remembers them making chapatti pancakes  and patting the dough between their hands. He also said that they would only buy live chickens, and only roosters, not hens. The other Hindus were all single men who came to work for the mill.

Although most were single men, Mrs. Spencer remembers hearing that "at one time there were two Hindu women dressed as men who worked at the mill for quite a while with the men, until they were found out." But that was all she knew. There were four children in the Hindu family. Moberg said that the two older boys, Kapur and Budha Singh, attended school with him.

"The boys had such beautiful white teeth," he remarked, recounting that one day the boys explained how they cared for their teeth: "They picked a willow twig from the swamp and used it to clean their teeth."

Feared Hindus​

​Many of the old-timers reported that as children, they were afraid of the Hindus.

"We thought they were terrible coming with their turbans," said Mrs. Spencer. "We were afraid of them at first. But my dad said, "They have to make a living as the rest of us. We are foreigners, too."

"As children, we were afraid of them because they were great big men," Moberg added.

Chris Simonsen, who lived across from the bunkhouses, remembers as a child throwing snowballs at Hindus, trying to knock off their turbans, in about 1910.

He also said that men would pick fights with the Hindus when they came home from town on the last street car in the evening. "For the most part, however, the Astoria community considered the Hindus "vastly interesting, and peaceable." "The Hindus kept to themselves and didn't interfere with the whites," said Mrs. Spencer.

Agile Wrestlers

The Hindus were most known for their prowess and agility in wrestling, back in the days when wrestling was "real honest-to-goodness wrestling," in Bill Wootton's words.

They would hold wrestling bouts in Rosenberg Hall, about 11th and Exchange.

"They were light-heavyweight champions," Wootton said. "They used scientific holds and used their science and ability to get in and out of the holds."

Although many immigrant groups who came to the United States came because they would work for cheap wages, that was not true of the Hindus.

Helmer Lindstrom of 4374 Cedar, remembers that the Hindus "never undercut wages" - they would never agree to work for less than the other employees

According to Peters, they worked 10 hours a day, six days a week for 128 a week - at least during the period after he arrived in 1916.

SOURCE: The Daily Astorian. Astoria, Oregon Centennial,1873-1973 Edition. April 26, 1973: 9B.

​Contact T.S. Sibia, [email protected]

Bio/Ag Reference

Shields Library

University of California

Davis, CA 95616

USA

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