The Stone House in Portland, Oregon resembles the remains of a fairy tale cottage nestled in the woods along a creek. Ferns grow from its mossy, cobbled wall ending at steps leading to the upper level. Empty, stone-ledged windows accent the arched doorways and draw the eye toward a peaked roofline open to the sky. A lower-level entrance draws visitors inside a dark, windowless room coated in graffiti and condensation. The Stone House transports admirers to another era.
The Works Progress Administration (WPA) built this landmark in the mid-1930s during the Great Depression as a public restroom for hikers. The Stone House functioned as a beloved rest stop until the Columbus Day Storm of 1962. Irreversible storm damage along with continual vandalism forced the city to gut the interior and leave it in disrepair. Locals nicknamed it the Witch’s Castle. Its shell still stands in Forest Park. Forest Park encompasses over 5,000 acres and 80 miles of trails, making it the largest urban forest park in America. This seven-mile stretch of forest reserve lies west of downtown Portland in the Tualatin Mountains, also called the West Hills.
A brief stroll along the Upper Macleay Trail or the Lower Macleay Trail gets visitors to the Stone House in less than a mile either way. Committed hikers may access the house from the Wildwood Trail originating at Washington Park. The Upper Macleay Trailhead parking lot is next to the Audubon Society of Portland that merits its own visit. The Upper Macleay Trail switchbacks down a gulch, crosses over and follows Balch Creek.
Balch Creek is named after Danford Balch, the original landowner and the first man to be legally executed in Oregon. Mr. Balch hanged for shooting and murdering his new son-in-law on November 18, 1858 just 14 days after his eldest daughter rebelliously eloped with the family’s hired hand, Mortimer Stump. The property then changed owners many times until Donald Macleay gave a portion of it to the city of Portland in 1897 for a park to be enjoyed by all.
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