First Advisor

Catherine McNeur

Date of Publication

Winter 4-10-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in History






Almshouses -- Oregon -- Multnomah County -- History, Public welfare -- Oregon -- Multnomah County -- History



Physical Description

1 online resource (viii, 114 pages)


From 1868 to 1911, the Multnomah County Poor Farm off Canyon Road in the Tualatin Hills housed indigent and sick residents of Portland and surrounding areas. In 1911, county officials relocated the Poor Farm from the West Hills flanking Portland to the far eastern portion of the county. Subsequently, the site hosted a municipal golf course and is currently home to the Oregon Zoo and Hoyt Arboretum. With no physical presence left, the original Poor Farm was quickly forgotten, and the reasons for its relocation have been obscured by the passage of time. Occasional references to the farm in newspapers and blogs retell the same story, that county authorities relocated the farm after a 1910 visit by charity organizations revealed atrocious living conditions. In reality, the county had begun scouting land for the new farm two years prior to the charity visit and ensuing newspaper exposé.

Conditions at the farm in 1910 may have been bad, but the relocation was not a product of altruism alone. More important was Portland's striving for greatness in the opening of the twentieth century. The early 1900s were heady times for West Coast cities, and as the century opened, Portland was still the largest city in the Northwest and the regional hub for shipping and commerce. A massive development boom, coupled with Progressive-Era reforms around parks and public health, worked to reshape the face of Portland's physical landscape. As the city grew and local boosters sought to promote its image as a prosperous and beautiful metropolis, some leading Portlanders began to see the Poor Farm as a blight on their city. With land becoming more expensive and less available, Portlanders contested who had the right to which parcels and for which purposes. Real estate, public health, and general development fervor combined to make the Poor Farm land seem undeserving of its location. As Portland looked towards its future, Portlanders' desire to create a great city resulted in the displacement of the Poor Farm and its inhabitants to the county's physical and psychological fringes.


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