We returned to McMenamin’s History Pub at The Kennedy School on Monday night for dinner, fun and education. This time the subject was an odd combination: The Poor Farm and the Rose Garden.
Let me explain. From 1868 to 1911, there was a farm in the West Hills of Portland where people who were poor or sick and couldn’t take care of themselves could go. At the Poor Farm, there was shelter, food, a farm to work on, a hospital, and doctors to care for the people. It wasn’t fancy, but it was care, and over time the population of the farm grew from 20 to more than 200. Some of these people were sick and needed the hospital to recover and then go home, but others couldn’t live on their own and stayed for the rest of their lives.
In 1911, some nurses came to see the farm and decided the whole place was no longer acceptable as a health care facility. It was too old and falling apart.
Besides that, the property in the West Hills which had been so remote from town in 1868 was now on the western edge of a city needing to expand, and was very valuable. (Eyebrows up!) The city of Portland wanted to develop City Park, right next door, as “the crown jewel” of the city. Some of the property was sold to be developed into fancy homes, which would be near the newly developed park and have lovely views over the city to Mt. Hood in the east. The Poor Farm, with contagious people living right next door to the new Park and the expensive homes, was a problem. The Farm was torn down and the people moved east, by a town called Troutdale.
But the hills weren’t stable! Every bit of land that was moved to get the hills level caused landslides. No housing development was possible. (Sad sigh from developers.) By then, the city of Portland was even bigger, and City Park was getting too small and crowded. The whole top of Mt. Washington were brought in and developed into the park. The old Poor Farm property became the Oregon Zoo.
Then, in 1915, World War I was raging in Europe. Besides the danger to the people, buildings and gardens that had been developed for centuries were being destroyed. Jesse Curry, a Rose lover in this “City of Roses”, asked the city to set aside land to plant roses brought from Europe, to save them. The unstable land where the houses couldn’t be built became this Rose Garden and tennis courts. The Rose Garden now has 607 varieties of roses and is cared for by paid gardeners and hundreds of volunteers. It has become the Crown Jewel of The City Of Roses, and gets 700,000 visitors every year.
I am learning so much about how cities grow. The basic needs of people don’t change: food, shelter, jobs, and fun. But a city of 2,000 deals with these very differently than a city of 200,000 or 2 million. Change is hard and messy, but necessary.
And, in Portland, you also get roses.