Macabre folklore a stone’s throw away
written by Joni Kabana
Looking for a gothic love story location that is full of mystery close to your favorite take-out eatery or coffee shop? Take a short hike to the Stone House, otherwise known by locals as the “Witch’s Castle” in Portland.
This hidden wonder, located via a short hike along forested pathways, has quite a sordid history. Ernest Tucker, commissioned by the Bureau of Parks, built this stone building in 1929 to serve as a public toilet and storage room. As part of the Works Progress Administration projects, this structure was completed sometime during 1935–1936. It was in full operation until 1962 when the Columbus Day Storm destroyed the water line, which has never been repaired.
But there’s more! Folklore has it that Danford Balch brought his family to this spot by way of the Oregon Trail around 1850. Balch claimed a large piece of land (in what is now called Forest Park) and hired a man named Mortimer Stump to help clear it to make way for building a home. Smitten with Balch’s young daughter Anna, Stump asked for her hand in marriage. Balch was mortified and threatened to kill him if he tried to elope. Eloped they did, and Balch killed the cavalier Stump. The story goes on to describe how Balch said he was “bewitched” by his wife, but was ultimately hanged in what many refer to as the first legal hanging in Oregon.
Visiting the Stone House feels like a transport straight into a Tolkien movie. Making The Oregonian’s 2017 list of “coolest and creepiest abandoned places the current stone structure was built upon the same spot where the Balch house once stood. Its decrepit state makes it a favorite handout for local high school students and those seeking macabre experiences. Drippy moss and fallen trees add to the spooky ambience and even though it is oFTen covered with graffiti, its hidden location still stimulates curiosity of what once was.
Getting there is easy: It is about a five-minute drive from downtown Portland and there are two ways to reach it. A half-mile hike from the Upper Macleay Parking Lot near the Portland Audubon Society is the fastest way, or you can take a ¾ mile hike from the Lower Macleay Parking Lot located at NW 30th and Upshur. Both hikes take you through easy level trails through the forest passing streams and small mossy waterfalls right to the location.
Some say the ghosts of both Stump and Balch still haunt the property. We’ll be on standby to let us know if you encounter them.