Portland Cable Railway Remnants?

Recent removal of heavy vegetation at the corner of SW 18th and Mill St. Terrace has uncovered this partial foundation. Could this be part of the old Portland Cable Railway that ran up the hill to Portland Heights? It’s a interesting site, showing a mixture of brick and concrete construction, and there’s an almost buried curved staircase visible. For all you urban archeologists out there, now is the time to get exploring as vegetation removal could be the first step in development of the lot. Be careful out there and remember, this is private property.

(Dan Davis)

21 thoughts on “Portland Cable Railway Remnants?

  1. Always wondered about that construction. Right at the beginning of the
    “Ho Chi Minh Trail”, as some of you older Portland State students may remember.
    I wonder if the peace sign is from the late sixties?

  2. The previous blog post showing the illustrated map of Portland Heights has the “Old Cable Power House” at around this location. Maybe it’s a portion of that building?

  3. I would walk past this site on the way to PSU in the mid-1980s and I remember an old house located there. It was abandoned, squatters moved in and eventualy the house was torn down. It could be that the house was built on top of the foundations of the cable railway and/or alongside them.

  4. It is indeed the remains of the Portland Cable Railway Company cable car powerhouse. There are several views in John Labbe’s book Fares, Please. A very substantial structure as it housed a large boiler and winding engine that required a solid anchor and foundation.
    The line ran from Union Station on NW Irving, up 5th to SW Jefferson to 18th. At that point the line split with one branch crossing Vista Ave Bridge terminating in Washington Park, the other passing the powerhouse on 18th, between Market and Mill and continuing to Spring Street where it turned right crossing Vista ave to a terminus
    The venture had a initially successful, though colorful existence involving several re-organizations and mergers, a insanity commitment and eventually the equipment was removed and wound up in San Francisco . All recounted in John T.Labbe’s excellent book. Fares, Please! Those Portland Trolley Years. Caxton 1980.

  5. @dbrunker: your google streetview is facing to the SE corner of the intersection of 18th and Mill St. Terrace, is the where these remains are located?

    I recall seeing a view of the trestle looking up (south) from the bottom, and that the powerhouse was located on the SE corner of the intersection…

  6. The powerhouse was on the west side of 18th between Market and Mill (therefore on the NW corner of 18th and Mill).so these are not the foundations as they are on the east side of 18th. Also, these are even slightly farther south then the SE corner of 18th and Mill as Mill is now covered by US 26 (Mill Terrace is south of where Mill used to be).

    A photo of the powerhouse on the west of 18th looking south can be seen here.

  7. Actually Ken, I think that’s the NW corner. You can see that the powerhouse was between Market and Mill in this earlier VP post. Note that in the illustration, Mill hasn’t gone through to 18th yet, but You can see the powerhouse is right between Market and Mill.

  8. The VP post with the Portland Heights Brochure of 1904 (minus trestle!) puts the powerhouse right at this spot. https://vintageportland.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/portland-heights-1904-scott-smith-2.jpg
    I wonder how these walls/foundation were incorporated into the scheme and structure and what is that small fireplace? If we are in any doubt a brick or two could be tracked to help solve some of the mystery. Oh and the land it’s on is now valued at over $2 million dollars. That’s inflation for you!

  9. Slightly off topic but when the City’s contractor dug up the intersection of SW 18th & Spring last summer they encountered part of the foundation for the cable car turntable there.

  10. Perhaps I’m confused, but I went by the site yesterday and the remains are directly to the east of the intersection of 18th (originally Chapman) and Mill St, just through the tunnel under Highway 26:


    All of the photographs and maps show the powerhouse on the West side of 18th (usually between Mill and Market streets), so it doesn’t seem possible that those ruins are those of the powerhouse.

    I also went by the Alice Druhot house which is visible in a photo from the Oregon Live article:

    Comparing the site with this photo, the present day Goose Hollow Apartments complex in between18th and Cable St. seems to be constructed almost exactly where the trestle was locate and again, standing at 18th and Mill, the ruins in the photo are to off to the East whereas in Ken’s picture shows the Powerhouse off to the right of the trestle.

    After looking at all the photographs after visiting the site, it seems to me that the powerhouse would have been located somewhere nearer to the current site of the tunnel which goes under Highway 26.

    On a side note: it appears to me that the James Wood 1890 aerial map incorrectly portrays the trestle as starting at 15th and Market, perhaps for the sake of including the trestle. It’s a wonderful resource, but I’ve often compared that aerial view with contemporary photographs and found that the street grid is inaccurate in many places and that many of the buildings shown seem to have been drawn from the imagination of the artist.

  11. I think it’s also important to note that the SW Mill St. Terrace of today is most likely located a fair distance to the south of the original Mill St. which presumably ran through the current location of Highway 26.

  12. I found a great aerial picture of Goose Hollow from 1932 which shows the Cable Car Canyon area:


    There’s not a lot of detail, but you can actually see the powerhouse still standing at the corner of 18th and Mill about halfway down on the left side of the photo. The two nearby large Victorian houses near 18th and SW Market street (which I believe were moved there from their original locations) are still there today, so you can pinpoint the location fairly accurately.

    Comparing the photo with Google Maps, it looks like the north side of the Portland Cable Railway powerhouse building was located almost exactly where the concrete of the18th Street pedestrian underpass begins today. This means the location of the powerhouse today coincides with where the Westbound lane of Highway 26 intersects 18th Street.


    “it appears to me that the James Wood 1890 aerial map incorrectly portrays the trestle as starting at 15th and Market, perhaps for the sake of including the trestle.”

    Since I originally posted this, I’ve become aware that the street numbering changed over the years and that the time of the lithograph, what is today 18th Street was, in fact, 15th street. The discrepancy is accounted for by the fact that “Park Street” was later split into 8th and 9th and “Lownsdale Street” became what is today 15th Street.

  13. Felixstrange: Your link reminded me of an article about some of Portland’s earliest cemeteries. Here:


    Scroll to the bottom of the page for a brief description. The article, from the late 1800s, indicates that there was a cemetery at SW 21st and Jefferson (not sure what the renumbered junction would be).

    The same article also describes the “Caruthers Cemetery,” located just north of SW Hamilton and Corbett. This cemetery is illustrated on the 1895 paving map, also on efiles:


  14. Marsha: that is a fascinating article. I had to read it quite a few times and have a good look at the paving map and Google maps before I could get a sense of where the ‘old cemetery’ mentioned in the article might have been.

    Here are the facts about the cemetery from the article as I see them:

    1. It’s “the head of the canyon”, overlooking it

    2. It’s “on a rather sharp point on the left hand side as one goes from the city”

    3. It’s “near the intersection of Jefferson and Twenty-first streets, if the latter street were surveyed through and opened”

    4. It’s “about due south of the city park”.

    5. Dr. Hooper, of Hooper, Snell & Co was buried there.

    The first two clues indicate that the cemetery is somewhere in Portland near where Canyon Road begins today, on ridge above it on the left side on a prominent point.

    The next statement would seem to give a fairly precise location. Unfortunately, since Portland’s street numbers were different, this is not really the case.

    Assuming that the writer is referring to SW 21st, in 1887 when the article was written, what is today 8th and 9th street were both Park Street and 15th Street was still Lownsdale. This means that Chapman Street (18th Street) shown on the paving map was actually still known as 15th Street. The street which would have been SW 21st in 1887 is not shown on the 1895 paving map, so this clue is confusing.

    However, the fact that it is “about due south of the city park” in combination with the other statements gives us a pretty good idea where the cemetery was located. The old City Park, now part of Washington Park, is shown clearly on the 1895 paving map. Just about (but not quite) due South of the park on that map is a prominent ridge on the left side of the Canyon right where Canyon Road begins:

    Here is that location today in Google Maps:


    Interestingly, that same ridge is visible in the 1879 Glover ariel view:


    There seems to be something shown there, but I can’t make out what it is.

    As for any sign of the cemetery today, it doesn’t look good. The only mention I found of Dr. Hooper was in a profile of his partner, George Snell. It seems they started a drugstore in 1851 and Dr. Hooper died shortly after.

    Since the article indicates that even in 1887 no one had been buried there for “25 years or even longer” and that only faint traces of the graves were still visible, it seems very probable that at some point Dr. Hooper’s grave was covered over and is today under Market Street or perhaps resides unmarked in someone’s back yard.

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