Tales From The Trails:

Looking Back: The Kitchell Farm in Forest Park

Did you know that there used to be a farm right in the middle of Forest Park? It’s hard to believe it now, but a family lived there for two decades in the first half of the 20th century.

William and Matilda Kitchell were both German immigrants who came to the US as children. The couple moved to Oregon around 1920, and by the late 1920s, they were living in Portland’s Linnton neighborhood with their three children. Then in 1930, William built a two-story log cabin in what’s now Forest Park that was to be the family’s home for the next 20 years.

William worked at the Western Oregon Lumber Company mill in Linnton and Matilda worked as a maid in a hotel. The family also raised sheep, which made a lasting impression on children who grew up in the area. Years later one of them vividly remembered the sheep and seeing Matilda sitting on the front porch.

In 1948 some of the surrounding parcels were incorporated into the newly established Forest Park, though the Kitchell Farm itself remained private property.

On May 3, 1950, tragedy struck while Matilda was home alone: the roof suddenly caught on fire. Matilda bravely tried to put the fire out by herself with buckets of water, but in the process, she fell off the roof. Luckily she was unharmed and managed to call the fire department from a neighbor’s house. However, the roads were unfortunately too steep and muddy for the fire truck to get there in time. The Kitchells’ home was destroyed.

The Kitchells hoped to rebuild their cabin but ultimately decided to start over elsewhere. They sold their sheep and spent their later years in Northeast Portland. The Kitchell Farm became part of Forest Park, and bigleaf maple trees soon covered the hillside where the sheep used to graze. Today all that remains of the Kitchell Cabin are some concrete foundations on the forest floor.

* * *

Your house may have an interesting story too, and you don’t have to be a professional researcher to discover it. The Multnomah County Library has online resources that can help you learn more about your house and other properties in Oregon – several of these resources are listed below. You should also talk to people who’ve lived or worked in the area for a while since they might remember important details (like a sheep farm) that can help you with your research.

The Oregonian back issues

You can search and browse through digitized back issues of The Oregonian covering the years 1861 through 1987. Available at https://multcolib.org/resource/historical-oregonian-1861-1987

Digital Sanborn Maps

These historic maps show details of buildings, streets, and neighborhoods in communities around Oregon at different points in time. Available at https://multcolib.org/resource/digital-sanborn-maps-1867-1970

Historic Oregon Newspapers

The University of Oregon has an online digital archive of Oregon newspapers printed between 1846 and 2019. Available at https://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/

 

Chris is an archaeologist and regular FPC volunteer. Adrienne is an architectural historian.

This research was sponsored in part by Dudek.


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