Pedro was two weeks post-COVID, just in time for us to keep an appointment at a McMenamins hotel we had not stayed at yet (we’re trying to stay at all of them, just for fun). There’s a huge McMenamins campus called Edgefield. It is located in Troutdale, Oregon, just a few miles outside of Portland. It hosts some pretty great summertime concerts on the lawn. I acted super-fast and snagged a room reservation on the same night as a concert with Michael Franti and Spearhead. I’ll talk about the show in a future post, but there was so much else to see and do that it might take me a couple of posts to even get there.
We arrived at noon, parked beside one of the vineyards, and stowed our luggage at the front desk to wait for our 3pm check-in. Then we grabbed a map from hotel staff and began wandering the 74-acre property.
This location is the site of a former “Poor Farm,” as it was called when it opened in 1911. At the time it was 300 acres and had gardens, a meat processing plant, and a bakery. A law was passed to put the burden of the poor onto local governments, and this was Portland’s solution. They put the people out here and put them to work. In the 1930s, the Great Depression created many more people in need than previously, and the population at the Edgefield grew to over 600 people. Eventually Americans went back to work and the population at the poor farm shrank. The people who stayed were mainly elderly folks who had made this their home. The role of the property changed to a nursing home. In the 1970s, with government assistance programs, people had more choices, and the population at the Edgefield dissolved, seriously reducing the amount of income received by the facility. The Edgefield was closed in 1982 when it was determined that necessary repairs were too expensive. The remaining residents were moved to other nursing homes.
The McMenamins chain is famous in Oregon and Washington for a couple of reasons. Foremost, probably, is that the family brought craft brewing to Portland and established a beer culture here. The micro-brew and craft-brewing industry has exploded since then, bringing every kind of beer you can imagine, and many tiny brew pubs. Another reason is that they tend to restore historic or interesting buildings. Nine of their properties are on the National Register of Historic Places. Another reason people remember them is because the properties are quirky. The furniture and fixtures are mostly scavenged and the properties abound with whimsical art.
By 1990, Mike and Brian McMenamin had opened a few pubs and felt like they knew what they were doing in business. They envisioned something a lot different for this place and bought the crumbling property. Fire had burned one building, all windows had been smashed, anything that could be looted was gone, and vandals had made their mark on every surface. The brothers took a chance on finding the money they would need to make it habitable, but also on this new idea of co-locating a hotel with restaurants and pubs. It worked.
We stepped out of the main building and tried to get our bearings. We walked into a garden into the shade and looked at our map till we made a plan. Then we exited the garden. Directly in front of us was a sign that said “Glass Blowing.” I had not expected this at all. We wanted to investigate. Inside the Gorge Glashaus, a building that used to be the administrator’s garage, we found an artisan’s workshop.
Using the map, Pedro and I walked all the way to the golf course at the back of the property. Another fun thing about McMenamins properties is that the larger ones will make tiny pubs out of random outbuildings. In this case, out by the golf course is a pub co-located with the distillery.
We peeped through the windows at the distillery operation, but the bartender said there would be a tour the next day, so we decided to wait for that. We walked on to the next thing we wanted to see: the vegetable garden.
There was a building that used to be a morgue, and I thought it was this very big one called Blackberry Hall, which Pedro was dubious about. We were on tip toes peering through windows of the closed banquet hall when an employee spotted us and offered to open the doors and let us come in and explore!
I was wrong about this building, which was a former mechanics shop, then a storage building, then a laundry. Pedro’s father owned a mortuary, so Pedro has knowledge about the topic, and he was right to suspect that a population of 600 would not need a morgue this size. So where was the old morgue?
We had not had anything to eat yet that day and my tummy was growling. We stopped in at the Power Station Pub. The building originally supplied coal-fueled steam heat and electricity to the property until power lines were installed. Today it holds a restaurant, guest rooms, a meeting and event hall, and a theatre. Thor: Love and Thunder was playing, but I can see Thor at any theatre.
I felt much better after eating. We were ready to explore some more.
You can’t help but notice the Water Tower when you’re here. It stands taller than anything. In 1927 the poor farm was determined to be a fire hazard because it didn’t have any fire detection or deterrent devices. This tower was installed and connected to overhead sprinklers inside the main building. Today it is empty of water.
Finally we stopped to look at a tiny little hut called The Halfway House. Yes, this was it. Pedro agreed it was the right size for a morgue. The name is a joke, pointing out that occupants who waited there for burial are halfway between this life and the next. Today it is a ceramics shop with handcrafted pieces of art for sale.
Near the Halfway House is the Black Rabbit House, another tiny building. You may have noticed the black rabbit in a painting in the hotel lobby. The rabbit is famous on these grounds, and was considered a good omen by the McMenamins brothers. Apparently an escaped pet rabbit was living large here in the years when construction was ongoing in the 1990s, and workers spotted it all the time. There is even a photograph of the rabbit hanging in a hallway. It became a mascot. Eventually one day, the rabbit was found dead beside this little hut, and the hut got its name. The mascot was buried in a place of honor on the grounds.
It was finally after 3 pm and we could go get our room. We went and stood in line with the others. People had been arriving since early morning in anticipation of the concert, and entertaining themselves as we had been. Though the venue gates didn’t open till 5pm for the 6:30 show, people were in line by 4 in order to get first choice of a place to sit on the lawn. Anyway, lots of us had been waiting for check-in time.
We got a tiny room with a queen bed and a sink but no bathroom. This is what we are used to with a McMenamins hotel. Bathrooms down the hall don’t bother us, and bathrobes are provided for guests. The best thing about the room in our case was that it occupied a corner, and had windows on two walls. We are in the middle of a rare heat wave in Oregon and many places do not have air conditioning in this typically mild climate. Our room had a fan, which was merely blowing the hot air around. We opened up the windows to get a cross breeze, and by the time we got back from the concert it was cooler in there.
Alright you guys. There was so much more but this post is getting too big. I’ll stop here and hopefully find time soon to add more photos in another post.
Pedro and I have been busy so far this summer, but from here on out and lasting through November, it’s going to get crazy busy. We both have so much going on. He is about to wrap up his MIT course with a big Python programming project this week. I am really proud of him for pretty much acing this difficult course while continuing to dedicate himself as the senior Data Scientist on his team at work, and parenting two teenagers. He is a great guy in so many ways. I am dragging myself through my third term of Spanish and feeling completely overwhelmed by how much I am not learning. My brain just does not want to learn a new language at age 52, but I am trying very hard. I’m also tutoring Spanish at the college in hopes of getting a little bit of extra practice, and that takes up my time too.
But anyway, hopefully I will find time to post, and to read your posts. I hope you are all having a marvelous July so far.
14 thoughts on “Exploring McMenamins Edgefield – Part 1”
I went to Edgefield years ago with the senior center and we did not get to cover as much area as you did. I loved it there and couldn’t stop taking pictures. You did a great job of explaining the history of that McMenamins. I can’t stay anywhere without immediate access to a bathroom and they didn’t have rooms where daughter and I could each have our own bed in the same room. I really love what that family has done to restore so many historic sites. Thanks for sharing this. It warms my heart. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. That’s when you get sick. Do what can and let the rest go. Pace yourself. Love and hugs, m
I wonder if there is an option at this location to get a room with a bathroom? It’s so large that I think it’s entirely possible – probably for a higher price. But as you say, some people do require that and I’m sure it’s not a rare request. While there, we learned that a nearby former prison has been acquired and will be added to the property and converted into more rooms. Isn’t that funny – guests will be able to stay in a prison, ha ha! Yes, I love that so many of their properties are restored historic buildings. I was surprised to find out that McMenamins really is responsible for the beer culture in Portland. The folks at the original big breweries like Widmer attribute their early success to how McMenamins captured the public’s interest, even though Widmer had their brewery open first.
Thank you for the encouragement not to take on too much. It’s good advice. I’ve had such a peaceful life that I nearly forgot about my PTSD. And now that I’ve been under so much stress, all the annoying symptoms are coming back and one of them is that it makes my brain go blank when I try to take in details. I’ve been drinking from a firehose since March. Some of the new Spanish gets in, but most of it just splashes on the ground. I’m trying to get up my courage to talk to my professor about repeating some classes. I know myself and I know for sure it would help me, but I know her too, and I know she will try to talk me out of it. Cramming more and more and more into my head is not the way I learn. Anyway, I talked to my friend Margaret yesterday, who used to be a university professor. She said that repeating classes is usually described in state law: so students follow the rules, and do not have to get a professor’s buy-in. I need to find out what I’m allowed to do by Washington rules. Anyway, thank you for looking out for me. I need to remember that I don’t HAVE to do all this, and take the pressure off myself. I’m supposed to be learning Spanish for fun. 🙂
I’d suggest a sign on places to pass by often, over the sink in the bathroom or on the fridge. “Be gentle with Crystal” Think about your name. Crystal can be very fragile as well as beautiful and a great conductor of energy. You wouldn’t abuse Crystal, would you? Sending love and hugs.
Thank you for helping me to think about my name. That will be a good trigger to remind me to be careful with Crystal.
Edgefield is such a fun atmosphere! I love it there but haven’t gone as often since having my son a few years ago. My favorite time to go used to be on chilly evenings. They have large wood firepits burning all throughout the property. I’ve never stayed before nor have I soaked in Ruby’s pool. Thanks for the great post Crystal! Looking forward to the next.
Katie! You could take your son to the soaking pool maybe? That would be a fun day (but not till it cools off, good heavens). I will be posting photos of the pool today, hopefully. I’m glad you’ve been out there. I had been there before too, and only for short visits. This was much different because we had time to really explore.
Another fine tour. I really like those mismatched windows
I’m glad you liked them. You know, I didn’t even notice them till I was reviewing photos. Isn’t it funny that the scene captured my attention, but I didn’t really realize why until later?
So often the case, Crystal
I quit drinking before the birth of microbrews and craft beer and I always imagine I would have enjoyed them tremendously. For now, I’ll enjoy them vicariously 🙃 The art studio and glass work grabbed my attention. The place sounds wonderful!