Danford Balch Homesite and “Witches Castle” – Part Two
But that did not end the story of this piece of land. It passed through several hands finally being purchased by Donald Macleay, President of the Portland Board of Trade. The story goes that in 1897 he was slightly upset about the taxes owed to the City of Portland on this parcel of land. In a fit of rage, he said that he’d rather GIVE the land to the City as a park then to pay the taxes on it. The Deputy Assessor, L. S. Maxwell, called his bluff. Three days later to mark the 60th Anniversary of Queen Victoria’s Reign, Macleay became the first to donate land to the City of Portland for park use only.
After the Lewis and Clark Exposition ended in 1906, an enterprising scoundrel named Lafe Fence viewed the site with some small amount of speculation. The Exposition had been built around a shallow lake called Guild’s Lake. As the land was now mostly vacant to his eyes he decided to fill in the lake and create new land for the City of Portland to expand northwards. He apparently had good intentions but forgot to actually ask permission of anyone.
He built the above flume (which was used as a walkway up the Gulch for many years afterwards,) and using hydraulic pressure hoses, simply washed large amounts of dirt down Balch Gulch down the hill and into Guild’s Lake. There is no record that I’ve seen as to why he wasn’t stopped, but it’s doubtful that people didn’t notice this was happening.
Afterwards there was a lawsuit but it was dropped. Most likely the lawsuit was dropped because Lafe had no money to pay damages and even then the deed was already done. Other nearby property owners ended up also donating land that was ruined and the seed of Forest Park was created. This portion is called Lower Macleay Park. If you look carefully while walking up the trail, you can still see the damage in bedrock and exposed banks in the walkway and in the stream beside.
The next major event in this location was the building of the trail and a public restroom by the WPA in 1937. The trail was built with interlocked stones to shore up the sides, covered with compacted gravel and then paved with asphalt. A small two-story stone building was built about 1/4 of a mile up the trail to act as restrooms, picnic area and Ranger Station. It served as such until the Columbus Day Storm on October 12th, 1962 damaged the roof of the building. The roof was completely removed in 1966 and the building dismantled leaving only a stone shell.
Now days the building acts as host to high school keggers and intrepid Ghost Hunters who believe that the building is a 1600’s Indian trading post, Witches haunt it, or that Danford Balch was hung here and his spirit is still around. Despite the stories, the building, and trails are not only great photos, but an awesome place to hike around and commune with nature.