Ghost Town of Bull Run, Oregon (Unavilla)
Name: Bull Run (Unavilla)
GPS:45.4240095, -122.2648102 (as Unavilla,) 45.430110, -122.231480 (as Bull Run)
From Sandy, Oregon take SE Ten Eyck Road North. Follow it down the hill for 2.5 miles. Take a right on to Bull Run road. Go over the bridge, Bull Run would have been in this area.
Bull Run is most famous these days as Portland Oregon’s source of drinking water. But there is more to the story then just a water supply.
According to the Oregon name Bible “Oregon Geographic Names Bull Run River was named due to the fact that wild cattle roamed the area in 1849-1855. The nearby lake ended taking the name, shedding it’s native moniker of “Gohabedikt” or “Loon Lake.” The author of OGN seems to discard the lake ever being called Chitwood for an older settler, merely because nobody would want to settle in such an area. By Pioneer standards he’s probably right, but there remains the possibility.
He also reports that more information about the name can be found in The Oregonian, March 29th and April 5th 1897 on page 8, and again July 30th, 1901 on Page 12. In my research the only article of the three I was able to find was the April 5th one, which became unreadable after the second paragraph.
It’s not entirely clear why a town was built here, most likely it arose to support the efforts to build Portland’s water supplies. It’s first name was “Unavilla” (for which there is zero explanation,) and a Post Office was opened May 6th, 1883 with a Hattie L. Sweet as the Postmaster. This original Post Office was closer to what would become Bull Run then it was to Unavilla, being located near the current Bull Run School.
Construction on the Dam and reservoir began the same year as the Post Office was opened. The post office was closed only two years later on November 22nd, 1895 and moved about a mile north east, where a new Post Office was opened on the same day. My guess is that the original Post Office was in Hattie L. Sweet’s house, but the bulk of the town grew at the second location. Perhaps Hattie merely got tired of being the Post Master, so Eleazar S. Bramhall took it over in his house/store. The US Postal Service took the opportunity to rename it at the same time.
PDXHistory.com has some great pictures of the town, especially the Power House being built in 1909. Daily trains ran along the Mt. Hood Railway and Power Company’s tracks to Bull Run (purchased by The Portland Railway Light and Power Company in 1912) until December 27th, 1930. The tracks were used for almost two more years longer for freight trains, finally closing November 26th, 1932.
One span of the old Burnside bridge was moved to the area known now known as Dodge Park in 1926 and still serves as a bridge over the Sandy River. Bull Run’s population continued to fade until the Post Office was closed permanently in 1939 to nearby Camp Namanu (Camp Fire Girl’s camp established in 1924) where it operated during the summers only until August 28th, 1953.
Bull Run Powerhouse was finally closed in 2007, but the town still lives on as an unincorporated community and suburb of Sandy Oregon.