Editor: This story, written by Lowell Swanson, was first printed in the Multnomah Historical Society’s Winter 2005 newsletter. The story was retrieved for us by Tim Lyman, their Chair, and is printed with his permission. It validates the date and process of discontinuing the railroad through Multnomah and pulling the rail tracks east of the Garden Home Station and Multnomah Boulevard developed. The contract for construction of Multnomah Blvd scheduled completion by August, 1949. See end of story for additional notes.
Development of Multnomah Boulevard
On May 26, 1931 the Oregon Electric was permitted to abandon its tracks from the Hoyt Street Station to the Jefferson Street Station. It was May 23, 1906 when the franchise had been given for the Portland tracks; it was dying after twenty five years. These were the years of the Great Depression, which certainly did not help. Although the Oregon Electric seldom made a profit in its own right, it still generated revenue to owner Hill and his other lines, the S P & S, the Great Northern, and the Northern Pacific. In the midst of the Depression on July 24, 1932 train service was reduced to one passenger train out of Portland each day and one train in. The end was near; on May 13, 1933 the last two-car standard train pulled into Jefferson Street station. It was truly the end of an era.
Begun in the midst of the gay nineties, through the roaring twenties the interurban electrics will always be thought of as being a big part of those mystical years in our nation’s history. Very few passengers were on this last trip and only six people showed up when the city refused to renew their franchises. With the closing of the Multnomah Station, the Railway Express service was transferred to the variety store in Multnomah. Portland was very happy; they could now go ahead with their plans to build Harbor Drive along the waterfront on the bed of the old rail line.
At this same time the city obtained the old right of way of the Southern Pacific Railway; they would use that portion of the line to begin work on a new highway that would be Barbur Boulevard, named for the Commissioner of Public Works, A. L. Barbur. The building of this highway employed two thousand men giving them work when so many others were still not working.
It was said the county purposely had them do many things by hand to create new jobs. The highway went southwest three miles and later another three miles to Tigard.
I remember when the highway was being built. My cousin, Margaret Johnson, would take my little sister and me on the four-mile hike from Multnomah to Oaks Park. There were large drainpipes that went under the highway; my sister and I would crawl through them on these occasions, carrying our lunch and a blanket to sit on, to reach the crossing of the Sellwood Bridge.
By the middle of the 1930’s the railway faced a gloomy future with signs of its former glory largely gone. Although passenger service ended, the Oregon Electric worked on increasing their freight business. They were expanding into the heavily timbered areas in the western part of the state. In 1939 16 new steam engines were added to the line for this purpose. In 1941 the Oregon Electric’s service out of Portland officially expired. The Spokane Portland & Seattle company (S P & S), who owned the Oregon Electric, requested permission to abandon their line connecting Portland to Garden Home and make a direct line from Garden Home to Barbur Boulevard.
In April 1941 the Multnomah Community Club met in the offices of Paul M. Rising to begin a series of meetings to study the feasibility of gaining a highway over the present Oregon Electric right of way. Jesse Eaton was appointed chairman to conduct these meetings and study. The Interstate Commerce Commission tentatively granted the Oregon Electric the right to abandon its right of way and discontinue service leading south out of Portland through Multnomah to Garden Home. The commissioners had the authority to declare this right of way a county highway.
Up to this time, road service from the southwest areas to Barbur Boulevard was very inadequate. The members of the committee were anxious to have the railway tracks taken up as soon as possible. There were very few freight trains using the tracks now. By June 1 Chairman Eaton reported that the county road department was making a survey to determine the best approach to Barbur Boulevard, just west of 19th and Barbur. By the middle of June the Commissioner’s Office stated they had approved the measure but did not have the funds to buy the right of way at that time.
World War II brought new life to the Oregon Electric’s freight business as the forest products they carried were now badly needed for the war effort. The end of freight service out of Portland was September 2, 1941. Although a few freight trains used the southwest tracks for a few more years, on March 22, 1944 the Jefferson Street to Garden Home line was officially abandoned and on July 10, 1945 the electric operation ended. The meetings of the Multnomah Community Club temporarily ended because of the war. Over the years that followed, the tracks would be taken up and many of the small shelters given away or torn down. In Garden Home in 1945 Mr. Mattson bought the huge trestles. The large beams were cut into lumber; the pilings were cut and split for fence posts. The large station in Multnomah stood for many years. John’s Market bought the property and John’s Marketplace is there now.
Outside the Garden Home area, the Oregon Electric freight service continued until it was taken over by the Burlington Northern on May 1, 1981 and continued under that name. When the war ended the Multnomah Community Club again continued efforts to get a roadway along the line of the abandoned railway tracks. Finally, the long campaign for the construction of what would become Multnomah Boulevard moved into its final stages. On January 25, 1949 the county awarded a contract to Edleson and Weygandt Company located at 9233 W. Calvert in Portland with its bid of $84,616.36. Completion date in the contract was for August 31, 1949. The bids included the grading and paving of Multnomah Boulevard from S.W.11th to S.W. 45th Avenue and the grading and paving on S.W. Capitol Highway to S.W. Troy street. Surfacing would be asphalt concrete. An existing frame-bent structure had to be removed and a concrete bridge built. Multnomah Boulevard was a final remembrance of the great Oregon Electric Railway tracks in southwest Portland.
Where Multnomah Boulevard runs into Garden Home road is the place where the train tracks split and where the Garden Home station stood for many years. When the Multnomah Station was built “in the wilderness,” a small town slowly followed. No one would have ever guessed it would eventually become the business center of the entire southwest area. First called Multnomah Station, then the Community of Multnomah, and now Multnomah Village.
Editor: Virginia Mapes, author of Garden Home- the way it was book, quotes Arvid Mattson “My father bought the two trestles at Garden Home in 1945. He dismantled them and had the large beams recut into lumber. The pilings were cut and split for fence posts.” The area where the trestle had been was filled and is now Multnomah Boulevard.
Clark Stephens’ story on our website gives further information regarding the steam trains that continued to move logs on the rail line from Tigard through Garden Home and on west beyond Beaverton: Steam engines were used to haul the logs. It was believed that Southern Pacific owned the straight track from Tigard to Beaverton and they wanted too much money to use the tracks. So the owner of the logs made a deal with Oregon Electric to run on their tracks to Garden Home and then switch and go on into Beaverton and out to Cornelius Pass through the tunnel in the west hills and supply the mills along the Willamette River. That’s why the log trains were coming through Garden Home.