From tales of murder to bathrooms to the site of high school keggers, the ruins that are now known as The Witch’s Castle have lived a number of lives, and none of them were very pleasant.
In the mid-1800s, well before the structure was built, a man named Danford Balch bought a large portion of land around the area while Portland was still in the process of being developed. It was a big enough area that he had to hire help to clear the area, so he hired a man named Mortimer Stump, who lived in the cabin on the property with Balch’s family of 10. Over time, Stump and Balch’s daughter Anna fell in love, and eventually Stump asked Balch for his Anna’s hand in marriage. Balch refused, resulting in Stump and Anna threatening to elope. Balch became infuriated and told Stump that he would murder him if they did. The young couple didn’t heed the warning, and decided to elope in November of 1858.
When Balch learned of the elopement, he became deeply depressed, which led to days of no sleep and of heavy drinking. When the young couple returned to Portland, Balch quickly remedied the situation as he saw fit: He shot Stump in the face with a double-barreled shotgun while all were aboard the Stark Street Ferry. Balch was quickly arrested, but was able to escape from the wooden jail he was held in. This led to his execution in mid-October of 1859, which became the first legal execution in Oregon.
After Balch’s death, the property was passed around through different hands down the next century, eventually bequeathed to the city of Portland. In the 1930s, the stone structure that is seen today was built near the site of the Balch homestead. It was maintained by Portland Parks and Recreation, and was used as a park ranger station and restrooms for hikers. In 1962, the structure was heavily damaged in a storm and was abandoned. Moss soon covered the stone walls, the roof caved in, and some people graffitied its walls. It was mostly forgotten until the 1980s, when local high school students found it was a fun place to hold parties. The students named it “the Witch’s Castle” (despite no connection to witches) and made a tradition of holding gatherings on Friday nights, something that still happens today.
Know Before You Go
The Witch’s House is a slightly difficult, half-mile hike from the Upper Macleay Parking lot near the Portland Audubon Society, or a slightly longer three-quarter mile jaunt starting from the Lower Macleay Parking lot at at NW 30th and Upshur. One can take the Aspen trail to get there. A great way of accessing the trailhead is to walk up on Thurman Street.