From ORNC to OHSU
How Portland’s largest medical centers
ended up on top of Marquam Hill
The mistaken purchase of Marquam Hill by the company building the first transcontinental railroad line into Portland lead to the creation of both Terwilliger Parkway and Oregon Health and Sciences University. An oft-told story is that an out-of-town railroad company bought land for a rail yard “sight unseen” in Portland in 1880 and then discovered its hilltop location was unsuitable for the purpose. The truth is not so simple.
The Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company’s president, Henry Villard, was no stranger to Portland. He had visited Marquam Hill six years earlier, and several prominent Portland citizens served on his company's board. Nevertheless, someone did not do their due diligence on the property purchase, and ORNC found itself with 360 acres of unusable land.Parkway.
”I had heard much praise for the situation of Portland, but its attractiveness went much beyond my anticipations. Paul Schulze …took me up on Marquam Hill the first day, and the grand panorama I saw spread out before me from that height with the three snow-clad giants of Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Adams clearly visible in their mighty splendor, seemed to me one of the finest sights I had ever enjoyed.
- Henry Villard, recalling his 1874 visit
23 years later the Olmsted Brothers presented their famous master plan for city parks to the people of Portland, calling for a “hillside parkway” on the slopes of Marquam Hill. Then, in the election of 1909, the citizens of Portland passed a bond measure to fund development of the proposed parks and parkways. They also elected Joseph Simon, a seasoned politician and businessman, to be mayor. Seizing the opportunity, Simon used his business connections and political skills to acquire, through donation or condemnation, the necessary land to start construction of Terwilliger Parkway during his short tenure as mayor.
Simon was a railroad attorney and had served as the corporate secretary for ORNC, so he no doubt had an inside track to convince the company to donate 41 acres of their unusable land for the parkway (it also probably helped that he offered to give them city right-of way along the Willamette that they desired.) The parkway first opened in 1912, shortly after Simon’s tenure as mayor ended.
In 1917 the ORNC donated 20 acres to the University of Oregon Medical School (now OHSU). A few years later the widow of Oregon Journal owner C. S. “Sam” Jackson bought the remaining ORNC land and donated it to the school in her late husband’s memory.
[Visit the History page of our website for a more detailed account of this interesting tale.]