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History of Mt Tabor, Mt Tabor Park and the MTNA

For thousands of years, Chinook and other Native peoples live in and travelled through land that is now Southeast Portland and the area around Mt. Tabor. Archeologist Ken Ames offers an idea of what those times were like in an article he wrote in 2001 for the MTNA Newsletter, "Imaging Mt. Tabor 300 years ago." 

White settlement began in the area began in the 1800s. In 1846 a huge fire burned the landscape from Lents all the way to the Columbia River, including Mt. Tabor. After the fire, trails and farmhouses began to appear around Mt Tabor. You can read more about the early settlement in the area and how Mt. Tabor got its name in a two-part series that ran in the Oregon Journal in 1957, "Mount Tabor Had Gold Rush." 

Mt. Tabor Park was developed around the water system reservoirs that were built on Mt Tabor in the late 1890s. In 1903, John C. Olmstead submitted a report to the Portland Park Board that the City acquire "considerable land on this prominent and beautiful hill" known as Mt. Tabor. In 1905, the City of Portland annexed the Mt Tabor area. You can learn more about the history of the development of Mt. Tabor Park in the fascinating document, "A timeline of some significant events in the life and times of Mt. Tabor Park," developed by Mt. Tabor residents Cascade Anderson Geller, Diane Redd and Shannon Loch. 

The Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association was founded in 1974, the same year that the Portland City Council voted to create Portland's nationally and internationally recognized neighborhood and community engagement system. 

The MTNA plans to continue to gather and post on this website historical information about the people and events that have shaped the Mt. Tabor Neighborhood.

If you have personal stories or other information you'd like to share about life in Mt. Tabor, please contact Paul Leistner (prleistner@gmail.com).

History of the MTNA

The Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association was founded in 1974. 

Its boundaries on the north, south and west are the major streets

surrounding the base of the mountain, while its eastern boundary,

S.E. 76th, is the approximate bottom of the slope. See the neighborhood boundary map here.

 

History of the Mt. Tabor Park

"There seems to be every reason why a portion, at least, of Mount Tabor should be taken as a public park. It is the only important landscape feature for miles around, and the population in its vicinity is destined to be fairly dense. It is already a good deal resorted to by people for their Sunday and holiday outings, and it will be better known to and more visited by the citizens as time goes on. . . .There can be little doubt that public sentiment will cordially support the city government in acquiring considerable land on this prominent and beautiful hill."

- Olmsted Brothers "Report of the Park Board," 1903

Mt. Tabor Park is a special park in many ways. It has views identified as some of the most scenic in the City, due to its elevation of 643 feet, as well as the beautiful open reservoirs. It was the largest park in Portland for nearly half a century, until Forest Park was finally created in 1947. Mt. Tabor Park is a hard-working park that earns its keep. It even

generates it's own electricity to light the lovely historic lampposts that follow the original roads and paths in the park. Besides being a prime recreation center, Mt. Tabor Park has also served as the center of maintenance for Portland Parks and Recreation for more than a hundred years. The site includes a large, historic plant nursery that has grown many plants, including street trees, for the City and the region.  

The butte was chosen for a park site because of its location and elevation when the Bull Run watershed was identified and tapped, by a gravity flow system, as Portland's municipal water source in the late 1800's. Five reservoirs, two large open reservoirs and one small tank, were built on Mt. Tabor in a striking romanesque style that dates to the era of the City Beautiful movement. All but one of these reservoirs have continued to serve Portland for more than a hundred years. Reservoir 2, along SE Division St. was taken offline and sold for development, in the 1990's. The remaining three open reservoirs are currently under threat of demolition. These reservoirs, along with their two bookend companion reservoirs (also under grave threat) across the Willamette River in Washington Park, were all identified by the State Historic Preservation Office as some of the most historically significant resources in the City of Portland. The Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association, the Friends of the Reservoirs, along with Arlington Heights Neighborhood Association and other interested individuals, prepared the nomination, called Mt. Tabor Reservoirs Historic District, for the National Register of Historic Places in a volunteer effort in 2003-04.   

Soon after the listing of the reservoirs, the entire 196-plus acres of Mt. Tabor Park, including the south end maintenance yard and the Lincoln St. long-block nursery, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.  This was another volunteer effort spurred on by the Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association and other interested individuals. The Mt. Tabor Reservoirs Historic District includes approximately 50 acres. This historic district is entirely within the park boundaries.  

A listing in the National Register is the highest level of significance given in Portland. This distinction, however, does not protect a resource from demolition or other changes. It does provide a review process that involves the City's Historic Landmark Commission. Learn more from the 
City's website about historic resources.

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