Hike to Witch’s Castle

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Before the Fam and I actually headed to Portland, Oregon last week, as always, I researched things to do. Since this area is known as the Pacific Northwest, I knew a hike had to be included on our to do list. I came across one called Witch’s Castle, located in Forest Park, Oregon.

Forest Park has always been a hotbed of strange happenings in the Portland area, and Witch’s Castle is at the epicenter of one particularly haunting tale. So, let me start off this tale with a little history lesson.

Apparently, back in 1850, one Danford Baluch filed a claim on a parcel of land near the newly settled town of Portland. Danford needed some help clearing the land, so he hired a transient worker named Mortimer Stump. Batch invited Stump to stay with his family, which included his wife Mary Jane and their nine children, while the work was being done. Unfortunately, Stump ended up staying on a lot longer than was healthy for anyone.

It seems that Stump eventually fell in love with 15-year old Anna Balch and asked for her hand in marriage. When Danford and Mary Jane refused, the couple threatened to elope, and Father Balch retorted that if they did, he would kill Mortimer Stump. The young couple didn’t heed the warning, and decided to run off to Vancouver and elope in November of 1858.

Danford Balch would later claim that what happened next was the result of his wife “bewitching” him. When Balch learned of the elopement, he. Became deeply depressed, which led to days of no sleep and 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 immediately arrested, but managed to escape from the wooded jail he was being held in while awaiting trial. Finally arrested again six months later on his own property, he was tried, found guilty, and subsequently hanged in October of 1859, making Danford Balch the first (legal) hanging in the Oregon Territory.

Mary Jane Balch, the “Witch” in our story, continued to live on the property. To this day, some attribute the strange occupancies at the Witch’s House to the ghosts of Danford, Mortimer, Anna, and Mary Jane.

If all this doesn’t make for an intriguing hike, then I don’t know what does. It definitely got us out on the trail.

Sadly, the Witch’s House is not the actual Balch home. Over time, the Balch land was passed to various owners, and was eventually given to the City of Portland by Donald Macleay in 1897 to be used as a park. In 1929, the City of Portland built a park ranger station with running water and restrooms for hikers that was maintained by Portland Parks and Recreation. It suffered from repeated vandalism, and during the Columbus Day Storm of 1962, received severe damage to the plumbing and roof from toppled trees. The city decided not to repair the building, and instead removed all the fixtures, doors and roof. All that remains is the stone framework. It is that stone structure that stands today as the Witch’s House.

How we got there: The Witch’s House is an easy half-mile hike from the Upper Macleay Parking lot (which is where we parked – for free) near the Portland Audubon Society. You follow Balch Creek on the Wildwood Trail. It is a slightly longer three-quarter mile hike starting from the Lower Macleay Parking lot at NW 30th and Upshur. You can also pick up the trail just to the right of the Wildlife Care Center at the Audubon Society, and then the only turn you’ll make is a quick left onto the main trail.

It was an amazingly beautiful, green, and peaceful hike to the Witch’s House. The hike was everything you would imagine a hike to be in the Pacific Northwest. I was even able to get past the fact that the trail was slightly wet and muddy, sort of. If you knew me, you would know my aversion to getting dirty. But, I made it through!

At the end of the day, we all had a great time together exploring a pretty cool little corner of our world.

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