Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Visit to the Poor Farm

If tax preparation has left you feeling it's time for a visit to the poor farm, there’s one close to Portland uniquely suited for those taxpayer blues. It even boasts of a brewery, distillery, and winery all within walking distance.
Edgefield, located in Troutdale, about 20 minutes east of Portland, is the lovingly restored, reincarnation of the old Multnomah County Poor Farm. Begun in 1911, the farm provided a refuge for the county’s indigent population.
At its peak in the 1920s and 30s, the farm operated a dairy, cannery, meat packing plant, and was successful in providing enough food to feed its nearly 500 occupants as well as the county jail, hospital, and juvenile facility. The extensive grounds included the brick main building where the residents lived, as well as many service buildings and barns.
During World War II, the population increased with the arrival of sick and wounded soldiers. But, the boom times after the war, along with changes in the social welfare system signaled the decline of the poor farm. Caring for its growing elderly and sickly population created a shift in focus and the farm was renamed Edgefield Manor in the late 1950s. Over time, the land was leased to a local farmer, the dairy herd sold, and the main lodge became a nursing home.
The cost of upgrading the aging facility was too much for the County, and residents were moved into private facilities with the last one leaving in 1982. The empty buildings soon became a popular target for vandals and graffiti artists. Eventually, the County concluded the structures were dilapidated beyond repair and should be razed.
The local historical society challenged this decision, thus setting off years of bureaucratic battles. Finally, the farm was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, saving it from destruction, but not from continuing deterioration.
In 1988, the McMenamin brothers, owners of several pubs and breweries in Oregon, toured the facility, saw its potential, and bought it from the County for $500,000. It took years of renovation and reconstruction to upgrade the property to its current grandeur.
Today, Edgefield is the crown jewel of the McMenamins’ microbrewery empire. In the Main Lodge, the old dorm rooms have been converted to over 100 bed and breakfast rooms ranging in price from $30-$175. The men’s dining room is now the Black Rabbit Restaurant, while the women’s dining room is the ballroom, a popular venue for weddings.
To remove some of the institutional feel of the building, the walls, doors, and even exposed pipes are covered with paintings by local artists. A walk down the corridors is like a visit to an art gallery. Whimsical murals run the entire length of the third floor and reveal the history of the farm as does the mural surrounding the Black Rabbit restaurant. Free guided tours help sort out the symbolism and tell the tale of some of the more colorful guests.
The old Power Station has been converted to a cozy pub serving hamburgers, and other pub fare. A sampling of six beer varieties, some produced at the brewery next door, is available. Beverages and food may also be ordered in the adjacent 125-seat movie theater for a “brew and view” experience.
In front on the main lodge, is a three acre Pinot Gris vineyard. These grapes as well as tons of other Northwestern grapes are crushed here annually to produce 18,000 cases of wine. The winery, located in the former infirmary, provides a cozy seating area for tasting wines amongst the fermenting tanks.
If that isn’t enough to do, there’s the distillery bar, beer garden, golf course, herb and vegetable gardens, massage studio, and gift shop. The overall atmosphere is very casual and guests are encouraged to wander and explore.
The property is ideally located at the mouth of the Columbia River Gorge with its spectacular vistas, waterfalls, and hiking trails. If a tax refund is on the way, there’s plenty of temptation in the antique shops, outlet mall, and galleries in nearby Troutdale.

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