Did you know there was once a roller coaster on Council Crest?

Did you know there was once a roller coaster on Council Crest?
The old amusement park at Council Crest (from the City of Portland archives).

PORTLAND, Ore. - High up in the West Hills of Portland is a quiet, peaceful park with breathtaking views and an incredible history.

Every Friday we put the spotlight on a Portland park and this week we headed to Council Crest, a 43.51-acre greenspace located along Southwest Council Crest Drive.

What makes Council Crest Park one of Portland's notable parks is its serenity and views of the cityscape and mountains.

At 1,073 feet, Council Crest is one of the highest points in town. Not only can you see the buildings in downtown Portland but mountaintops rise in the distance.

On a clear day you can see Mount Hood, Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, Mount Jefferson and Mount Rainier.

The Council Crest of today is a far cry from what it was over 80 years ago. You see it was once the home of an amusement park nicknamed 'Dreamland of the Northwest.'

Back in the early 1900s folks could take a trolley ride up to Council Crest and spend the afternoon on rides (including a ferris wheel and roller coaster), head to the top of an observatory for a birds-eye view of the growing city and play games along a midway. Dances and other special events were also held there as part of the attractions.

During its heyday, the amusement park was a popular destination for folks looking for a fun way to spend a day with their family. So what happened? Why isn't it still there?

The answer is simple - the Great Depression did it in. The amusement park shut down in 1929 and by 1941 it was demolished. Today, 'Dreamland of the Northwest' only exists in Portland's history books and perhaps in the memories of a few of our city's oldest citizens.

Although the only remnant of the amusement park is a tall water tower at Council Crest that used to be part of an observatory, a recent find up there just might be an emerging piece of history from those days. You see a volunteer work crew with Friends of Marquam Nature Park found what appears to be a very old light bulb.

"We found it under brush and ivy and dirt - sort of partly buried in the dirt," said Robin Jensen with Friends of Marquam Nature Park.

Jensen said after cleaning up the find she discovered the words 'National Mazda' on the bulb, along with a GE logo. "I Googled it and found that it was an early 1900s light bulb," she said.

Indeed, if you look up antique lights online, specifically Mazda bulbs, you'll find information that could mean that this find has ties to the old amusement park.

If course it'll be up to historians to determine where the bulb may have come from and how old it is. Jensen said they plan on handing it over to the Oregon Historical Society to find out.

If You Go to Council Crest

Nowadays at Council Crest Park, you'll find folks relaxing on a grassy knoll where the water tower sits, huffing and puffing their way up the hill on a bike or playing with their dogs in an off-leash area.

When we stopped by this week we talked to Claire Lematta, a local resident who often walks her dog, Charlie, at Council Crest Park (the two are pictured at right).

"You see weddings up here sometimes and lots of bicyclists," she told us. "The really hard core bikers, the crazy ones, like to come all the way up to the top. It's a long haul up that hill."

And while Lematta did mention the old amusement park, she loves what Council Crest is today. You see for Lematta, who has only been in the neighborhood for around four years, the park setting and surrounding trails are the attraction.

"It's the first time I've lived in the Southwest hills, so it was a real revelation to discover all the trail systems," she said.

Part of the 4T Trail - a loop that takes you to the Oregon Zoo, OHSU, Washington Park and downtown Portland - runs through Council Crest Park.

The trail name stands for Trail, Tram, Trolley and Train and it's billed by the city as the 'ultimate Portland excursion.' Basically you do some hiking and catch rides on the OHSU tram, a trolley and MAX along the way.

For those who drive up to Council Crest, it can be a little difficult to find if you don't know where you're going. Set your GPS to take you to Southwest Council Crest Drive or use a mapping program to give you driving directions. If you do drive up there, keep in mind that Southwest Sam Jackson Road is closed right now while the city works on a retaining wall project.

More Fun Facts about Council Crest

Courtesy of the Portland Parks & Recreation Website

Originally known as Talbot's Mountain after its pioneer settlers, Council Crest has also been known as Glass Hill and later as Fairmount, the name of the road that encircles it. According to legend, Council Crest got its name because it was there where Native Americans held meetings and built signal fires. According to McArthur's Oregon Geographic Names, however, it was named in 1898 by delegates to the National Council of Congregational Churches, who met on the top.

In July 1956, a welded, sheet bronze drinking fountain featuring a mother and child was installed in the park. Sculpted by Frederic Littmann, an associate professor of art at Portland State College, it has been mistakenly identified as a pioneer woman. The sculptor said the statue did not represent a particular era; it was simply a mother and child playing in the park and depicts joy. The fountain was made possible by a $6,000 bequest to the city in 1949 from the estate of Florence Laberee, widow of local builder and contractor George P. Laberee.

In the 1980s, the statue was stolen in the middle of the night by vandals who used hacksaws to dismantle it from its base, sawing through the mother's ankles. Nearly 10 years later, during a narcotics raid on a home in northeast Portland, officers found the rusty statue in the backyard under a cover. The statue was re-erected in the center of the park near the entrance, as opposed to its original location on the eastern side of the park.