The F Line Trolley to SW Portland Cemeteries

On the last day of 1889, The Morning Oregonian reported on a trial run of the Metropolitan Railway Company's new electric trolley from downtown Portland out to Fulton Park. Some 200* gentlemen had boarded the F Line at Washington Street and were treated to a scenic trip past the city limits, through the timber, across trestles, up a long grade, and out on the brow of the hill to the power house in Fulton Park. The writer exclaimed about the beautiful view, including the Willamette River and country beyond extending to the Cascades with Mount Hood looming grandly in the distance. Soon winter took its toll, with heavy snow interrupting service and frigid temperatures freezing water at the powerhouse, followed by spring landslides that blocked the tracks. So it wasn’t until May of 1891 that the planned extension of the F Line to Greenwood Hills and River View cemeteries was ready. But it was an impressive two-year acomplishment, the ambitious brainchild of four businessmen with commercial interests in the developing area south of the city. One-hundred-and-thirty years later, two SW Portland residents have made it their business to retrace the history and the route of this trolley that once brought city dwellers six miles out into the countryside for only 5¢.

*Clarification. Not all 200 gentlemen got on One trolley! This was not a Train! There had to be a number of trolley cars put into service, each holding 2 or 3 dozen gentlemen. We are not sure how this was managed.

F Line: Metropolitan Railway: Portland—Fulton·Park—Cemeteries Line (1890~1899)

The F line connected downtown Portland with Greenwood Hills Cemetery, and penetrated upper River View Cemetery. An overall map is in preparation. For now, we describe key segments of the line on this page.

This is the route of the F Line, to the best of our knowledge (3/2021). Each of these segments is detailed below, in order.

  • The F Line originated in NW Portland and traveled south along 2nd through downtown;
  • Came out from Portland on Corbett to about Slavin Road, leaving Corbett to cross a trestle to be in position for a long ascent;
  • Sliced along the east slope of the West Hills and two more trestles to arrive at Fulton Park via Brier Place Trench;
  • Stopped at Fulton Park;
  • Left via a trestle over SW Custer and Stephens Creek, landing where SW Crestline is now in Carson Heights;
  • Went up through Carson Heights to Taylors Ferry;
  • Crossed Taylor's Ferry and went along the western edge of Beth Israel Cemetery;
  • Swung an arc toward the entrance of Greenwood Hills Cemetery;
  • Crossed Boones Ferry Road and entered Greenwood Hills, heading east toward River View Cemetery;
  • Reached the western edge of River View Cemetery to a Cemeteries Station approximately where section 122 is today.

How the F Line Travelled through downtown Portland

In the summer of 1889, the Metropolitan Railway Company acquired the rights to 2nd Street, where a horse trolley had operated, and began laying standard gauge tracks from NW 2nd and G (Glisan) Street south through the heart of town. At Grant Street the tracks turned off 2nd and headed east to Front, went south on Front to Gibbs, then east again to Corbett Avenue. Once on Corbett, it was only about a half-mile to the city limits, around Hamilton Street, and in another few hundred yards the trolley left Corbett (near Slavin Road) and headed into the wilderness.

The F Line came out from Portland on Corbett to about Slavin Road, leaving Corbett to cross a trestle to be in position for a long ascent.

At Slavin and Corbett - a WOODEN TRESTLE. The Metropolitan Railway trundled along a trestle over an unnamed ravine (now I-5) before starting its ascent along the side of the West Hills. We think this is a photo of the Slavin Trestle. (Slavin is our name for this trestle.)

(Original Caption) On the outer end of the old Metropolitan line, shortly before the tracks were removed in 1900. The car has recently left Corbett Street, and the area pictured here is now occupied by the I-5 freeway. Oregon Historical Society photo. [Labbe,p97]

The following map shows alignments we've considered over time for the F Line between Slavin and Fulton Park. The thin blue line may be most correct. The I-5 project makes it difficult to reason about where the F line may have gone. Air photos of the area before I-5 construction gives us an idea of the curved portion south of Slavin Road.

Long glide uphill from Slavin to Brier Place

The F Line sliced along the east slope of the West Hills passing over two more trestles to arrive at Fulton Park via Brier Place Trench.

There would also have been trestles corresponding to the contemporary Iowa and Vermont trestles for Barbur Blvd. One can see old piers for the Red Electric Iowa Trestle on both sides of the ravine. The same is true east of the Vermont trestle. We assume that any Metropolitan Railway piers were lost to I-5 construction. (We may submit an info request to ODOT later in this project.)

There is a curious man-made Trench north of Fulton Park, aligned with SW Brier Place. The trench is indicated below with thin red lines, and a trestle with brown.

Brier Place Trench — a perfect trajectory in to Fulton Park

This trench is in the right location, and is the right size for a trolley track and small car to travel. The trench fits an account an F Line rider published in the Oregonian in the early days of the line. (The man-made trench is clearly visible on LIDAR imagery on the Special Features page.) The northern portion of this alignment (if any) would have been obliterated by I-5. (Since this was written, we seem to have identified another surviving segment of this trench below Slavin Road. See the image in the Lidar section of the Collection.)

A sewer line was built in 1925 using this trench. We think the sewer folks took advantage of the abandoned Metropolitan trolley line. A written report likely does not exist, but we are studying the 95-year-old plans for the sewer!

The F Line Stopped at Fulton Park

This is the way we figure the tracks went through Fulton Park. The location of Powerhouse (below) not yet known or shown.

Approximate (Theorized) Fulton Park Track Path

We'd LOVE to have a map of the Fulton Park area in 1891-1899, showing the tracks, the trestle, and the location of the Fulton Park Powerhouse. We do have this 1890 Bird's Eye View drawing shows the Metropolitan Railway arriving in Fulton Park. (In 1891, the line was extended to the cemeteries.)

Fulton Park Bird's Eye view [Elliot Publishing Co. San Francisco]

Fulton Park Powerhouse

Where did the electric trolley get power?

A powerhouse was set up in 1890 at Fulton Park just off the Oregon & California (aka Southern Pacific) Rail Road line at the time (where Barbur Blvd runs now). Heavy rail brought wood to fuel the boilers. The powerhouse also needed a reliable supply (unquantified) of water, source unknown - brought via rail?

Fulton Park Powerhouse Plant -- Oregonian, January 1, 1891 [Labbe,p71]
Fulton Park Powerhouse Plant on some later trip, evidently.

The powerhouse measured 120'x36'. Trolley cars could enter main level. One or more cars could be stored there. Dynamos and boilers on lower level. The bunkhouse was on upper floor, heated by steam room below. It seems to have been sited on a slope, with a daylight basement. Notice the Rail Siding. All these things considered, where was it situated?

In 1897, the Fulton Park Power plant was dismantled and the equipment was moved to the central station in East Portland.

The Portland—Fulton·Park—Cemeteries Line was then (evidently) powered from the Central Station until the line was discontinued. Eventually, Portland's street car network was powered by hydro-electric power generated at Willamette Falls, and distributed by a few power stations..

Fulton Park Real Estate Available!

The two principal founders of the Metropolitan Railway Company were brothers George A. and James Steel, noted Portland bankers, entrepreneurs, and real estate developers, who also had financial and marital connections to River View Cemetery’s founding families. So when the Steels invested in land in the Fulton area, there was plenty of incentive to build a trolley to get people out to their holdings.

Doing business as the Southwest Portland Realty Company, the brothers bought 272 hilly acres above the Willamette River settlement of Fulton and called it Fulton Park, or Fulton Park Addition. It extended west into what is now the Carson Heights area of the South Burlingame neighborhood and north to the land now occupied by Portland Parks and Recreation's Fulton Park. With little regard to topography or buildability, the Steels platted their land, cleared it of timber, and created almost 1,400 lots, building a few demonstration houses around Fulton Park Boulevard. Promotional pieces in the Oregonian described Fulton Park as being away from the malarial influences so peculiar to flat lands and having a delightful east view… telephone and telegraph communication with the city…and five miles of beautiful boulevards. And by 1891, it was only a trolley ride away!

LOMBARD Map of properties For Sale in Fulton Park

Full resolution un-cropped map is available in the Collection.

The F Line Left Fulton Park (Over Custer and Stephens Creek) via Fulton Park Trestle

The F Line also needed a trestle to get from Fulton Park across one of Stephens Creek's ravines in order to continue on to a terminus on the other side.. No record or trace of this trestle has (yet) been found. I-5 and a sewer project likely obliterated any remnants.

The F Line Landed on SW Crestline

Today's SW Crestline is situated along the top of a natural arm of land between two drainages. It is in a good position and alignment to receive the trolly line tracks from Fulton Park, given a trestle. This is pure speculation on our part, bolstered by the trace of the F Line on the 1894 Portland Paving map.

The F Line went up through Carson Heights to Taylors Ferry

Up Through Carson Heights to Taylors Ferry

The path shown holds to the natural gradient. I walked the neighborhood many times, keeping my mental track from bending very much at any point.

The F Line Crossed Taylor's Ferry Road at Terwilliger

We recently heard that a layer of gravel was encountered when excavating for a retaining wall between the Beth Israel Cemetery and an addition to the Terwilliger Center. This was probably ballast used for the trail track ties! Also, lore has it that an old house that used to be on that site had steps in the back that led from the tracks to the second story for whatever reason.

The F Line Swung an Arc toward Greenwood Hills Cemetery Entrance

To Greenwood Hills Cemetery

The Trolley went along the western edge of Beth Israel Cemetery and then swung a wide arc slightly down hill to cross Boones Ferry Road and enter Greenwood Hills Cemetery.

At the entrance, there is a house that was the caretakers house, built in 1878.

The F Line went into Greenwood Hills Cemetery, toward a Depot in River View Cemetery

Several sources indicate that the Metropolitan Line extended to the Western Edge of River View Cemetery.

Several sources refer to a 'Depot' or station in River View Cemetery at this upper location. It makes sense that there was something at the end of the line, where a funeral procession could change over from trolley to horse drawn carriage or whatever, plus it would be a shelter for people to wait for their return trip. Siting it on the boundary between Greenwood Hills and River View would allow both to use it. There is a great view of Mount Hood at that location!

The photo below seems to show such a station or 'depot'.

Low convertible from the Stockton works shown here in the Cemeteries station at the southern end of the Metropolitan Line. (OHS) [Labbe,p74]

We are pretty sure we know where the station was sited, within a hundred feet or so. [Photo of site here soon.]

This was the Southern Terminus of the F Line. The F Line was not extended to Oswego or Oregon City as originally thought.

F Line Details

Electrical poles along the line were painted green, cream, and bright vermilion, the same color the cars were painted when they came on line. Vermilion can be described as a deep tomato-red. Can you imagine this!?

Electrical poles and cars were painted green, cream, and bright vermilion!

The cars operating on the route were the first trolley cars manufactured in Oregon (Milwaukie?). They were classified as convertible cars and were enclosed, but their windows could be propped up against the roof (ceiling?) to allow cooling air flows for passenger comfort. Car 27 is shown at the top of this page.

Questions to Answer about the F Line!

  • Where was the Fulton Park Powerhouse foot print? It was close to the Southern Pacific line (today's Barbur Blvd) that brought wood to fuel it.
  • How did the Trolley traverse Fulton Park area to the Fulton trestle?
  • Where was the trestle that crossed from Fulton Park toward what is now the South Burlingame Neighborhood?
  • How did the Trolley traverse South Burlingame to get to the top of Taylors Ferry?
  • Where exactly was the Cemeteries Station/Depot at the southern end of the Metropolitan Railway Line?
  • Are there any vestiges of these trolley rail lines anywhere in South Burlingame, Collins View, or John's Landing?
  • Are John T Labbe's notes and files available anywhere? Answer: Yes! OHS has them all in an archive. The back cover of his book says that a second book is in Preparation, and There will also be a history of all routes served in Portland, as well as coverage of shops, power stations, carbarns, etc. We think he died before this was published.
  • Is the map maker Alexander Ceres living? Can he be reached? I have a few questions. LOL.
  • Do any Trolley cars like the ones shown here still exist, or were they all burned?
  • Other Questions?