The F Line Trolley to SW Portland Cemeteries

Metropolitan Railway Car 12 [Thompson, RTPS P18] -- one of the first Fulton Park cars ordered in 1889 from the Pullman Car Co.

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 several trolley cars 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¢.

Note that the 'Brill' trolley cars used on Dec 31, 1889 could carry ~80 passengers, so there had to be a number of them put into service, operating independently, we think. Six Brill cars were purchased to start the F Line.

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

The F Line connected downtown Portland with residential and commercial areas to the south, and ultimately Greenwood Hills Cemetery, and upper River View Cemetery. An overall map is in preparation. For now (3/2021), we describe key segments of the route to the best of our knowledge. Each of these listed segments is more fully detailed further down the page.

  • The F Line (also referred to at the time as the 2nd Street Line) originated in NW Portland and traveled south along 2nd Ave through the commercial center.
  • 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 crossed two more trestles to arrive at Fulton Park via a trench, in line with the current SW Brier Place
  • Stopped at Fulton Park
  • Left Fulton Park via a trestle over Stephens Creek, landing where SW Crestline Drive is now, in Carson Heights
  • Went up through Carson Heights, crossed Taylors Ferry; went along the western edge of Beth Israel Cemetery; swung an arc east toward Greenwood Hills Cemetery
  • Crossed Boones Ferry Road and entered Greenwood Hills, heading into River View Cemetery, arriving at a 'Cemeteries' station.

How the F Line Travelled through downtown Portland and out Corbett Avenue

In the summer of 1889, the Metropolitan Railway Company acquired the rights to 2nd Ave, 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 Ave, went south on Front (now Naito) to Gibbs Street, then east again to Corbett Avenue. Once on Corbett, it was only about a half-mile to the city limits, around Hamilton Street.

Civilization thinned out after Hamilton and soon the trolley reached gulch beyond which even Corbett Avenue came to an end.


The F Line left Corbett at about Slavin Road, crossing at least one wooden trestle to begin a long ascent

When Corbett Avenue reached the gulch at Seymour Street and Slavin Road, it headed straight south on a bridge, while we believe the F Line trundled off to the southwest on its own wooden trestle. A 1909 map showing a WOODEN TRESTLE FOR ELECTRIC RY is on the Special Features page, but we don't know for sure if it was for the F Line. We’ve named this the Slavin Trestle, after the popular touring and market road that was the principal way through the hills and into the farmlands to the west.

The gulch is now filled with I-5, and we believe the Slavin Trestle landed on the south side of the gulch near the I-5 exit for Corbett Avenue. As the trolley headed southwest, another ravine soon needed to be crossed, and that trestle was curved to fit the contour of the hillside. We think this is a photo of the curved 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 Metropolitan curved trestle was later replaced by a sturdier version for the Oregon Electric, traces of which can be seen in mid-20th-century aerial photographs. I-5 takes an equivalent curve at that point, then follows much of the route of the F Line from here to Fulton Park. You can see it marked with a yellow arc in this huge air photo: [JPG].

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.

Map #1 shows our alignment for the F Line between Slavin and Fulton Park. The I-5 project (1960) makes it difficult for us 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.

Map #1. Long glide uphill from Slavin to Brier Place

In Map #1, we show trestles over the Iowa and Vermont ravines. Our explorations under the contemporary bridges on Barbur and I-5 have turned up old piers for the Red Electric on both sides of the Iowa and Vermont ravines, under and to the east of Barbur — but no Metropolitan Railway piers, which we assume were lost to I-5. The closest we’ve come to pinpointing the alignment of the F Line in that area was learning about a concrete retaining wall built at Iowa in 1913 for the Oregon Electric, which experienced the same landslide problems the F Line had. The remaining wall segment, covered with ivy, was visible on the west side of I-5 until ODOT rebuilt that overpass in ~2011 and took the wall out to build a construction detour lane. (See a photo of the wall in the Special Features page.)

We think the F Line approached Fulton Park through a man-made trench, or 'cut', aligned with what is now SW Brier Place.

The location of the trench fits The Morning Oregonian account of the Metropolitan's first run, in which the writer described the route to the powerhouse as 'a little below the O&C line' (now Barbur Blvd). The man-made trench is clearly visible on LIDAR imagery on the Special Features page. The northern portion of this alignment would have been obliterated by I-5. Since this was written, we have identified what looks like another surviving segment of this trench, below Slavin Road. See that 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

Fulton Park was the end of the F Line until the extension to the cemeteries was finished in May 1891. It was also the site of a powerhouse that produced electricity for the trolley. (Scroll down for a drawing and photo of the powerhouse.) The precise location of the powerhouse is not yet known or shown. Map #2 below shows the way we figure the tracks went through Fulton Park.

Map #2. Tracks coming in to Fulton Park via Trench and Leaving Via Trestle.

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 that shows the Metropolitan Railway entry point to Fulton Park. The house in the drawing, just northeast of the powerhouse, was built in 1880 and still exists.

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

Fulton Park Powerhouse

Where did the electric trolley get power?

The powerhouse was built and equipped in 1890 at Fulton Park just off the Oregon & California (aka Southern Pacific) Railroad line at the time, where Barbur Blvd runs now. We believe trees cleared from the Fulton Park development fueled the boilers at the powerhouse, but additional wood may have been brought in by heavy rail. Likewise, we’re not sure how the powerhouse obtained the supply of water it needed to create steam for the dynamos, but we do know it was vulnerable to freezing temperatures during the winter.

Fulton Park Powerhouse Plant -- Oregonian, January 1, 1891 [Labbe,p71]
Fulton Park Powerhouse Plant on some later trip, evidently. [Labbe,p66]

The powerhouse measured 120'x36', and seems to have been sited on a slope. Trolley cars could enter the main level, where one or more cars could be stored. Dynamos and boilers were on the lower level. The bunkhouse was on the upper floor, heated by the steam room below. Even with hints about terrain and track orientation in the drawing and photo, we still don't know exactly where the powerhouse was!

In 1897, the Fulton Park Powerhouse was dismantled and the equipment was moved to a new powerhouse associated with a sawmill in East Portland, where the Oregon Museum of Science and Industries (OMSI) is now. The Portland—Fulton·Park—Cemeteries Line was then (evidently) powered from the Central Station until the line was discontinued in 1899.

Eventually, hydroelectric power generated at Willamette Falls and distributed by a few power stations supplied Portland's street car network.

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.

In 1887, doing business as the Southwest Portland Realty Company, the brothers bought 411 hilly acres above the Willamette River settlement of Fulton and named 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!

On this map, circa 1910, Macadam Avenue and Willamette River are at the bottom. The Southern Pacific Rail Road curves along what is now Barbur Boulevard. The fan-shaped platting is the developers' fanciful idea of how Carson Heights (Forum Hill) would look.

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 via a trestle over Stephens Creek and headed for Greenwood Hills Cemetery

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

Map #3. Fulton, Trestle, Carson Heights, crossing Taylors Ferry, and on to Greenwood Hills entrance

Map #3 shows the F Line landing at the end of today's SW Crestline Drive, which is situated along the top of a natural arm of land between two drainages. It was in a good position and alignment to receive the trolley line tracks from Fulton Park, given a trestle. This is our best guess, based on the F Line route shown on the 1894 Portland Paving map.

The tracks likely went up through Carson Heights following the natural gradient. (I walked the neighborhood many times, keeping my mental track from bending very much at any point.) The trolley arrived at the top of the hill where current day Terwilliger meets Taylor's Ferry Road. We believe it went south along the western boundary of Beth Israel Cemetery.

The Trolley then swung a wide arc slightly downhill to cross Boones Ferry Road and entered Greenwood Hills Cemetery. At the entrance, there was a caretaker's house, built in 1878, which is now a private residence.

The F Line Crossed Boones Ferry Road and entered Greenwood Hills Cemetery, toward a Station in River View Cemetery

According to old maps, the route of the F Line followed existing roads in Greenwood Hills Cemetery to what was then the western edge of River View Cemetery as shown in Map #4.

Map #4. Into Greenwood Hills Cemetery and Cemeteries Station

From the old Paving Maps, cemetery maps, and walking the terrain, we are pretty sure we know where the 'Depot' or station was sited, in River View Cemetery section 122.

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. We've read an account of cemetery carriages coming up to meet the trolley and pick up passengers. 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 shows such a station or depot in a fairly open area.

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

This was the southern terminus of the F Line for nine years. Earlier plans to extend the F Line to Oswego and Oregon City were abandoned.

The Look of the F Line

The trolley that had been built in such a short period of time, from 1889 to 1891, nevertheless made a strong visual statement along its six-mile route. The Metropolitan’s electrical poles were painted an eye-catching green, cream, and vermilion to match the first cars, the effect of which is lost in the old sepia-toned photographs.

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

The photos do show that the F Line cars were handsome, featuring rich wood and glass, bold signage, and snappily dressed conductors. The first cars operating on the route were ordered from the Pullman Company and were either enclosed or open to the air. Riders had complained seasonally of being either too hot or too cold, so convertible cars were added to the inventory. In 1891, the Metropolitan took delivery of the first Portland-made trolley cars, built by Vulcan Manufacturing Company at a carhouse on Second and Montgomery. These convertible cars provided year-round comfort, with hinged window panels that could be kept closed during the winter or propped up against the roof to let the air-flow cool the passengers in the summer.

Car 12 is shown at the top of this page. Car 27 is shown at the top of the Collection page.

The End of the F Line

We can only speculate about why the F LIne lasted a little less than ten years. It was an expensive line to run because of the rugged and unstable terrain, as well as a powerhouse that needed to be stoked with wood and supplied with water. It could also be that the land at Fulton Park was not selling as anticipated so there was little motivation to get people that far out of town, or perhaps the Metropolitan’s agreements with the cemeteries lapsed. These are all things we need to keep researching.

The F Line had changed hands many times since the Steel Brothers sold the Metropolitan in 1892 to focus on their East Side Railway Company. And when the City & Suburban Railway took over the lease of the Metropolitan in 1897 and dismantled the powerhouse, it was the beginning of the end of this unique route. The new operators moved power generation to East Portland and replaced the standard gauge tracks downtown with narrow gauge to conform to the rest of Portland’s trolley lines. City & Suburban must have decided it would be cheaper and easier to run their cars on a lower-elevation route through what is now John’s Landing, even though the change in gauge required passengers to transfer to another car on Corbett at Abernethy Street. In 1899, the F Line’s tracks were being pulled up and by 1900 the narrow gauge tracks on Corbett had been extended to the Fulton community, and soon after to a lower entrance of River View Cemetery on Taylors Ferry Road. This was the N-S Line, which we describe on its own page: [N-S LINE]

Questions to Answer about the F Line!

  • When the F-Line left Corbett to crossed the gulch there, did it use a trestle that never showed up on any map? (The Sandborn 1909 Map shows a trestle for an Electric RY, but the F-line preceded that by decades.)
  • 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? (Aligned with 2nd Ave.)
  • 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?
  • Where did the iron rails come from? (The Midwest, via transcontinental railroad?)
  • Are there any vestiges of these trolley rail lines anywhere in South Burlingame, Collins View, or John's Landing?
  • Were special funeral cars used very often? Labbe' notes [p48] that a car had been converted to be used a funeral car, but we don't (yet) have any photos or other mention of them being used on the F Line.
  • 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?