My father, like many a good parent of his era, always threatened us to turn off the lights, eat everything on our plates and not do anything that would waste money. Otherwise, we would end up in the poor farm, he claimed.
Poor farms were real things – the welfare programs of an earlier time for people who had fallen on hard times and needed a place to live and work while getting back on their feet. During the Great Depression, they were true lifesavers for otherwise hard-working, decent people.
One of the poor farms in Oregon was Edgefield, about 15 miles west of Portland. For more than 70 years, it was a working farm where residents had chores and responsibilities that helped pay for their stay. By the late 50s and 60s, it had transitioned into a nursing home of sorts and finally, in the early 1980s, it closed entirely.
The buildings sat empty for nearly a decade until local historians and the McMenamin brothers stopped the wrecking ball. The McMenamin brothers are well-known in Portland for the number of craft breweries and fun restaurants they operate. The brothers bought 75 of the original 300 acres and started cleaning up the mess. They started with a small winery, then a micro-brewery and a movie theater and each year added a bit more fun.
There are now nine buildings that serve as restaurants, bars, coffee roasteries and home to various craft artisans, including a glass blower and potter. The spa is in a building that had been a recovery facility for “women of ill repute.” The former de-lousing shed is now one of eight bars on the property.
Glamorous Getaway at the Edgefield Poor Farm
The main lodge now has 130 guest rooms, each with an individual story of someone who had been a resident there. The hallways, doorways, walls, windows and even the exposed water pipes are painted with delightful murals that also tell the story of the poor farm and its residents. There are 18 full-time artists on staff – something you don’t often find in any sort of hotel or resort.
Of course, a place this old with up to 600 residents at a time has to be haunted. The most haunted room, they say, is room 215. As the McMenamin brothers began their work, being good Irish Catholics, they had a bagpipe brigade play “Amazing Grace” throughout the Main Lodge to cleanse the space of any unfriendly spirits.
In keeping with the history of a poor farm, none of the rooms are elegant, although they are indeed quite comfortable. Many have their own private bath, but a majority have shared baths down the hall, as the residents of the poor farm once had.
Even if you don’t stay overnight, explore the hotel area to appreciate the history and the creativity of the artists, and of course, the vision of the Brian and Mike McMenamin. They really went out on a limb here and preserved something special.