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Saving Bull Run

Bull Run Powerhouse will open in late September for the first time in 100 years


by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - This historic photo shows an early view of the huge generators that were turned by the flow of Sandy River water. Right, a portion of one of the buildings reveals the place where trolley cars from Portland passed through the building in the early 20th century. The semicircular cut-out provided clearance for the train cars.

In 1912, transportation issues generated different conversations than they do today.

By that time in the development of the Portland area, a railroad line had been built to the Sandy River, where a powerhouse had been constructed to use river water to generate electricity for the Portland Railway Light and Power Company (the beginnings of today’s Portland General Electric).

On July 4, 1912, a poster advertised the initial trip over what was called the “New Mount Hood Railway & Power Co.’s Line.”

The poster described the trip as going “through the most picturesque territory around Portland.”

The trip began in the Montavilla neighborhood at approximately Northeast 80th Avenue and traveled east through 17 stations before reaching its destination inside the transformer building at the powerhouse. The nearly two-hour trip was priced at 75 cents, but children younger than 12 boarded free.

No food was served on that trip. The poster warned riders, “Bring your lunch baskets.”

That July 4 excursion was the first and last time the Bull Run Powerhouse was open to the public. For 97 years, Bull Run generators turned by river water supplied power to the trolleys and homes in the Portland area.

The rail line was abandoned in the mid-1930s, but the powerhouse operated until 2009. In order to restore historic fish runs to the Sandy River and its upper tributaries, PGE shut down the Bull Run Powerhouse, removed Marmot Dam and drained Roslyn Lake.

Later next month, the three buildings that comprise the facility (buildings housing the transformers, generators and shop) will be opened to the public once again — for the first time in 100 years — to celebrate the historic anniversary.

This preservation and public opening is happening thanks to the generosity of three people who purchased the Bull Run Powerhouse, Bull Run Elementary School and the Roslyn Lake recreation area.

The trio (Jeff Joslin, Rick Michaelson and Karen Karlsson) formed a limited liability company they are calling Powerhouse Re Gen.

These philanthropists are passionate about securing, improving and preserving the powerhouse facility and its history for generations to come.

“As part of our research into the history of this site, we found out they first generated power in late September of 1912,” Joslin said. “So we thought that would be an appropriate time to invite the public into the facilities.”

Re Gen will open the facility from 1-5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, but all visitors will have to park at the former Roslyn Lake recreation area and ride a shuttle bus to the powerhouse.

During the four-hour open house, visitors can see displays of historical information that Re Gen has compiled as well as listen to stories from people who lived through part of the powerhouse’s history. The displays, Joslin said, will show the early development of the powerhouse and its relationship to the growth of Sandy and the region.

Also planned are the showing of some movies and TV shows that have been filmed at Roslyn Lake or the powerhouse — movies such as “Bandits” and the TV series “Grimm.”

There will be music and food, Joslin said, along with information from representatives of various environmental organizations.

Joslin says he has heard from a number of people in Sandy who are very interested in the open house.

“This is such a magnificent and striking and unusual facility on the outside when you see it while walking across the adjacent bridge,” he said, “but it’s even more magnificent inside.”

Joslin says the principals of Re Gen have not yet decided what the future holds for the powerhouse.

“Since we acquired this facility,” he said, “we have been securing and cleaning it so we could get it to the point where we could focus on what its next life wants to be.”

Joslin is so excited about the project that he has invited everyone with any interest, and he expects hundreds to attend.

“Learn more about the history of the powerhouse,” Joslin said, “the town of Bull Run, and how this 100-year-old hydroelectric project has stolen all of our hearts.”

For more information on the open house or to offer historical information, call Joslin at 503-329-2143.