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Zoo construction unearths poor farm remains

by: COURTESY OF OREGON HISTORICAL SOCIETY - The Hillside Farm, a 160-acre poor farm owned and operated by Multnomah County from 1868 to 1911. Construction of a stormwater-retention system trench at the Oregon Zoo have uncovered remains believed to belong to residents of a poor farm that had been on the site more than a century ago.

Workers halted construction in the area while an investigation and recovery was done by Archaeological Investigations Northwest, a consulting firm that assesses and protects historical resources, have recovered remains of nine unidentified individuals.

Zoo officials plan to re-inter the remains at a nearby site on zoo grounds if possible.

“Based on the information available, we believe these were residents of a poor farm operated by the county here more than a hundred years ago,” said Heidi Rahn, director of the Better Zoo Program, which oversees construction projects funded by the 2008 zoo bond. “We are treating these remains with the utmost dignity and respect, and we will return them to a resting place close to where they were found.”

The Hillside Farm, a 160-acre poor farm owned and operated by Multnomah County from 1868 to 1911, was on a portion of Washington Park occupied by the zoo, Hoyt Arboretum and the World Forestry Center. Historical documents indicate a cemetery was near the zoo’s southern border; however, precise boundaries are not clear.

Zoo managers were aware of the property’s history. Human remains were discovered during construction of the Predators of the Serengeti exhibit in 2008. These remains were reburied nearby.

The current excavation is the first stage of construction on the new Elephant Lands habitat, scheduled to open in 2015. Construction will proceed once the remains have been recovered.