Officially known as Stone House, the Witches Castle consists of steep steps that lead up to the stone ruins of a building. Now covered in moss and degraded by graffiti, the once small family home is now a feature on a very popular trail for hikers and dog walkers. Located within Forest Park in Portland, it is said that within 30 minutes of walking on this trail, over 150 walkers will pass you by. The park covers 5,200 acres and includes trails consisting of over 80 miles.
Whether starting your walk at the Upper or Lower Macleay parking areas, you will meet the witches castle. Nestled in the forest and surrounded by streams, waterfalls, and branches that are covered in moss.
Danford Balch Homesite
In the mid-1800s, Danford Balch purchased the land that the cabin stands on and hired a labourer to clear the surrounding area. The newly employed Mortimer Stump moved in with the family while he carried out his work. While living under the Balch’s roof, he fell in love with Danford’s daughter, Anna. Within a short time, Mortimer asked if he could marry Anna however Balch, unhappy with the relationship refused to consent. When the couple told Anna’s father that they would elope if necessary, Balch threatened to murder Stump.
In 1858 the couple did elope and married. During the time between them eloping and returning Danford drank heavily, became severely depressed, and slept very little. On hearing the news that Stump and his daughter were on their way back, he intercepted them on a ferry and shot Stump in the face.
Danford Balch was immediately arrested but managed to escape from the small wooden jail that he was detained in. For six months the authorities searched for him and eventually he was found hiding on the land of his property.
Executed in mid-1859 Balch was the first recorded legal execution in the whole of Oregon.
According to some locals, Balch committed murder due to going insane following his depression and alcohol intake. Others believe that his wife ‘bewitched’ him and this is the reason for him carrying out the crime. Hence the name ‘Witches Castle’ was adopted. The wife continued to live there until she passed away.
The Witches Castle
The stone house was passed through several owners until it was taken on by Portland Parks, who began to maintain the area. Locals say that the park rangers used the building as a station, other historians suggest that the ranger station was a newly built facility in 1935-1936. It was used as a public restroom and a base for the park rangers.
After a severe storm in the 1980s, the rangers abandoned the building as the council deemed it too expensive to restore. At which point, high school students began using the site to hold parties on Friday nights. This continues today.
The Ghosts of Witches Castle
Despite the moss that covers the roofless ruins and the graffiti that stains the walls, people continue to visit Witches Castle, and sightings throughout the years have been recorded.
When the building was being used as a ranger station there were many reports that the visitors felt uneasy. They expressed to others that the toilets would flush on their own and that they would feel homesick when they were walking around the area.
There have been a few accounts of visitors sensing that a passage was present nearby that would take them somewhere else should they step into it. They state that the thought of entering the passage gave them a feeling that they were heading home.
There have been further descriptions of orbs that flicker around the building and sounds of children whispering nearby as well as horrifying screams that come from nowhere. Teenagers and visitors have also described hearing the death call of the Barred Owl and an apparition of a man in clothes from the 19th Century walking around hooting. They recollect that once the man saw them her started looking around him and asking for Anna. As these occurrences are more often during October, the anniversary of Balch’s death, folklore believes that Balch has been wandering for decades, looking for his daughter, with only the owls to speak to.
Although there are no ideas as to why there would be children whispering, legend says that Anna and Mortimer remain on the land, rekindling the war against Balch. Details of seeing two spirits fighting in the night confirm that the war continues in the afterlife.
Photo: Finetooth on Wikipedia