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Hoyt Arboretum Friends (HAF) is a membership-based, nonprofit organization working in partnership with Portland Parks and Recreation to support Hoyt Arboretum.

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A Short History of the Arboretum

Before 1850 the land that is now Hoyt Arboretum was a dense forest of Douglas fir, Western redcedar, Western hemlock, bigleaf maple, and red alder. In 1851 Eli and Anna Stewart made a Donation Land Claim of 320 acres, which included what is now the Arboretum. By 1865 the Stewarts had sold their land and it was owned by Multnomah County. By law the county had to provide for its poor and mentally and physically sick. On 202 acres of what is now the Arboretum the county built the Poor Farm. The inmates tended stock and took care of an extensive orchard. Because of corrupt supervision and despicable conditions, the Poor Farm was moved to Troutdale in 1911.

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Portland Parks Superintendent E.T. Mische saw the Poor Farm move as an opportunity to start an arboretum on the land. He had been trained at the Olmsted landscape firm in Brookline, Massachusetts. Frederick Law Olmsted, the co-designer of New York’s Central Park and designer of Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum was known to be a firm believer that every city should have an arboretum. It was not, however, until 1928 that Hoyt Arboretum became a reality. In 1922 Multnomah County sold the Poor Farm land to Portland for $10. The city wanted to put the land into home sites and a golf course. However, C. P. Keyser, E.T. Mische’s assistant until his departure, became Superintendent of Parks and carried forward Miche’s idea. In 1928 Keyser convince several men in lumber and forestry and County Commissionner Ralph Warren Hoyt to have an arboretum.

When the first Arboretum curator began in 1930, he planted trees, according to the 1930 Duncan Plan (trees were grouped by family), created trails and roads, and supervised the golf course construction. Some of the six years he was curator he had help from WPA, CWA, and NYA workers. The first tree was planted in 1930 and by 1936 he had planted over 4,000 trees. Ernie Fischer, who became the next curator in 1940, completed the plant families of the Duncan Plan by 1944. Fischer was curator for 30 years. 

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During Fischer's term the following events impacted the Arboretum: World War II greatly diminished travel opportunities for Portlanders, who, as a consequence, discovered Hoyt Arboretum; in 1959 the zoo arrived and took the land of the golf course (West JHills Golf Course); in 1962 the Columbus Day Storm demolished most of the trees on the south-facing side of the Arboretum. In 1969 and the early 1980s, the Arboretum was viewed as “open space”. In 1969 a ski tow, ski instructions and a food concession were envisioned, but never came to pass, and in the 1980s the Vietnam Memorial was built on 11 acres of Arboretum land. This event led to the creation of Hoyt Arboretum Friends (HAF) in 1986, a not-for-profit group to partner with the city for funding, volunteer and leadership purposes. By 2018 HAF has nearly a thousand members. It has conducted over 200 tours a years, and has over 125 volunteers.

As of 2018 Hoyt Arboretum has 12 miles of trails on 200 acres, over 6,500 trees representing 172 families. The non-native trees come from seven continents. Two of the trails are ADA compatible. 




The Donation Land Law of 1850 spurs a rush of westward migration. In 1851, Eli and Anna Steward filed a homestead claim on part of the future Arboretum’s land and remained for ten years. After a series of land exchanges, the land was deeded to Multnomah County in 1865. 

Multnomah County established a “Poor Farm” and sanatorium for people with infectious diseases and mental illness near what is now the Oregon Zoo. In 1910 scandals involving lax and corrupt supervision and intolerable conditions eventually closed the facility in 1911. 

Parks Superintendent Emanuel Tillman Mische saw the potential for an arboretum on the land vacated by the Poor Farm. 

Multnomah County deeded the land to the City of Portland.


1928 The City of Portland ordained that there would be an arboretum named after County Commissioner Ralph W. Hoyt and that there also be a 9-hole golf course on the land that was once the Poor Farm.


John W. Duncan, parks superintendent in Spokane, Washington, was asked to design a plan for Portland’s arboretum. In 1930, Duncan completed a plan for what would become Hoyt Arboretum. The plan provided specific locations for nearly 40 plant families of conifers and flowering trees, and envisioned over 500 species.

Planting of trees begins in accordance with the Duncan Plan. Some of the earliest collection trees planted at Hoyt Arboretum are the coast redwoods. WPA crews were some of the original workforce. Thousands of trees were planted by the first curator, A.C. Hinkle.

Ernie Fischer, the arboretum's second curator, established connections with other botanic gardens and arboreta, kept meticulous notes and records, and the collection grew steadily under his leadership. 

All of the 40 plant families listed on the Duncan Plan were now represented in the Arboretum. Planting continued at a slower pace after the end of World War II and has continued ever since. During the 1940's and 50's the boundaries of the Arboretum changed somewhat to accommodate a new zoo and roads serving private developments. Land was added to the north to provide a link to W. Burnside Rd. 

The Columbus Day Storm killed or badly damaged many of the trees and leveled areas of natural second growth. Much of the area required total clearing. 

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is installed on the Arboretum’s south slope. This in turn led a group of citizen volunteers to band together to begin advocating on behalf of the Arboretum. 

By 1986, this group realized that the Arboretum needed leadership, sustainable funding, and advocacy on an ongoing basis and formed Hoyt Arboretum Friends (HAF) as a non-profit organization.

Today Hoyt Arboretum nurtures a global collection of 6,000 trees and 2,300 species, 63 of which are vulnerable or endangered. The Conifer, Maple and Magnolia collections are nationally recognized. Hoyt Arboretum Friends continues to be an integral part of arboretum operations with a mission to maintain and improve Hoyt Arboretum and its collection for all people through advocacy, resources, awareness and education.