A preserved photo from the early 20th century showcases the estate of Ralph and Belle Jenkins, original owners of the 68-acre property on Cooper Mountain.
In 1975, the Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District purchased a 68-acre site on the northwest slope of Cooper Mountain overlooking the Tualatin Valley. The Jenkins Estate is a seven-bedroom structure modeled after a hunting lodge built for the English royal family. It features a full-length veranda porch, beamed ceilings, solid maple hardwood floors, ornate light fixtures and huge stone fireplaces. The property includes a collection of historic buildings and gardens dating from the earlier years of the 20th century. Though not extremely old, the structures and their surroundings represent the vanishing lifestyle of a genteel country society.
The first known owners of the property were the Charles G. Merrell family who moved from Missouri, traveled to Panama and across the Isthmus and sailed to Oregon City in 1845. The following year, the family settled on the land and later took a donation land claim in 1859.
After several years, the property was sold to Belle Ainsworth Jenkins and her husband, Ralph Jenkins. Belle Ainsworth was the daughter of Captain J.C. Ainsworth, a well-known Portland shipping magnate and financier. Ralph Jenkins was a station agent for the railroad. They both loved horses and met at a riding stable on Canyon Road before World War I.
Mrs. Jenkins found city life confining and desired a home in a secluded spot. She chose the site of the estate, located on Grabhorn Road, off what is now Farmington Road and SW 209th Avenue, 16 miles west of Portland. Farmington Road was then a muddy plank road and Grabhorn a graveled road.
In 1912, construction was begun on the estate and three years later the majority of the buildings were completed. Among these were splendid English-style gardens, a greenhouse for plants, an ornamental pool and tea house for relaxation, a carriage house, a stable for the horses with an area for dairy cows and a covered riding arena.
In the early days, the Jenkins couple lived and entertained on the rustic estate while a large household staff maintained the gardens, main house and other buildings. Mrs. Jenkins once used the signal box, which still hangs on the wall in the kitchen, to call some of the many full-time employees hired to help run the estate. Some of the employees lived on the estate in the main house, in the stable, or in the farm house which was located down a winding roadway at the east end of the estate and not visible from the main house.
Mrs. Jenkins kept to herself in later years and, during the last 25-30 years of her life, ceased entertaining. Mr. Jenkins enjoyed having the caretaker drive him to his club in the city each afternoon to play dominoes. In 1955, Mr. Jenkins died of diabetes at age 87.
Mrs. Jenkins survived her husband and died eight years later in 1963. Childless, Mrs. Jenkins willed the estate to a friend who had cared for her and the estate during the later part of her life.
After a few years, the expense of keeping the estate in a well-maintained manner became excessive. It was sold, in 1971, to Franklin Service Corporation. At one time, the company had plans to offer THPRD the 15 acres on which the buildings are located, with an extensive subdivision planned for the remaining acreage. The Park District was able to purchase the entire 68 acres after it became clear that sewer and water services would not reach the area for years. The estate was purchased for $525,000 after voters approved a $10 million bond issue for park acquisition and development in 1974.
By the time the Park District acquired the Jenkins Estate, many of the buildings and gardens were in a neglected condition. The property was purchased with the intention of developing facilities for cultural and recreational use.
The gardens on the estate were planned by the gardener for the prime minister of Canada and were planted in a traditional English picturesque style. During the original landscaping of the estate, many species of plants were imported from all over the world and many of these plants remain as unique specimen trees and shrubs. Stone-lined pathways wind through the gardens to complete the traditional picture. The garden areas also include a garden pool, a rockery, a cut flower garden and a greenhouse.
The Jenkins Estate is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.