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Did a psychiatric hospital once exist at the site of the Hawthorne Asylum Food Cart Pod?

More than 20 food and drink vendors currently operate at the Hawthorne Asylum Food Cart Pod in Southeast Portland.

An archway with a metal sign featuring the words "Hawthorne Asylum" stretches over an opening in a walled complex at a street corner with food carts and people visible inside.

The metal arch over the entrance is a modern addition created by in-house welders.

Photo by Cambrie Juarez, PDXtoday

Drive past the Hawthorne Asylum Food Cart Pod in Southeast Portland, and you might find yourself asking, “Was there an actual asylum there?” The short answer is… yes.

In 1861, a doctor named James C. Hawthorne (the same person for whom the Hawthorne Bridge is named) founded the first treatment center in the PNW for asylum medicine — then referred to as “moral treatment” — on Southeast 12th Avenue and Salmon Street, according to the Oregon Encyclopedia. Within two decades, the facility had grown to 327 patients.

The Hawthorne Asylum closed after the state opened its own facility in Salem in 1883 and its patients were transferred. A fire destroyed the abandoned complex in 1888.

Today, the Hawthorne Asylum Food Cart Pod is home to 21 different carts serving everything from craft beer on tap to sushi. It officially opened in early 2019 with covered seating, a fire pit, and metal sculptures.