October 14th, 2022

The Mystery & History of Third Street: A Ghost Tour

Gold painted realistic face sculptures hang on an eggplant colored wall.  Each gleaming gold face has closed eyes.
The Social Room at La Rambla has eery vibes. Photo by Kari Young.

Third Street is lined with buildings that ooze history. The polished hardwood floors of Serendipity Ice Cream have absorbed footsteps for over a century. Lodgers have stood in the lobby of McMenamins Hotel Oregon since 1905. For several guests and staff of these buildings, McMinnville’s history can be downright paranormal.

Tracey Ward, author of “Spook to Spirits”, is the expert in Yamhill County hauntings. No stranger to the paranormal herself (she credits a near-fatal drowning for her heightened affinity for the other side), Tracey has always collected ghost stories. Her passion for history compelled her to find the why behind these hauntings. 

Countless hours vetting ghost stories, combing through Yamhill County Historical Society records, and talking with local historians have given Tracey an encyclopedic knowledge of the “history and mystery” of McMinnville. Below are her top five haunted places on Third Street: 

An ice cream counter extends across the room.  A player piano is tucked in the corner.  Purple damask wallpaper is prominent throughout the room.
Looks like you’re next at Serendipity Ice Cream. Photo by Terri Phillips.

Serendipity Ice Cream
502 NE Third St.

  • The mystery: The freshly-made waffle cones and Oregon-sourced ice cream aren’t the only thing giving chills in this charmingly old-fashioned ice cream shop. Witnesses have seen full-body apparitions here, most notably a woman and child dressed in their Sunday best ascending the cordoned-off stairs.
  • The history: Serendipity is located in what was once the ground floor of the first hotel in McMinnville—Cook’s Hotel—built in 1886. In addition to tastefully furnished rooms, the hotel’s main draw was an elegant parlor and dining room on the second floor. You can still glimpse this era in carefully renovated details, such as the chandeliers, stained glass, and vintage player piano.

Velvet Monkey Tea
406 NE Third St. (Basement)

  • The mystery: By day, The Velvet Monkey is a cozy tea room lined with shelves of high-end loose leaf tea and one-of-a-kind teapots. Owners Richard Smith and Serengeti Savage have noticed strange phenomena at night. Orbs of light—a sure sign of ghosts, according to Tracey— have shown up in their security camera footage. And Serengeti recalls the camera highlighting a presence at an empty chair.
  • The history: In the late 1800s, the tea room was part of McMinnville’s Chinese tunnels. After the Gold Rush of the 1850’s, McMinnville was home to many Chinese laborers. The Exclusion Act of 1882 banned these Chinese immigrants from city streets after sundown. The laborers built a network of tunnels beneath several downtown businesses complete with bunk beds, kitchens, restaurants, and more. 
A quirky hotel bed with hand painted art on the wall behind it.  The short biography of Thomas A. White is hand-lettered on the wall.
A good night’s sleep awaits at Hotel Oregon. Photo by Sionnie LaFollette.

McMenamins Hotel Oregon
310 NE Evans St.

  • The mystery: Hauntings are so frequent at the Hotel Oregon, the front desk keeps a “Ghost Logbook” of sightings. Rooftop Bar bartenders often hunt for the source of children’s laughter, only to come up empty. Downstairs in the Cellar Bar, a ghost named John is so well-known for his mischievous pranks, artist Myrna Yoder painted him on the exterior elevator doors. “Stay in room 305,” says Tracey. “And you may feel a hand tuck your blanket in for you.” 
  • The history: True to its roots, the Hotel Oregon started out as the Hotel Elberton in 1905. Rivaling the Cook’s Hotel in elegance, this building housed many businesses and countless guests and residents over the next century. On the stairway to the second floor, you can spot a painting of Tom Nicolai, a child who grew up in the building in the 1950s. According to McMenamin’s historical research, Tom and his siblings had a reputation for running up and down the halls, laughing and pulling pranks.

The Sage Restaurant
406 NE Third St. (Upstairs)

  • The mystery: The Sage Restaurant is a popular lunchtime spot that fills the street below with scents of made-from-scratch soups and freshly-baked bread. In the early morning hours, solitary staff members will feel a “presence” in the restaurant. Owner Chris Gregory recalls coming in one morning to find all of his water taps on full blast. He insists the presence has never felt malevolent.
  • The history: The Wright Building was built in 1883 by one of the “founding fathers” of McMinnville, Elsia Wright. He’s credited for promoting civilization in McMinnville by paving many of the sidewalks and erecting several downtown buildings. But his namesake, the Wright Building, was his pride and joy. 
A long, dimly lit room with purple walls and gold framed mirrors.  Two top tables are placed throughout.  A woman in a white dress walks toward the photographer.
Romantic or spooky? Both?! Photo by Kari Young.

La Rambla Restaurant & Social Room
238 NE Third St.

  • The mystery:  La Rambla is a Spanish restaurant where the tapas and paella are outmatched only by the wine list. One of these wine bottles once flew across the room to shatter against the far wall. Other, subtler, poltergeist activity—such as chairs moving on their own—have been reported by patrons and experienced by Tracey herself. 
  • The history: La Rambla is in the Schilling Building, home of the first saloon in Mcminnville, the Boss Saloon, built in 1884. The space went on to house a variety of saloons, serving beverages to pioneers until 1911. That shattered wine bottle was likely not the first those bricks have seen.

These stories only hint at the turbulent history and paranormal activity that haunt McMinnville today. “There was so much murder, mayhem, deceit, really unbelievable acts of bizarre coincidences and some horror that happened in this town,” says Tracey. For an in-depth, behind-the-scenes tour of McMinnville’s most haunted places, reach out to Tracey at the Spooks to Spirits Facebook page. And keep an eye out for her Haunted Wine Tour coming early 2023. Happy hunting!

Terri Phillips has lived in McMinnville for nearly half her life. She is the co-author of cookbook/travelog Food Truck Road Trip. She loves creating, consuming, and sharing stories in all their forms.