Portland's Mt. Tabor, a volcanic cinder cone, was named by Plympton Kelly, son of Oregon City pioneer resident Clinton Kelly, after Mt. Tabor in Israel, six miles east of Nazareth. In 1894, the city built two open reservoirs on the site (two other open reservoirs were built in 1911). By 1900, Portland's growing eastside population demanded park space; in 1903 landscape architect John C. Olmsted recommended the city obtain more land at Mt. Tabor. In 1909, the Board of Park Commissioners used voter-approved bonds to buy approximately forty lots on Mt. Tabor for $366,000.
Portland Parks Superintendent Emanuel Tillman Mische, who had worked with the Olmsted Brothers' landscape design firm in Massachusetts, developed a naturalistic design for the park. The plan included long flights of stairs, gently curving parkways, numerous walking trails, and a nursery yard. It also showcased native plants. In 1912, construction workers discovered volcanic cinders which were later utilized in surfacing the park's roads.
At the crest of the park is a bronze statue of Harvey W. Scott, editor of The Oregonian newspaper from 1865-1872 and from 1877 until his death in 1910. A gift to the city by Scott's widow, Margaret, and family, it was sculpted by Gutzon Borglum in the early 1930s while he was at work on his monumental sculpture of four American presidents on Mt. Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Cast by the Kunst Foundry in New York, it was unveiled in June 1933 with great ceremony.
In 2017, the Mt. Tabor Park summit restrooms were reopened after being closed for many years. Funding from the 2014 Parks Replacement Bond allowed critical improvements like new plumbing, electrical systems, sewer line, lighting, roof, seismic upgrades, and ADA accessibility improvements from Harvey Scott Drive to the ADA accessible restroom.