Learn About Salem!
Honored twice as an “All-American City” by the National Civic League, living in picturesque and historic Salem you’ll experience a premiere quality of life. Offering safe and secure residential neighborhoods with well-cared for homes at every price point surrounded by beautiful parks, breathtaking vistas, quaint shopping, amazing dining and outstanding cultural activities, making your home here means enjoying all the best qualities of rural living combined with the intellectual pursuits and exciting entertainment opportunities you might only find in a major metropolis.
Salem is scenically set on 45 square miles centered in the heart of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, one of the most fertile and agriculturally productive regions in the world. Conveniently located between Portland and Eugene at the crossroads of I-5 and Highway 22, Salem is the Marion County Seat as well as the Oregon State Capital with a population of approximately 140,000 residents. Also within the city limits lies a portion of Polk County known as West Salem, which is the gateway community of this most desirable region.
Because of its proximity to Portland, many who live in Salem do so because of its family-friendly ambiance and easy commute to the metropolitan area and its cluster of high-tech industry. Salem itself scores high as a wonderful place to do business with low taxes, an educated workforce, responsive government, developable sites and a modern transportation infrastructure.
Founded in 1841, Salem is not only one of the west’s oldest cities but the first outpost of higher learning providing a tradition of educational excellence that remains to this day. Jason Lee, a Methodist missionary who was Salem’s first pioneer settler, founded Willamette University in 1842, making it the western frontier’s first college. Willamette’s tree lined campus is situated at the edge of downtown, just across the street from the State Capitol building providing residents not only educational opportunity but also sports events and cultural amenities like the University’s Hallie Ford Museum of Art.
The town of West Salem was originally laid out in 1889, incorporated in 1914 and merged with Salem in 1949. In 2001 the city launched an ambitious redevelopment program for West Salem, which includes rehabilitation and preservation of historic architecture as well as development of parks and public infrastructure.
The Willamette River winds through the Salem area forming the boundary between Marion and Polk counties with Salem proper on the Marion County side and much of West Salem on the Polk County side. Featuring mountains and the majestic Oregon coastline to the west, mountains and lakes to the east plus an abundance of rivers surrounding it, Salem offers outdoor recreation opportunities for all ages and abilities.
Bordering the Willamette River is Salem’s historic downtown district boasting unique places to eat and one-of-a-kind shops, boutiques and galleries housed in historic buildings dating to the turn of the twentieth century. At the nearby Salem Center, shoppers can take their pick of any number of national retailers including the only Nordstrom store between Portland and San Francisco.
Impressive state government buildings border the city’s historic downtown business area. Built in 1938, the Oregon State Capitol Building houses Oregon’s Legislature as well as the offices of the Governor, Secretary of State and State Treasurer. Adorned with Depression Era art and four types of marble, this example of Modern Greek architecture is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Just a few blocks from Willamette University and the State Capitol is the Mission Mill Museum Complex containing beautiful grounds, a millstream and 14 historic structures visitors can explore at their own leisure or through guided tours. Home of town founder Jason Lee has been moved to the site along with other pioneer homes complete with their original furnishings.
Salem’s two most gracious residential districts are near the Mission Mill Museum featuring a significant number of homes carefully restored and maintained. These neighborhoods offer some of Salem’s most exclusive and desirable residences in a conveniently located, extremely charming, historic setting.
Nearby at Bush’s Pasture Park, discover the home and farm of pioneer newspaper publisher, banker and entrepreneur Asahel Bush II. Built in 1878, this Victorian mansion with many of the original furnishings and ten impressive Italian marble fireplaces is open as a museum. The ravishing 100 acres of surrounding grounds provide one of Salem’s most treasured public spaces, featuring glorious rose gardens that bloom from early spring to late fall. The park plays host to Salem’s renowned Annual Art Fair and Festival every July and the original family barn has been converted into the Salem Art Center’s exhibit and sales galleries.
The fertile, volcanic soil makes the area famous for its breathtaking gardens abloom with acres of tulips, daffodils, peonies and iris. You’ll thrill to a brilliant show of color each spring when flowers grown as commercial crops burst into bloom. Be sure to visit the nearby town of Silverton and tour The Oregon Garden, with its gorgeous water features and theme gardens.
Blessed by a unique microclimate that compliments the rich earth, the hills surrounding Salem have become home to many fine wineries and vineyards. Local wineries have acquired distinguished reputations among connoisseurs around the world for their Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and other varietals. Nothing can compare to a summer day spent on a wine tasting tour or better yet, purchasing a winery as your primary residence or second home. Salem is a great place to raise kids with quality public schools, 34 neighborhood parks and playgrounds, one of the top children’s museums in the Pacific Northwest, as well as a storybook theme park and thrilling amusement park. Sports fans enjoy the Skate Palace, Wallace Sports Complex and Cottonwood Lakes Golf Center plus the Volcanoes, the SF Giants farm team, plays a summer season of 38 games in nearby Keizer that attracts families from throughout the Willamette Valley. Four state parks, two national wildlife refuges plus the Willamette and Santiam Rivers all provide unspoiled open spaces where you and your children can really get out and enjoy life. Popular pursuits include skiing, hiking, camping, fishing and boating, all just a minutes from your door. Salem takes great pride in its citizen involvement and countless volunteers help create neighborhood parks, promote crime watch programs, staff libraries, and support a variety of other projects. Truly one of the finest cities you could choose to make your home, Salem is the place where you’re certain to settle down to generations of happily-ever-after living.
Salem is centered in the heart of the Willamette Valley, between Portland and Eugene at the convenient crossroads of Interstate Highway 5 and Oregon Highway 22. The county seat of Marion County, Salem also includes within its city limits a portion of Polk County know as West Salem, giving the incorporated metro area a grand total of 45 square miles.The Willamette River winds through the Salem area forming the boundary between Marion and Polk counties. There are mountains and the majestic Oregon coastline to the west, mountains and lakes to the east and an abundance of rivers surrounding it. Portland is forty-five minutes north, Eugene is an hour and fifteen minutes south while nearby towns include Four Corners, Keizer, Hayesville, Labash Village, Turner and Brooks.
Getting around the Salem area is fast and convenient on a modern, well maintained infrastructure of roads, bridges, highways and freeways. Set at the crossroads of I-5 and State Highway 22, whether you’re headed near or far, north or south, east or west, Salem offers easy access no matter where your travels take you.Salem is served by Portland International Airport (PDX), about a forty-five minute drive north on the I-5 where 17 carriers provide flights to practically anywhere you choose to travel around the globe including many non-stops to top domestic and international destinations. There are a wide range of ground transportation options including the PDX Shuttle Service transporting riders between Salem and Portland International Airport in 90 minutes. Closer to home, McNary Field/Salem Municipal Airport just off the I-5 approximately 2 miles southeast of Downtown Salem, serves private planes and helicopters. The superb public transportation system is known as Cherriots with bus routes connecting all areas of the city from Salem proper to West Salem to the surrounding communities. The main transit mall is located in Downtown’s Courthouse Square where 22 lines converge. Covered pedestrian walkways connect all buses to the comfortable waiting room and customer service counter. Travel is even free inside the Downtown Salem/Capital Mall area bounded by Mission, Front, Union and 12th Streets. Known as the Fareless Square, it’s ideal for riders heading from the Capital area to downtown for lunch as well as shoppers who want to get around downtown. Travel is also fare-free into West Salem on the West Salem/Downtown Shuttle connecting the Courthouse Square Transit Mall with the Glen Creek Transit Station and the five bus routes that serve West Salem. Amtrak’s Cascades and Coast Starlight routes, two of the most scenic train lines in the nation, stop in Salem. The Coast Starlight runs from Portland to Los Angeles passing through Eugene, Sacramento, Oakland/San Francisco, San Jose and Santa Barbara. The breathtaking scenery along the Coast Starlight route is unparalleled featuring snow-covered mountains, dense forests, fertile valleys and long stretches of Pacific Ocean. The Amtrak Cascades run from Eugene to Vancouver, British Columbia, transporting riders through the majesty of the Pacific Northwest on sleek European-designed trains known as Talgos. Greyhound Bus also maintains a fully staffed depot in Downtown Salem.
A Brief History
Native Americans known as the Kalapuya began inhabiting the Willamette Valley about 10,000 years ago, harvesting roots and berries and hunting game. The Indian name for the locality was “Chemeketa” said to mean, “meeting or resting place.”Trappers arrived in the early 1800’s and some turned to farming the fertile soil. In 1834, missionary Jason Lee came to minister to the Native Americans. In 1841, the Jason Lee Mission was moved from the Willamette River to Mill Creek where his group of pioneers built a sawmill and gristmill. In 1842, they founded the first institution of learning west of the Rockies, the Oregon Institute, which is now known as Willamette University. Shortly afterwards, the U. S. government made treaties with the Kalapuyas, whose population had been declining since the 1780’s due to disease and the loss of their traditional ways. The treaties required the Kalupuyas to move onto reservations in the coastal range leading to a surge of settlement that began starting in 1843 when thousands of settlers traveled overland on the Oregon Trail hoping to start a new life in the fabled Willamette Valley, acclaimed in the East as a new Garden of Eden. Salem was laid out after the Lee’s mission dissolved in 1844, taking its name from an anglicized form of the Hebrew word “shalom” meaning peace. The Donation Land Law promised 320 acres of free land for each resident. Fleeing the economically depressed Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio River valleys, many of the pioneers came with their families to start a better life in a healthier climate. Farms were established, trees planted and roads to the mountains and through the passes were carved out. Religious leaders arrived to provide comfort and counsel to settlers.When gold was discovered in California in 1848, the Willamette Valley provided wheat, timber and goods shipped by steamboat on the rivers to Portland and then to California. Salem was among the towns that profited woolen and flourmills, businesses and housing along a broad river terrace. Salem became a place of clapboard houses instead of primitive log cabins. By 1864, Salem was declared the Oregon State Capital and its destiny as a city of note was sealed. The telegraph arrived in 1864 followed by train service from Portland in 1870. In 1886 the first bridge across the Willamette River was constructed and by the 1880’s the town boasted all the civic institutions necessary to ensure law and order. Churches were established and stately public buildings constructed including a state capital building. Tree-lined streets and parks were added and stately mansions were built including the magnificent Italianate Victorian, home of Asahel Bush II, founder of the first newspaper and bank in Salem.Literary, natural history, musical and fraternal organizations were formed. The Reed Opera House featured Shakespearean plays and concerts. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoyed fishing, hunting, and sailing. Families traveled up the Santiam canyon to picnic in the woods along the river. Other than the fact that the Reed Opera House has been transformed into a retail destination with shops and restaurants, very little has changed and town residents still enjoy all those activities today. In Salem, the past remains present in the quality of life that has remained constant throughout the city’s history.The current Oregon capitol building erected in Salem in 1938 after devastating fire twice destroyed previous structures stands in the heart of the city, testament to a future that remains as bright as the past. One of the most beautiful capitols in the nation, the four story white marble building with its Modern Greek style architecture is surrounded by a stately park and the main entrance contains a rotunda 106 feet in height plus large murals depicting Oregon history.Since the 1900’s, Salem has diversified its agricultural economy to include hops, berries, fruits, flowers and grass seed extending its trade by shipping products around the world. The lumber industry remains a factor in Salem’s economy and in recent years tourism and high-technology has grown important. State government however remains the lifeblood of the local economy, representing the largest employer in the city. Today’s Salem is the second largest city in Oregon, with a population of 140,000 people.