Salem Things to Do

  • Salem Capitol Building and Mall, in Spring
    Salem Capitol Building and Mall, in...
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  • Walkways along Capitol Mall in Spring
    Walkways along Capitol Mall in Spring
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Best Rated Things to Do in Salem

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    The Capitol Building Exterior Architecture

    by atufft Updated Jan 10, 2011

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    Gold Leaf Statue on top Oregon Capitol Dome
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    Oregon's current state capitol building is one of the most unique among the state capitols in the USA. After the tragic burning of its traditonally constructed copper dome building in 1935, the current structure was built on the same site, and completed in 1938. Financed in part by WPA money during the Great Depression, the conical art deco style dome was conceived by Francis Keally in conjunction with New York architects Trowbridge & Livingston, and adheres to the pioneer theme which is the basis for Oregon's self-reliant spirit. The Ohio state capitol dome is the only other state with a dome conical in form, so perhaps the original pioneer state of the old northwest territory agrees well with the Pacific northwest, I don't know, except that both states begin with the letter "O". The 166 foot tall dome is winged on left and right by some 233,750sq ft of office buildings occupied by the legislature, governor, secretary of state, and treasure of Oregon. After the tragic fire that consummed the earlier distinctive copper domed building on the same site, many had wanted the new capitol to be built on one or another sites around town, but downtown business leaders managed to keep the current site. Appreciation of the Egyptian-Greek style dome has been slow as detractors have labeled it as a "paint can" or "squirrel cage". Similarly, appreciation of the gold leaf stylized pioneer statue atop the dome has been delayed. Nevertheless, the exterior of the building, finished with Vermont marble, has considerable architecture merit. Sculptor Leo Friedlander created works that flank the main entrance. On the left is a tribute to first explorers of Oregon, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and Sacagawea, while on the right is depicted a stylized view of pioneers and covered wagons along the Oregon Trail. Additionally, Ulric Ellerhusen, who cast the gold leaf pioneer structure, crafted 5 exterior marble relief sculptures, and

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    Minto-Brown Island Park, Wildlife Refuge

    by glabah Updated Dec 18, 2011

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    Osprey nest in Park: anyone still use it?
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    This park contains a number of paved trails (for both bike and wheelchair use) that weave their way through an old orchard, farm land that is currently in use, preserved suburban wilderness, and along the Willamette River. There is almost 900 acres to this park, so there is some variance in the terrain. Some of the trails are not paved.

    The park is located in seasonal flood lands of the Willamette River, and from time to time various areas of the park are not accessible due to flooding of various areas.

    You will most likely see Canada geese while visiting (especially in winter), and possibly a few other birds. Wood ducks enjoy the wild woodlands on the west side of the park where the trails run through forest along some of the small waterways. The osprey nest seen in the photo was visible from one of the paved trails, but appeared to have been abandoned when the photo was taken. A few years later osprey built another nest on a large dead tree elsewhere in the park. There is also a platform they use in one of the farm fields.

    One of the paved trails runs along the Willamette River, and it is possible to see bald eagles tending their nest on the other side of the river during the few weeks before the tree leaves cover it up and make it invisible.

    Turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks, and various other birds may be seen here.

    There is a very large and popular off-leash dog area that is towards the center of the park - keep going past the first parking area on the main road into the park, and you will find it just fine. At the end of the main road into the park there is a picnic shelter and small playground area. An off-leash dog area and a playground compliment the park nicely.

    There are no flush toilets anywhere in the park. It is all portable toilets.

    An entire map of the park is available on the city of Salem's web site.

    In 2010, signs appeared in the park describing a habitat restoration plan that was in progress for the park. So far, only preliminary work has been done in 2011 but changes are likely in the future for converting some of the farm land back into native habitat.

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    Salem Riverfront Carousel

    by glabah Updated Sep 24, 2009

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    Salem Riverfront Carousel: preparing to ride
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    A huge volunteer effort was launched some years back to construct an authentic carousel on Salem's waterfront. The carousel would be electric and not steam, and completely enclosed inside a building. Other than that, the idea was to create a true hand crafted work of art, just as it would have been built in the 1800s or 1900s.

    Today, Salem's Riverfront Carousel is located inside a nice modern building, and operates on almost all days. It is open to the public except when there are private groups that have rented the space for a special party.

    Children under a certain height must be accompanied by an adult, and one of the modern features of the carousel are straps for holding children into the saddles.

    It is very much a work of art. According to the displays inside the building, no power tools were used in the construction of the carousel horses. Unique hand crafted decorations cover the entire machine, and many of those feature items that are particular to the state of Oregon.

    If you are interested in the wood carving, go into the memorabilia store that is next to the carousel. Along the west wall, you will find the entrance to the restoration shop. Visitors are asked to please touch the horses and other carvings that are under repair or construction here. If they are open, you can ask the volunteers about the stories that go with each of the carousel horses. Some of them know some fairly good stories about the inspiration behind the animals.

    I have created a Salem Riverfront Carousel Travelogue with more photos of the Carousel and one or two of the restoration shop.

    The carousel operates inside Salem's Waterfront Park. There is a special parking area for the carousel, but it is nearly always full. There is a larger parking lot on the north side of the park near the old railroad bridge. It is also possible to park on one of the downtown streets or parking garages. Crossing Front street is easy at the traffic lights, but it is a very busy road so be careful.

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    Capitol Grounds to the North: County Walk

    by atufft Updated Jul 5, 2008

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    Within the pavement of the North Capitol Grounds are stepping stones for each of the 36 counties of Oregon. The name, county seat, and date of admission into Oregon are provided. Just a few examples are shown here. This is a good historical tour for children, or a good place to walk the dog.

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    Salem Riverfront Park

    by glabah Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    map of Salem Riverfront Park near park's center
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    As the name implies, Salem's Riverfront Park sits right on the river. The land was originally a paper plant, but has now been remade as a downtown recreation area. The majority of the park exists as wide open grass fields that serve as a good place for picnic or other summer and sun activities. There is a small outdoor ampitheatre, and an extremely nice covered picnic area for days when the weather is not sunny. Concrete trails and benches are located throughout the park, including along the river. While this is not generally a place to go wildlife hunting, if you have some decent equipment you might be able to see something across the Willamette Slough on the northern edge of Minto Island. (As a general rule, though, if you are in Salem and want to see wildlife, it is better to go a little south of downtown and visit Minto Island and its wildlife refuge proper.)

    While the park has busy streets near it, it doesn't suffer too much traffic noise, though there is some.

    Several features of the park warrant their own tips:
    Salem Riverfront Carousel is located near the center east side of the park, and very popular with children visitors year round
    EcoEarth Globe was created from remnants of the park's past life
    Willamette Queen is a boat used for river cruises during meal times, and uses the dock at this park as its primary departure point
    A.C. Gilbert Discovery Village is a childrens museum and activity place created from some of Salem's old houses

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    Willamette Queen

    by glabah Written Jan 1, 2008

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    Willamette Queen at Riverfront Park pier
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    I will admit that I have never taken one of their river cruises. However, the price of $35 for a river cruise plus lunch seems like a very good deal compared to what some of the similar river boats in Portland are charging. Some day, I will go on one of these trips, but not yet.

    The boat departs from Salem's Riverfront Park, which is very easy to get to from downtown.

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    State of Oreogn Capital Mall

    by glabah Updated Mar 5, 2013

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    Looking south at Capital and its open park mall
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    Today when someone says "mall" generally the thought is of a large shopping center. However, that was not always the case. The term "mall" may be used to describe pedestrian friendly streets, long sidewalks, or other similar locations.

    "The Mall" in Salem (the one at the capital building, not the one downtown with all the stores!) consists of a corridor of open grass heading slightly east of direct north. There are several fountains, and a flower garden at the far north end.

    The fountain closest to the capital building is frequently used by children (and sometimes adults) to cool off on hot days. Unfortunately the fountain at the north end, which is far more unique, is closed to public entry.

    At various locations through the mall, there are diamond shaped stones in the sidewalk. Towards the north end none of these have anything interesting (at least not yet - they appear to be reserved for future use), but towards the south end the diamond shapes are engraved with various things. Some of these are the dates of incorporation of the various counties of Oregon (see photo 4). Others are significant dates in the city or state history (ie, the completion of the freeway between Portland and Salem, or Oregon's National Guard being the first to be called to serve in World War I).

    Others, however, give somewhat more humorous insights into the state's history and founding, including some famous and infamous quotes about the state government. Witness, for example, the stone shown in photo 2: At the Constitutional Convention in 1857, it is proposed that the state legislature assemble every 10 years, and then only for the purpose of striking down any laws that may have happened to pass in the previous assembly. The prayer "Lord Forgive Them, for they Know Not What They Do" was offered by the minister asked to provide the invocation for one of the territorial government legislative sessions in the 1850s. In 1937 the Valsetz Star newspaper, then under management by a 12 year old girl, reported that they had decided they were a Republican newspaper, but would not charge Democrats any more purchase price than Republicans.

    The area directly under the mall is a parking structure, and there are several elevators and staircases that come to the surface throughout the mall. These are the odd glass enclosures that line the sides of the main part of the mall.

    Much of the mall is open space, and it is not unusual to see people relaxing here, especially on warm days.

    The large trees on either side of the mall are cherry trees, and for a few days each spring they announce their presence with vivid colors that contrast against the drab concrete of the utilitarian government buildings that line the mall on the east and west side. Sometimes this massive blossoming happens in early March. While these blooms only last a few days in the wind and rain during our normal March weather, there are a number of other flowers in the flower beds along the mall, and it can be a colorful place under the right conditions.

    As it is officially a state park, I have provided a link to the state park page below.

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    State of Oregon Capitol Building

    by glabah Updated Jul 31, 2007

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    State Capitol: summer day bath in front fountain
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    It seems like most of us who were raised in the Willamette Valley decades ago were given at least one (and in some cases several) visits to the State Capitol Building as part of school activities. Due to the reduced budget of school districts today, perhaps this is no longer done.

    The capitol building has a large statue of a pioneer on the roof which is covered in gold leaf.

    On the east side of the building, there is a park area with several monuments, as well as some of the remains of the original capitol building, which was destroyed by fire in the 1930s.

    The main entrance to the building faces north, and faces the Capitol Mall (which is a park-like area built directly above a parking lot).

    The fountain in front of the capitol building is sometimes a popular place for people to cool off during hot days.

    The web site below gives a virtual tour and quite a bit of history of the various buildings that have served as the State of Oregon's Capitol Building.

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    AC Gilbert Discovery Museum / Children's Museum

    by glabah Updated Jan 1, 2008

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    Note huge rocking chair on front portch of house

    I don't know that much about this facility, which is on the north side of Salem's Waterfront Park, and I have no children right now to test it with. I know that it is very popular with area children all year, as I have seen many families with children going into the facility. So, by observation I can say that seems to be a popular place with the children in the area. The huge rocking chair on the front portch of the main house, the fact that it was created from preserved examples of historic Salem houses, and what appears to be a tiny but tall waterslide park all make for a very interesting looking facility.

    Perhaps one of the more eccentric features of this facility is the name: it is named as a "children's museum" or "discovery center" or various other things, all depending on the map at which you are looking. The official name is "A.C. Gilbert's Discovery Village" and it claims to be a hands on and interactive children's museum and educational learning experience.

    If you are passing through this way and need to let the children unwind for a while, this facility plus the Salem Waterfront Carousel, plus letting them run around in Waterfront Park itself might provide the required refreshment time.

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    Capitol Grounds to the North: Memorials

    by atufft Written Jul 5, 2008

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    North Capitol Grounds Fountain
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    On the other side of a broad one-way boulevard are an extensive plaza area where memorials and landscaping create a pleasant walk between various state capitol office buildings. The most notable feature is a large bronze fountain that unfortunately was turned off at the time of my visit. I couldn't find a plate memorial or even on-line reference to this fountain, but I believe it is devoted to world peace or some other such positive symbolism. This area is clearly the newest contribution to the landscaping around the capitol building.

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    Capitol Grounds to the North: History Walk

    by atufft Written Jul 5, 2008

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    Oregon State Capitol Paving Stone
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    In addition to the paving stones for each county, there are a large number of stones devoted to cultural and historical trivia important to Oregon. These steps provide good insight into the character of modern Oregon. There's also an effort here to preserve indigenous and pioneer folklore for all time.

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    Downtown Salem: Reed Opera House Building

    by atufft Written Jul 6, 2008

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    Reed Opera House in Salem
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    On May 16, 2008, Hillary Clinton made an unannounced stop at the Reed Opera House, as part of her Oregon state primary campaign for the president of the USA. She picked a distinctive multipurpose building in the center of downtown. Built in 1869, the building included a theater that at the time seated a larger audience than there were residents in Salem. This is a great building to wander through as it has many fine restaurants, a bakery, antique, and gift shops. The Trinity Ballroom is used for wedding parties, while the Cyrus Reed Ballroom, named for the original owner, is home to the Salem Reperatory Theatre. Reed's Opera House became the center of Salem's early social life, housing touring plays and opera companies, concerts by John Philip Sousa's band, vaudeville and minstrel shows, revival meetings, and exhibits by political cartoonist Thomas Nast, and other famous artists. Susan B. Anthony and Abigail Scott Duniway both gave speeches here during the height of the woman's suffrage movement. The official opening of the Reed Opera House was Sept. 27, 1870, with the Inaugural Ball for Oregon Governor LaFayette Grover. Subsequent inaugurations for Republican GovernorsW. W.Thayer (1878), Z. F. Moody (1892), William Paine Lord (1895), and T. T. Geer (1899) were also celebrated at the Reed. Thus, this red brick building is arguably the most historic in Salem as it is the oldest surviving opera house in Oregon.

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    Mission Mill Museum

    by glabah Written Jul 9, 2007

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    Part of the old woolen mill, now preserved
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    The museum is a complex of buildings that preserve two important historical facilities in downtown Salem: the old Woolen Mill that was in danger of being demolished in the early 1980s, and the early Christian mission that was part of early life in Salem.

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    Salem Art Fair and Festival

    by glabah Written Jul 23, 2007

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    At least one artist featured Art that Burns
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    The Salem Art Festival (one of the common shortenings of the official event title) is fairly large - perhaps twice the size of similar annual events held in various neighborhoods in Portland.

    The annual event happens in Bush's Pasture Park. During hot years, the large trees in this park help provide a bit of shade.

    The park also has a playground at the south end, which will help keep the children from being bored.

    There are so many artists booths here that just about anything you can imagine is here, from a wide variety of locations in Oregon, Washington and California - over 200 artists.

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    Willamette University

    by atufft Written Jul 6, 2008

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    Willamette University
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    The Willamette University grounds are just across state street from the Capitol grounds. The old buildings are worth a look as this is the oldest university in the western USA. Jason Lee, a missionary who first came to Oregon in 1834, originally founded a school for training indians that became known as the Oregon Institute, formally established in 1842. This private University has graduate programs in Law, Management, and Education. The current 69 acres are a fraction of what were once the campus grounds, as much of downtown Salem was once part of the University grounds.

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Salem Things to Do

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