Select Page

WhirLocal Salem

(112 reviews)

222 Commercial St NE PMB 2303
Salem, Oregon 97301

Nestled in the heart of the Willamette Valley, Salem, Oregon’s historical landmarks provide a glimpse into its past. Let’s explore nine of the top historical places and museums that every visitor (and resident) should see.

Oregon State Capitol Building

  • History: Completed in 1938, the Oregon State Capitol is the third building to serve as the state’s capitol, as the previous two were destroyed by fire. This iconic structure boasts an Art Deco design and features a bronze statue of the Oregon Pioneer—fondly referred to as “The Gold Man”—on its dome.
  • Highlights: The Capitol offers guided tours where visitors can learn about Oregon’s history and governance. Don’t miss the observation deck for panoramic views of Salem and the surrounding valley.

Deepwood Museum & Gardens

  • History: Completed in 1894, the Historic Deepwood Estate is a beautiful example of Queen Anne style architecture. Over its existence, the home has been owned by various prominent Salem families and now operates as a museum.
  • Highlights: The home features original woodwork, glass, and fixtures. The surrounding gardens span five acres and include nature trails, gazebos, and formal gardens designed by the famous Lord & Schryver landscape architecture firm. Additionally, the gardens serve as a popular Salem wedding venue.

Willamette Heritage Center (Mission Mill)

  • History: This five-acre site highlights the industrial history of the Willamette Valley and features 14 historic structures. The area originally served as a Methodist missionary settlement in 1841, after the mission relocated from the area now known as Willamette Mission State Park.
  • Highlights: Today, visitors can tour the historic homes, the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill, and enjoy interactive history exhibits on pioneer life, the indigenous Kalapuya people, and the textile industry.

Chachalu Museum and Cultural Center

  • History: The Chachalu Museum and Cultural Center stands as a testament to the Tribes and Bands of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde. The museum recounts the narrative of the tribes’ journey through termination, relocation, and restoration and honors the elders who carried the torch to keep tribal traditions and dreams alive.
  • Highlights: Open to the public, Chachalu is not merely a museum but also a hub where the history and culture of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde are continually celebrated. Chachalu serves as a center for cultural activity, ensuring that the Tribe’s stories, history, and traditions are not only preserved but actively practiced and shared with new generations.

Bush House Museum

  • History: Constructed in 1877, the Bush House was the residence of one of Salem’s prominent early residents, Asahel Bush. The house provides insights into the life of a prosperous Salem family during the turn of the 20th century. The Salem Art Association (SAA) serves as the caretaker of the Bush House Museum.
  • Highlights: The museum features period furnishings, artwork, and personal items from the Bush family. Adjoining the house is Bush’s Pasture Park, a 90-acre urban park with rose gardens, walking trails, and a historic conservatory.

Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health

  • History: The Oregon State Hospital, which opened in 1883, is potentially best known for being the filming location of the Academy Award-winning movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” In 2012, the Museum of Mental Health was established to preserve and interpret the history of the hospital, its residents and workers, and the treatment of mental illness in Oregon.
  • Highlights: Visitors can view authentic artifacts, photographs, and recordings that provide a sensitive and informative perspective on the history of mental health care. The museum also sheds light on the challenges and evolution of mental health treatment over the decades. For “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” fans, there is an exhibit entirely dedicated to the film and its making.

The Grand Theatre

  • History: The Grand Theatre holds a cherished position in the city’s history. It opened in 1900 and originally focused on live entertainment such as theater, musical performances, and vaudeville.
  • Highlights: While The Grand Theatre still hosts performances and events, it is also home to offices, conference rooms, and ballrooms. Catch a show to go back in time and experience the magic!

The Elsinore Theatre

  • History: Opened in 1926, the Elsinore Theatre was originally a silent film palace, adorned with Gothic-style architecture. Over the years, it transitioned to accommodate vaudeville acts, talking films, and other live performances.
  • Highlights: The fully-restored theatre stands as a testament to Salem’s commitment to arts and history. Its breathtaking architecture and mural, combined with its rich program of performances and movie showings, makes it a must-visit for history buffs and art enthusiasts alike.

Reed Opera House

  • History: Situated in the heart of downtown Salem, the Reed Opera House is a reminder of the city’s cultural and commercial past. Commissioned by Cyrus Adams Reed and opened in 1870, the structure initially housed an opera theater, hotel, and various shops, making it a bustling center of 19th-century Salem life.
  • Highlights: While the opera no longer resounds within its walls, the building is still a hub of activity, housing various shops, restaurants, art studios, and ballroom. Visitors often revel in the juxtaposition of historic charm coupled with modern-day businesses, making it a unique blend of Salem’s past and present.

Salem’s historical sites present a layered mosaic of the Pacific Northwest’s history, from indigenous history to early settlements, to industrial revolution and periods of change and growth. Exploring these sites can give residents and visitors alike a deeper knowledge of the city’s growth and its role in Oregon’s broader history.

Other WhirLocal Neighborhoods in Oregon