Salem, Oregon’s State Capital: June 22-25, 2011

(Editor’s note: All of the pictures are thumbnails. Click on each to view it. Then be sure to click the back button to get back to the text or the next image. Don’t “close” the picture — that will cause the whole travelogue to close!)

In the interest of seeing not only the beautiful Capital building but also a peek at the Willamette Valley, we skirted Portland for the moment and headed 50 miles south for a few days. Our campground was manicured like a golf course and not at all friendly to RVers with children or dogs. We felt like there were surveillance cameras watching us. Nevertheless, it was perfect for a short stay because it was convenient to everything.

The Capital is handsome, as was the fountain across the plaza in front of it. The most impressive feature is the fact that it is totally open and accessible to everyone. There were no screening machines, required registration, showing of id’s – not even a uniformed security person. You walked through the colonnade under the dome and climbed the main of its three staircases to an information center for courtesy registration and directions. Or you just wandered. The woman at the front desk said they’ve never had a problem.

A series of marbled halls led everywhere. The walls were adorned with portraits of every governor, with Tom McCall’s being larger than the rest. There was a row of showcases chronicling a dozen or more of Oregon’s take-the-lead legislation. Most of them were enacted during McCall’s period in office. A cryptic remark was on the panel of the law requiring an attendant when pumping fuel. It was next to the panel of assisted suicide. The comment noted that we had the right to kill ourselves by suicide but not at the gas station.

We observed both lower and upper chambers from the spectator level, though it was too early for sessions. We stood in a hall outside a committee room watching the session on TV. And we gawked at the huge murals throughout the open colonnade.

This is Oregon’s third Capital building. The first was destroyed by fire in 1855. The second also succumbed on April 25, 1935 to fire; there is a memorial poster that pictures it totally engulfed. The current one was built between 1936 and ’38 and later expanded.

From the Capital, we drove down to the Riverside Park, an expansive opportunity for the people of Salem and tourists alike to enjoy the outdoors. Setup of an International festival was underway, slated to open two days later. We walked beyond it to Salem’s Riverfront Carousel, a fascinating story. A Salemite named Hazel Patton visited Missoula, MT in 1995, where she rode the city’s famous Big Sky Gaiety Carousel, the first old style carousel built in America since the depression. She was determined to duplicate the attraction at home. By the next year, volunteers were busy whittling the horses. On June 1, 2001, the Salem carousel held its grand opening. I told the volunteer in charge about the Parker Museum we’d seen in Leavenworth where a woodworker was repairing a pig. She told us that the difference between a carousel and a merry-go-round was that the former had only horses while the latter could have multiple animals – though most references say the names are synonymous. (Who’s that little kid in the red shirt?)

In the afternoon, we toured the Willamette Heritage Center at Mission Mill. It’s an in-town attraction formed in 2010 by the merger of the Marion County Historical Society and Mission Mill Museum in the original Thomas Kay Woolen Mill. The warehouse is the admissions building, gift shop, and interpretive center of the Mission founder, Jason Lee. Four buildings on the property date from the Mission’s era: Jason Lee’s house, a Parsonage, the John D. Boon House, and the Pleasant Grove Church, all dating from the 1840’s and 1850’s. We were fortunate to get a guided tour from Claire, a volunteer docent about our age who delighted in turning full circle to become Chloe Clark Willson of Jason Lee’s era. She took tremendous delight not only in touring us and providing history of many of the artifacts throughout. But she took even greater pleasure charming us with many stories about the much-interwoven families in the community.

Lee’s house was actually four apartments, occupied, at least at the time of this exhibit by his family, his nephew Daniel’s family, and the Parrish and Raymond families. There was a stairway up the center – now but not then. Upstairs dwellers had to use a ladder.

The Parsonage hosted the teachers at the manual training school for the Indians that later evolved to Willamette University. Occupants included Gustavus Hines, William Roberts and George Gray.

Like Lee, John D. Boon was a Methodist missionary sent to save the Indigenous Population. His house had one of the first in-building kitchens. After working trades for a time, he got interested in politics and became the treasurer of the territory of Oregon — and later the first treasurer of the state of Oregon. He ran the treasury from his general store near the Capital. Today, his building near the Capital, Boon’s Treasury, is a celebrated dining and entertainment facility.

Adjacent to the Mill is a sluice that ran through town off Mill Creek to provide water power to run it. It is preserved and enhanced by Pacific General Electric, and has an actual working turbine. You can see from the picture at left that numerous ventures in town were served by the Creek and the Mill Run, and how the two branches actually put Boon’s Treasury – and the Capital – on an island.

The Mill was founded in 1889 by Thomas Lister Kay was operated by four generations of his family until 1962. The family heritage is preserved by the fact that the world Famous Pendleton Woolen Mills is owned and operated today by Kay descendants. It consists of multiple buildings housing different functions, though one large one holds much of the process. The functions included, but were not limited to, blending, burr picking, acid carbonization, scouring, dusting, dyeing, fulling, pressing, spinning. weaving, and inspection. And, of course, teasel gigging. No, I’m not kidding. It’s a process of raising the nap with a machine that picks at it using thistles.

A visiting weapons exhibit was entitled Tools of Survival. One case (first picture below) included the 1803 Harper’s Ferry rifled and reiterated that Meriwether Lewis likely had 15 prototypes built for his mission in advance of the beginning of production. Other cases covered up to WW II. Sadly, the wall was postered with the descriptions of numerous Indian wars, including Yakima, Cayuse, Rogue River, Bannock and Nez Perce.

The next day, we drove the majority of the trails through Silver Forest State Park, including the Trail of Ten Falls. The tallest of the falls, Double Falls, at 178 feet, eclipses the tallest single falls, South Falls by one foot. The smallest falls, Drake Falls at 27 feet, has a rushing tail-off. The overall landscape was just as beautiful as the falls, and the primary industry in the Valley was tree farming.

We left the Valley through the town of Silverton where a sign told us we were on the 45th parallel, half way between the Equator and the North Pole.

We were also excited to drive a bit north from here, or south from our next stop, to visit the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City. Apparently, it’s defunct. We’ll try to find an alternate.

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