salem desk

Salem, Oregon

Salem is the capital of the U.S. state of Oregon, and the county seat of Marion County. It is located in the center of the Willamette Valley alongside the Willamette River, which runs north through the city. The river forms the boundary between Marion and Polk County, the city neighborhood of West Salem is in Polk County.

As of July 1 2007 it had a population of 152,290, making it the third largest city in the state after Portland and Eugene. Salem is the principal city of the Salem Metropolitan Statistical Area, a metropolitan area that covers Marion and Polk counties and had a combined population of 347,214 at the 2000 census. A 2007 estimate placed the population at 386,714.


Origin of name

The Native Americans who originally inhabited Salem, the Kalapuyans called the area Chemeketa, which means "meeting or resting place" in the Central Kalapuya language (Santiam). The original Kalapuya pronunciation of the word is Chim-i-ki-ti. When the Methodist Mission moved to the Chemeketa plain, the new establishment was called Chemeketa, but was more widely known as the Mill because of its situation on Mill Creek. When the Oregon Institute was established, the community was known as the Institute.

When the Institute was dissolved, the trustees decided to lay out a townsite on the Institute lands. It is uncertain who chose the name "Salem" for the new town, but it is believed to be one of two people: trustee David Leslie from Salem, Massachusetts, or William H. Willson who in 1850–1851 filed the plats for the main part of the city. There were many names suggested and even after the change to Salem, some people, such as Asahel Bush (editor of the Oregon Statesman), believed the name should be changed back to Chemeketa.

The name Salem is derived from the semitic words (Arabic salam and Hebrew shalom) for peace. The Vern Miller Civic Center which houses the city offices and library has a public space dedicated as the Peace Plaza in recognition of the names the city has been known by.

Native Americans

It is estimated that the Willamette Valley area has been inhabited for 5,000 years. The Kalapuyan peoples would gather on the plateau east and south of the current downtown area in the winter and establish camps. They fished and harvested in the streams and fields of the area. One staple of life was the camas root and periodically the Kalapuya would set fires that would clear and fertilize the meadows where it grew.


The first people of European descent arrived in the area as early as 1812; they were trappers and food gatherers for the fur trading companies in Astoria, Oregon.

The first permanent American settlement in the area was the Jason Lee Methodist mission (1840) located in the area north of Salem known as Wheatland. In 1842, the missionaries established the Oregon Institute (the forerunner of Willamette University) in the area that was to become the site of Salem. In 1844, the mission was dissolved and the town site established.

In 1851, Salem became the territorial capital after it was moved from Oregon City. The capital was moved briefly to Corvallis in 1855, but was moved back to Salem permanently that same year. Salem incorporated as a city in 1857 and with the coming of statehood in 1859 became the state capital.

Capitol buildings

Oregon has had three capitol buildings in Salem. A two-story state house, which had been occupied for only two months, burned to the ground in December 1855. Oregon's second capitol building was completed in 1876 on the site of the original. The Greek revival-style building was based in part on the U.S. Capitol building. The building received its distinctive copper dome in 1893. Tragically, fire claimed the second Oregon capitol building on April 25, 1935. The third and current Oregon State Capitol was completed on the same site in 1938. It is recognizable by its distinctive pioneer statue atop the capitol dome that is plated with gold-leaf and officially named the Oregon Pioneer.

State fair and cherry festival

Agriculture has always been important to Salem and the city has historically recognized and celebrated that in a number of ways. In 1861, Salem was chosen as the permanent site of the Oregon State Fair by the Oregon State Agricultural Association. Salem is nicknamed the "Cherry City", because of the past importance of the local cherry growing industry. The first cherry festival in Salem was held in 1903 and was an annual event, with parades and the election of a cherry queen, until sometime after World War I. The event was revived briefly as the Salem Cherryland Festival for several years in the late 1940s.

Geography and climate

Salem is located in the north-central Willamette Valley at (44.931109, -123.029159).

The 45th Parallel (halfway between the North Pole and the Equator) passes through Salem's city limits.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 46.4 square miles (120.1 km²), of which, 45.7 square miles (118.4 km²) of it is land and 0.6 square miles (1.6 km²) of it (1.35%) is water.

Although the Willamette River flows through Salem, the North Santiam River watershed is Salem's primary drinking water source. Other important streams that pass through Salem are Mill Creek, the Mill Race, Pringle Creek, and Shelton Ditch. Smaller streams in eastern part of the city include Clark Creek, Jory Creek, Battle Creek, Croisan Creek, and Claggett Creek, while Glen Creek and Brush Creek flow through West Salem.

Salem lies in Marion and Polk counties.

Elevation within the city limits ranges from about 120–800 ft (36–240 m). Salem contains the volcanic Salem Hills in the south and is sandwiched by the 1000 ft (300 m) Eola Hills directly to the West and the 600 ft (180 m) Waldo Hills to the east. Northern and eastern Salem is less hilly. South and West Salem contain some canyons and are the hilliest areas. The coast range and the Cascades including Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, and on the clearest of days, Mount St. Helens can be viewed throughout the city.

Like most of the Willamette Valley area, Salem has a Marine west coast (Cfb) climate with some distinct characteristics of the Mediterranean climate (Csa). Rain is heaviest in late fall and throughout winter, but precipitation is spread throughout the year, with the exception of a short dry season from late June to early September. Light snowfall does occur in winter, but major snow events are rare. Fog, persistent cloudy skies, and low cloud ceilings are commonplace during the long rainy season.

Salem's mean annual temperature is 52 °F (11 °C); its annual rainfall is 40 in (1010 mm). Despite that Salem is about 40 miles (64 km) south of Portland, Salem is actually cooler on average than Portland (56.5 °F or 13.6 °C) due to Salem's lower low temperatures.

Monthly Normal and Record High and Low Temperatures
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Record High °C (°F) 18.3 (65) 22.2 (72) 26.7 (80) 31.1 (88) 37.8 (100) 40.6 (105) 42.2 (108) 42.2 (108) 40.0 (104) 33.9 (93) 22.2 (72) 20.0 (68)
Normal High °C (°F) 8.3 (47.0) 10.7 (51.2) 13.5 (56.3) 16.2 (61.1) 19.7 (67.5) 23.3 (74.0) 27.5 (81.5) 27.7 (81.9) 24.8 (76.6) 18.1 (64.5) 11.3 (52.4) 8.0 (46.4)
Normal Low °C (°F) 0.8 (33.5) 1.5 (34.7) 2.6 (36.6) 3.8 (38.8) 6.4 (43.6) 9.1 (48.4) 11.1 (52.0) 11.2 (52.1) 8.7 (47.7) 5.2 (41.3) 3.3 (37.9) 1.1 (33.9)
Record Low °C (°F) -23.3 (-10) -20.0 (-4) -11.1 (12) -5.0 (23) -3.9 (25) 0.0 (32) 2.8 (37) 2.2 (36) -3.3 (26) -6.7 (20) -12.8 (9) -24.4 (-12)
Normal Precipitation
mm (inches)
Normal Snowfall mm (inches) 73.7


As of the census of 2006, there were 150,254 people, 50,676 households, and 32,331 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,994.0 people per square mile (1,156.1/km²). There were 53,817 housing units at an average density of 1,176.8/sq mi (454.4/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 83.07% White, 1.28% African American, 1.51% Native American, 2.41% Asian, 0.47% Pacific Islander, 7.90% from other races, and 3.36% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 14.59% of the population.

There were 50,676 households out of which 32.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 47.7% were married couples living together, 11.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.2% were non-families. 28.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.53 and the average family size was 3.10.

In the city, the population was spread out with 25.4% under the age of 18, 11.4% from 18 to 24, 30.1% from 25 to 44, 20.6% from 45 to 64, and 12.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females, there were 100.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 99.5 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $38,881, and the median income for a family was $46,409. Males had a median income of $34,746 versus $26,789 for females. The per capita income for the city was $19,141. About 10.5% of families and 15.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 20.2% of those under age 18 and 7.1% of those age 65 or over.


State government is Salem's largest employer, but the city also serves as a hub for the area farming communities and is a major agricultural food processing center. It lies along the I-5 corridor and is within an hour's drive of Oregon's largest city, Portland.

In a bid to diversify its economic base, Salem attracted a number of computer-related manufacturing plants in the 1990s. In November 2003, the Sumitomo Mitsubishi Silicon Group (SUMCO), one of these arrivals, announced it would be closing its two silicon wafer plants at the end of 2004, eliminating 620 jobs, and moving production to other plants.

The top private employer in Salem is the Salem Hospital with over 2,700 employees. Others include the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde's Spirit Mountain Casino west of Salem, the T-Mobile Calling Center, GE Security (Formerly Supra Products Inc.), Wachovia Securities, NORPAC Foods, Inc., Roth's Family Markets, and Willamette University.

Salem is the headquarters of the Oregon Department of Corrections and home to four state correctional facilities, including the Oregon State Penitentiary, Oregon's only maximum security prison.

Numerous projects are underway to increase the supply of housing in the downtown core. These projects will provide upscale, low and high rise condominium and office space.

People and culture

Neighborhood associations

Salem has 19 recognized neighborhood associations, they are independent groups but do receive administrative support from the city.

Cultural events and series

From May through October the Salem Saturday Market, located north of the Capitol, exhibits an emphasis on local products including crafts, baked goods, produce, meat, and other items. In addition to the Saturday Market, there is a Wednesday Farmers' Market hosted downtown in Courthouse Square during the summer, as well a Holiday Gift Market in December. The 60+ year old, indoor Saturday Public Market is open all year round.

The annual World Beat Festival, held in June, is sponsored by the nonprofit Salem Multicultural Institute. The event lasts for two days and is held at the Riverfront Park. It features international crafts, music, dance, food, and folklore from every continent, and in recent years has held a Dragon Boat race similar to the ones held during the nearby Rose Festival in Portland.

The Salem Art Association sponsors the annual Salem Art Fair and Festival, which takes place at Bush's Pasture Park during the summer. Its displays, interactive exhibits, food, and performances attract thousands of visitors each year.

The Bite of Salem, held in July at the Riverfront Park, is an event similar to others such as the Bite of Oregon in Portland. The event consists of a weekend of local restaurants in Salem offering samples of their menus to patrons in a festival atmosphere, with live entertainment and benefiting local charities. In the summer, Chef's Nite Out is a wine and food benefit held for Marion-Polk Food Share. Oregon Wine & Food Festival takes place at that state's fairgrounds in January.

The largest event in Salem is the Oregon State Fair at the end of August through Labor Day. Located in the Oregon State Fairgrounds in North Salem, the fair offers exhibits, competitions and carnival rides. Other events such as concerts, horse shows and rodeos take place at the Oregon State Fair and Expo Center throughout the year.

The Mid-Valley Video Festival offers local, national and international independent films in theaters throughout the city.

The Salem Film Festival has included feature films that were Oregon premieres.

The Salem Repertory Theatre presents shows at the Reed Opera House. Pentacle Theatre, which features plays and musicals, is located in West Salem. The Elsinore Theatre is a historic landmark featuring recitals, concerts, films, and plays. Grand Theater is undergoing renovation and has hosted the Salem Progressive Film Series and other shows.

Museums and other points of interest

In addition to the Oregon State Capitol and adjacent Willson Park, Salem's downtown contains the Mission Mill Museum, Hallie Ford Museum of Art, the Elsinore Theatre, Riverfront Park, the Willamette River, some of the oldest buildings in Oregon, as well as shopping and restaurants. The A.C. Gilbert's Discovery Village interactive children's museum is also located in Salem.

The two leading candidates for the tallest building in Salem are Salem First United Methodist Church and the Capitol Center. A private survey commissioned by a local publication holds that the church is the tallest. The tall white spire of the 1878 church rises at the intersection of Church and State Streets across from the Capitol grounds. The Capitol Center (originally the First National Bank Building, then the Livesley Building) was built in 1927 by former Salem mayor Thomas A. Livesley, a prominent Salem-area businessman and civic leader. At that time of its completion, it was the tallest commercial building in the state.

In 1988, Livesley's family home was purchased through private donations and was donated to the state. It now serves as the official residence of the Governor and family. Now known as Mahonia Hall, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.

The Oregon Symphony, based in Portland, presents approximately ten classical and pops concerts each year in Salem. The Salem Chamber Orchestra includes professional area musicians as well as students. The Salem Armory Auditorium has hosted touring bands including Korn and Phish.

Because Salem is the state capital, it has a multitude of government agencies, departments, and boards housed in buildings with architectural designs ranging from the early 20th century to examples of state-of-the-art civil building design.

The historic Reed Opera House in downtown Salem has a number of local shops and dining establishments, as well as an art gallery.

Salem has been awarded "Tree City USA" status by the National Arbor Day Foundation for 30 consecutive years for its dedication to urban forestry. Salem was the first city in Oregon to receive the award. In keeping with the city's "Cherry City" theme, flowering cherry trees have been planted along many Salem streets as well as on the Capitol Mall across from the Capitol.

The Salem Public Library's main branch is located just south of downtown. A branch library is located in West Salem (Polk County). The Library participates in the Chemeketa Cooperative Regional Library Service, so Salem Public Library cards are also valid in of the member libraries in Yamhill, Polk, Marion, and parts of Linn County.

The film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was filmed at the Oregon State Hospital.

Salem and its environs have a multitude of wineries and vineyards that are open to the public, including Oregon's oldest winery, Honeywood Winery.


Salem currently has one daily newspaper, the Statesman Journal, a monthly alternative newspaper Salem Monthly and an online newspaper, the Salem-News. The Capital Press a weekly agricultural newspaper is published in the city and is distributed throughout the west coast. Salem has two UHF television stations; KWVT (Channel 17), and CW affiliate KRCW (Channel 32), which has its city of license as Salem and their analog transmitter about northeast of the city, near Molalla. The station is known as Portland's CW however, as the station targets the entire Willamette Valley area, operates from Beaverton and has its digital transmitter based in Portland.


The Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, a minor league baseball team, play their home games in the city of Keizer, which adjoins Salem on the north. The Salem Stampede of the International Basketball League play their home games at the Salem Armory. Three teams within the Eugene, OR based NNFL are from Salem; the Copperheads, Chargers, and three-time league champion, Pioneers. Also playing in Salem is the Cascade Surge, a minor league soccer team associated with the United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League (PDL). The Surge play home games at McCulloch Stadium on the campus of Willamette University.

Parks and recreation

City parks

Salem's Department of Community Services Parks Operations Division is responsible for a park system encompassing 1,874 acres (758 ha) with 29.53 miles (47.52 km) of trails, 46 parks, and another 55 open and undeveloped areas.

Minto-Brown Island Park is the largest at 898.9 acres (364 ha).

Bush's Pasture Park, a 90.5 acre (36.6 ha) urban park a few blocks south of downtown Salem, features natural groves of native Oregon White Oak trees, the historic Bush House, a rose garden, and adjacent Deepwood Estates.

Other city parks include 101 acre (41 ha) Cascade Gateway Park, twenty-three acre (9.3 ha) Riverfront Park, adjacent to downtown and the Willamette River. It is the home of the Salem Carousel.

Across the Willamette River in West Salem is the 114 acre (46 ha) Wallace Marine Park, which includes a boat ramp and floating boat dock allowing easy access to the river for water sports.

Salem is also home to one of the smallest city parks in the world, Waldo Park, which consists of a single Sequoia tree. Mill Ends Park park in Portland is the smallest in the state.

The capitol grounds maintained by the state of Oregon cover three city blocks and include Willson and Capitol parks.


Other large parks located in the Salem area include 1680 acre (680 ha) Willamette Mission State Park north of the city, and Silver Falls State Park east of Salem. Both of these parks have extensive hiking, biking, and horse trails.

Salem's central location provides access to a wide variety of recreational activities in a variety of climates and geographies year round. The Coast Range and the Pacific Ocean is to the west. The Santiam Canyon area, the Western Cascades and the High Cascades are to the east. Portland, OR and its environs are to the north, while Eugene, OR and its environs are to the south.


Elementary and secondary

Salem's public elementary and secondary schools are part of the Salem-Keizer School District which has approximately 39,000 students and is the second largest public school district in the state. The city also has many private elementary and secondary schools such as Blanchet Catholic School. One school, Willamette Academy is part of an outreach program run by Willamette University that is designed to expose under represented students to the rewards of an academic life at an early age (7th–12th grade) .

Salem is also home to several public boarding schools, the Chemawa Indian School a Native American high school, the Oregon School for the Blind and the Oregon School for the Deaf.

Colleges and universities

Post secondary schools include Chemeketa Community College, Corban College, Tokyo International University of America and Willamette University, the oldest university in the American west. Portland State University and Eastern Oregon University provide classes and a handful of undergraduate degrees at Chemeketa Community College.



Salem-Keizer Transit ("Cherriots"), an independent government agency, provides fixed-route bus service, rideshare matching, and paratransit/lift services for the disabled, within the urban growth boundary. There is a fare-free zone located in downtown Salem.

Chemeketa Area Regional Transportation System (CARTS) provides bus service that connects Salem to destinations as far north as Woodburn, as far west as Dallas, and to the east to Silverton and up the Santiam Canyon to Mill City.

Greyhound Lines provides north–south service and connecting carrier service to Bend, Oregon from its station downtown.

Amtrak, the national passenger rail system, leases the Salem Depot from the Oregon Department of Transportation. The Coast Starlight provides daily north–south service to cities between Los Angeles, California and Seattle, Washington. Amtrak Cascades trains, operating as far north as Vancouver, British Columbia and as far south as Eugene, Oregon, serve Salem several times daily in both directions.

Salem-Keizer Transit in cooperation with Wilsonville's SMART provide routes between downtown Salem and major employers in Wilsonville. From Wilsonville, passengers can be transported to downtown Portland via TriMet.

HUT Airport Shuttle provides transportation to Portland International Airport. HUT also serves Corvallis with a second stop at Oregon State University, Albany, and Woodburn.

Mountain Express provides transportation between Salem and Bend.

McNary Field (Salem Municipal Airport) is owned and operated by the City of Salem. It serves primarily private aviation and the Oregon National Guard – Army Aviation Support Facility (AASF). Delta Connection offered commercial air service with two daily flights to Salt Lake City, Utah from July, 2007. However, citing fuel costs versus occupancy of less than 85 per cent, the service was discontinued effective October 2008. The city plans to go forward with airport improvements that were announced when service was commenced, including a longer runway and an expanded terminal building..

The city is served by the following highways:


Salem Hospital Regional Health Services, a 454-bed acute care medical facility. It is a not for profit organization, and is also the city's largest private employer.

Sister cities

Salem has three sister cities:


Further reading

  • MacGibbon, Elma (1904). Leaves of knowledge. Shaw & Borden Co. Elma MacGibbons reminiscences of her travels in the United States starting in 1898, which were mainly in Oregon and Washington. Includes chapter "Salem, the capital of Oregon."


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