Salem is the capital of Oregon, though it doesn’t look the part. The government and medical enterprises take up most of its trade. Few buildings exceed one story in height. The town opts for horizontal expansion, but if you drive for an hour in any direction, you’ll find yourself in the country.
That said, writing Salem off as another sleepy berg in Anytown USA would slight it unfairly. Salem squirrels away its best stuff in the suburbs, but that stuff is there.
Nature: Minto-Brown Island Park. Bigger than Central Park, Minto-Brown stretches for 1,200 acres. Not only that, but it boasts a more diverse landscape and ecology than New York’s famous strolling grounds. Copses of trees give way to rolling fens. One path runs alongside the Willamette River and snakes through dense foliage, leading to yellow fields and rich earth. Birds twitter and frogs dart along the banks of Mill Creek. You can see a glittering array of colors in any season. Neon green algae coats the water in spring and yellow stalks of tall grass dance at the edge of its lush dog park. Minto-Brown owes its wildlife diversity to its floodplains and temperate climate. It’s a microcosm of what makes Oregon’s ecosystems special.
Culture and Curiosities: Reed Opera House. The centerpiece of Salem’s downtown area, the Reed Opera House deserves attention from culture-seekers and shoppers alike. For those interested in landmarks, the building itself is a well-preserved artifact of the Pacific Northwest’s upper society during the 19th century. In the 1870’s, Salem was shedding its frontier reputation and assuming the luxuries of the urbane east coast and Great Britain.
Cyrus Adam Reed, a member of the Oregon Legislative Assembly, intended to house the state’s legislature, supreme court, and library within this building, but the contract ran into trouble and he changed his intent. He put shops on the first floor, an opera house on the second and third, and turned the rest into a hotel. The result quickly became early Salem’s premiere hub for social gatherings, a Windsor Hotel for the uncultivated west.