History of Salem
It is believed that the Willamette Valley and the area of present-day Salem were inhabited for more than 10,000 years. The original inhabitants were the Kalapuya peoples who, together with other native peoples west of the Cascadian Range, have been removed from the area in the 1850s.
The first permanent American settlement was founded in 1840 by the Jason Lee Methodist Mission, in Wheatland, just north of present-day Salem. The missionaries founded the Oregon Institute in 1842 and in 1844 the mission was dissolved and the city was established. In 1851, the capital of Oregon Territory moved from Oregon City to Salem. Salem was incorporated as a city in 1857 and became the state capital when Oregon was admitted to the Union in 1859.
The city had three state capitol buildings. The first one was built in 1855 but it was destroyed by fire only two months after the completion. The second one was completed in 1876 in the revival style with a distinctive copper dome. However, this building was also destroyed by fire in in 1935. The current capitol was completed in 1938 with the distinctive statue of the Oregon Pioneer on top of the dome.
Salem always relied greatly on agriculture and in 1861 it was chosen as the permanent site of the Oregon State Fair. The city owes its nickname, “The Cherry City,” to the importance of the cherry industry, especially in the past. The cherry festival, celebrating this industry, was held from 1903 to sometime after the WWI.
In addition to agriculture, Salem was also a center for wool processing in the state and in the region. Lumber was another important economic sector for the city. Today, the city is a center for technology and information and continues to grow in population, probably due to the natural beauty of its area and to a number of historic buildings combined with modern amenities.
Geography and Climate
Salem lies in Marion and Polk counties, which are divided by the Willamette River. The 45th Parallel passes through the city, which occupies 46,6 square miles at an elevation between 120 ft. and 800 ft. The city is surrounded by Salem Hills, Eola Hills and Waldo Hills. On clear days, Salem offers a view of the coast range and the Cascades, with Mount St. Helens, Mount Jefferson and Mount Hood.
Even though the Willamette River passes right through Salem, the primary source of drinking water for the city is the North Santiam River watershed. Other bodies of water in the city include Mill Creek, Pringle Creek and Shelton Ditch.
Salem has a Marine West Coast climate with elements of the Mediterranean climate. Most precipitation occurs in the period between October and May and the dry season lasts from June through September. Major snowfall is rare in Salem.
Population of Salem
In 2000, the racial makeup in Salem was 70.7% non-Hispanic Whites, 14.6% Hispanics or Latinos, 2.4% Asians, 1.5% Native Americans, 1.3% African Americans, 0.5% Pacific Islanders, 3.4% from two or more races and 7.9% some other race.
The median household income in 2000 was $38,881 and the per capita income was $19,141.
The single largest employer in Salem is the state government. However, thanks to the position of the city along the I-5 corridor and its proximity to the largest city in the state, Portland, it is also a major food processing, packaging and distribution center and a hub for the nearby farming communities. Starting in 1990s, Salem has been trying to attract major computer-related plants to the city area. Many companies transferred to Salem or started their operations in the city, however some of them, such as SUMCO, have since moved to other cities.
In addition to the government, the largest employers in Salem include Salem Hospital, T-Mobile Calling Center, Spirit Mountain Casino, Wells Fargo Customer Contact Center, GE Security, NORPAC Foods Inc., Sanyo and Willamette University.
Points of Interest and Culture
Some of the points of interest in the city include Oregon State Capitol, Wilson Park, Mission Mill Museum, Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Riverfront Park, Elsinore Theatre, Red Opera House, Mahonia Hall, Salem Armory Auditorium, A.C. Gilbert’s Discovery Village and Prewitt-Allen Archaeological Museum.
Because of its dedication to preserving the urban forestry, Salem has been selected the “Tree City USA” for 30 consecutive years by the National Arbor Day Foundation. The city and its area also have a large number of wineries and vineyards open for visitors.
Some of the annual and seasonal events in the city include Oregon State Fair, World Beat Festival, Salem Art Fair and Festival, The Bite of Salem, Capitol Pride and the Salem Film Festival.
Salem is home to the Corban University and to the Willamette University, the oldest university in the American West. Other institutions of higher education in the city include Chemeketa Community College and Tokyo International University of America. Some institutions, such as Portland State University and Oregon State University, provide undergraduate degrees at the Chemeketa Community College.
The city is home to the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (minor league baseball) and the Salem Stampede (International Basketball League).
Major highways in Salem include I-5 and Oregon Routes 99, 22, 221, 53 and 213. Passenger rail transportation service is provided by Amtrak on Coast Starlight and Amtrak Cascades lines and the intercity and interstate bus service is available through Greyhound and Chemeketa Area Regional Transportation System. Bus service, rideshare matching and other services are also provided by Salem-Keizer Transit (also known as “Cherriots”).
The City of Salem owns and operates the McNary Field (Salem Municipal Airport), however the closest full-service commercial airport is the Portland International Airport.