Salem Oregon’s Downtown Historic District

Horse-drawn carriages clip-clopped, streetcars clanged, long skirts rustled.

Like many people, I find the history of people and places interesting. As much as humanity grows and changes, we also stay the same. While we have gone from horse-drawn carts to rockets, humanity still experiences joy and sorrow that defines us as human.

As you walk through downtown Salem and see the heavy oak doors, decorative moldings, and arched windows, you get a small glimpse of the life of Salemites during a time gone by. You can’t help but wonder about the lives of the people who visited these buildings during their lifetimes: a farmer trading his wheat for cloth, a banker lending a dime for some seed, or a blacksmith drinking some beer at the end of the day.

Salem was not actively settled until 1834 when the Methodist Mission made it’s way across the country here. It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that most of Salem’s downtown architecture was built. With the river nearby, trapping was good and it helped to start a business economy here in Salem. It seems a bank opened on every street, local shops were thriving, and of course, the brewery had a prime location in the downtown area.

Bounded by Ferry, High, Chemeketa, and Front streets, Salem’s Downtown Historic District had its fair share of architectural variety, unfortunately, some of it lost to fire and floods along the way. Due to its proximity to the Willamette River for trading, Salem’s downtown has had a few significant floods in its lifetime. While we have lost a small piece of the past as a result, it has given us a chance to invigorate the area for the future.

In 2001, downtown Salem received a  designation on the National Register of Historic Places. This was a needed boost to revitalize this downtown area. Many businesses are using grant funds to restore store fronts and give luster to the original architecture of the time.  The McGilchrist Building was beautifully restored and houses Archive, Ritters, and Ricky’s Bubbles and Sweets.  While not all projects are in the actual historic district itself, Salem currently has several more revitalization projects happening in the downtown area. With some new modern architecture is being built, it will leave future generations a sense of our time. Modern buildings such as the Convention Center will be mixed with older architecture creating a sense of timelessness for residents to enjoy.

For more information on the Revitalization Projects visit the City of Salem’s website. If you are interested in learning more about the tax incentives being offered for this district that information is also offered on the city’s website.

(c) Copyright, 2018. Melina Tomson, All Rights Reserved. DO NOT COPY this without express written permission from the author.

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