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Preserving Community Memories in Salem

October 16, 2013

By Kylie Pine

The public buildings are so arranged in the heart of Salem as to form a magnificent civic center. – 1913 Salem City Directory

Salem's original City Hall was located at the SW corner of High and Chemeta Streets. It was deemed obsolete and torn down in 1972. WHC.2001.001.0528, Al Jones Collection

Salem’s original City Hall was located at the SW corner of High and Chemeta Streets. It was deemed obsolete and torn down in 1972. WHC.2001.001.0528, Al Jones Collection

I often give presentations to clubs around Salem about what the city looked like 100 years ago. I start showing pictures of the six buildings that made up what the 1913 City Directory described as the nucleus of the city and ask if anyone can identify them. Of the three still standing, only two are in their original location and only one is used for its original purpose. At the last presentation I gave no one could identify any of the buildings from the city’s “magnificent civic center.” I was shocked at how fast the memory of these buildings had faded in just a few short years.

Change happens. None of us want our communities to stall or become stagnant. At the same time, changes in the historic landscape have a direct impact on our community memory and identity. The loss of some of our “magnificent civic center” makes the remaining buildings and the work of individuals and organizations that work to preserve and protect them even more important.

Despite some losses, there have been many throughout the city’s history that have recognized the importance of preserving the historic fabric of our community. In addition to our work here at the Willamette Heritage Center,  A.C. Gilbert’s Discovery Village, Historic Deepwood Estate, Bush House Museum, the Oregon State Hospital Museum, and the Forest History Museum have helped preserve buildings and environments from a large cross-section of our collective history. In addition to preserving the fabric of our community, these organizations interpret the stories of its people and provide an economic boost to the area through heritage tourism.

Kylie Pine works at the Willamette Heritage Center and with the Oregon State Hospital Museum, both in Salem.

How many of these Salem buildings do you recognize?

Marion County Courthouse.  Located at the site of the current courthouse.  Despite efforts of local preservationists this building was torn down.  WHC 2007.001.1438, Al Jones Collection

Marion County Courthouse. Located at the site of the current courthouse. Despite efforts of local preservationists this building was torn down. WHC 2007.001.1438, Al Jones Collection

Supreme Court Building.  This is the only building still used today for its original purpose. WHC 2011.006.0587, Carrick Collection.

Supreme Court Building. This is the only building still used today for its original purpose. WHC 2011.006.0587, Carrick Collection.

Fairly new in 1913, the old Public Library building now serves as another building on Willamette University’s campus on the corner of State and Winter Streets.  WHC 1998.008.0028.

Fairly new in 1913, the old Public Library building now serves as another building on Willamette University’s campus on the corner of State and Winter Streets. WHC 1998.008.0028.

Salem's first Post Office building was moved to Willamette University's campus in 1938, where it stands today.

Salem’s first Post Office building was moved to Willamette University’s campus in 1938, where it stands today.

Oregon State Capitol.  This is the second iteration of a capitol building in Salem.  It burned in April 1935. WHC 2012.049.0048. Al Jones Collection.

Oregon State Capitol. This is the second iteration of a capitol building in Salem. It burned in April 1935. WHC 2012.049.0048. Al Jones Collection.

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