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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 counties, and the city neighborhood of West Salem is in Polk County. Salem was founded in 1842, became the capital of the Oregon Territory in 1851, and was incorporated in 1857.
Salem had a population of 154,637 at the 2010 census, making it the third largest city in the state after Portland and Eugene. Salem is a little more than an hour driving distance away from Portland. 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 390,738 at the 2010 census. A 2013 estimate placed the metropolitan population at 400,408, the state's second largest.
The city is home to Willamette University, Corban University, and Chemeketa Community College. The State of Oregon is the largest public employer in the city, and Salem Health is the largest private employer. Transportation includes public transit from Salem-Keizer Transit which operates under the name Cherriots, Amtrak service and non-commercial air travel at McNary Field. Major roads include Interstate 5, Oregon Route 99E, and Oregon Route 22, which connects West Salem across the Willamette River via the Marion Street and Center Street bridges.
The Native Americans who inhabited the central Willamette Valley at first European contact, the Kalapuya, called the area Chim-i-ki-ti, which means "meeting or resting place" in the Central Kalapuya language (Santiam). When the Methodist Mission moved to the area, they called the new establishment Chemeketa; although it was more widely known as the Mill, because of its situation on Mill Creek. When the Oregon Institute was established, the community became known as the Institute.
When the Institute was dissolved, the trustees decided to lay out a town site on the Institute lands. Some possible sources for the name "Salem" include William H. Willson, who in 1850 and 1851 filed the plans for the main part of the city, and suggested adopting an Anglicized version of the Biblical word "Shalom", meaning peace (as well as Hello & Goodbye). The Reverend David Leslie, President of the town's Trustees, also wanted a Biblical name, and suggested using the last five letters of "Jerusalem". Or, the town may be named after Salem, Massachusetts, where Leslie was educated. 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 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 by which the city has been known.
It is estimated that the Willamette Valley area has been inhabited for over 10,000 years. The Kalapuya 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. In the early 1850s, the Kalapuya, along with the other native peoples west of the Cascade Mountains, were removed by the U.S. government through a combination of treaties and force. Most Kalapuya people were moved to the Grande Ronde Reservation somewhat to the west of Salem, with smaller numbers ending up at Siletz Reservation and other Oregon and Washington reservations.
The first people of European descent arrived in the area as early as 1812; they were animal 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, it became the state capital.
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 revival-style building was based in part on the U.S. Capitol building. The building received its distinctive copper dome in 1893. On April 25, 1935, this building was also destroyed by fire. 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.
Agriculture has always been important to Salem, and the city has historically recognized and celebrated it 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 briefly revived as the Salem Cherryland Festival for several years in the late 1940s.
Salem is located in the north-central Willamette Valley, in Marion and Polk counties. The 45th Parallel (roughly the halfway point 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 48.45 square miles (125.48 km2), of which 47.90 square miles (124.06 km2) is land and 0.55 square miles (1.42 km2) 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 the southern and southeastern parts 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.
Elevation within the city limits ranges from about 120 to 800 feet (37 to 244 m). Salem contains the volcanic Salem Hills in the south and is sandwiched by the 1,000 ft (300 m) Eola Hills directly to the west and the 600 ft (180 m) Waldo Hills to the east. Northern and eastern Salem are 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 and Mount Adams in Washington—can be viewed from throughout the city.
Like most of the Willamette Valley area, Salem has a Marine west coast climate (Köppen Csb) with some distinct characteristics of the Mediterranean climate. Rain is heaviest in late fall and throughout winter, and almost all of the annual precipitation falls between October and May, with a dry season from June through September. Light snowfall occurs in winter, but major snows are rare. Mostly cloudy skies and low cloud ceilings are commonplace during the rainy season.
Salem's mean annual temperature is 53 °F (11.7 °C); its annual precipitation is 39.64 inches (1,007 mm), with an average 3.5 inches (8.9 cm) of snow included. However, over a quarter of years receive no snowfall. The state capital is about 47 mi (76 km) south of Portland, but actually has a lower average temperature than Portland (54.4 °F or 12.4 °C), due in part to the lower daily minima.
As of the census of 2010, there were 154,637 people, 57,290 households, and 36,261 families residing in the city. The population density was 3,228.3 inhabitants per square mile (1,246.5/km2). There were 61,276 housing units at an average density of 1,279.2 per square mile (493.9/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 79.0% White, 1.5% African American, 1.5% Native American, 2.7% Asian, 0.9% Pacific Islander, 10.1% from other races, and 4.3% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 20.3% of the population.
There were 57,290 households of which 33.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 45.0% were married couples living together, 13.0% had a female householder with no husband present, 5.2% had a male householder with no wife present, and 36.7% were non-families. 28.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.55 and the average family size was 3.15.
The median age in the city was 34.5 years. 25.2% of residents were under the age of 18; 10.8% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 27.6% were from 25 to 44; 24.5% were from 45 to 64; and 12% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 49.9% male and 50.1% female.
As of the census of 2000, there were 136,924 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 per square mile (454.4/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 83.1% White, 1.3% African American, 1.5% Native American, 2.4% Asian, 0.5% Pacific Islander, 7.9% from other races, and 3.4% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 14.6% of the population. Non-Hispanic Whites were 70.7% of the population in 2010, compared to 88.6% in 1990.
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.
Salem is governed using the council–manager government model. The city council consists of eight members who are elected from single member wards. The mayor is elected in a citywide vote.
The current mayor is Chuck Bennett, a Democrat first elected in 2016.
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.
Salem is the home of Kettle Foods, Inc., a maker of potato chips since 1982. Kettle employs 700 in Salem and at a plant in Bowthorpe, England. NORPAC Foods, Inc., is a large food processor in Salem and elsewhere in Marion County. Its brands include Flav-R-Pac and West-Pac frozen fruits and vegetables, and Santiam canned vegetables. Oregon Fruit Products, Inc., has been canning blackberries, marionberries and other fruits in Salem since 1935, with Oregon as its brand name.
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.
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.
According to Salem's 2015 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the top employers in the area are:
Salem has 18 recognized neighborhood associations, which are independent groups that receive administrative support from the city.
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. The 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. It has the largest working pipe organ on the west coast, a remnant of its days as a showcase for silent films, in the early days of cinema. Grand Theater is undergoing renovation and has hosted the Salem Progressive Film Series and other shows.
Capitol Pride (Salem's yearly Gay Pride Event) is held in early August.
The personal house and garden of landscape architects Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver, known as Gaiety Hollow, are on the National Register of Historic Places. Lord and Schryver had designed the gardens of Historic Deepwood Estate.
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 and Prewitt-Allen Archaeological Museum are both 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 (NRHP) 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.
The Salem Concert Band is a community band made up of professional and amateur musicians that performs several classical and pops concerts annually.
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 the member libraries in Yamhill, Polk, Marion, and parts of Linn County. In addition to the Salem Public Library the Mark O. Hatfield Library at Willamette University is open to the public as well, although the hours are limited.
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 has one daily newspaper, the Gannett-owned Statesman Journal, and an independent bi-monthly alternative newspaper Salem Weekly. The Capital Press, a weekly agricultural newspaper, is published in the city and is distributed throughout the West Coast. The monthly Salem Business Journal covers business and government. The Salem Magazine, published quarterly, both in physical and digital (online) issues, focuses upon its people; its unique culture; and its downtown and surrounding neighborhood communities.
Northwest Television operates three television stations that have Salem transmitters: KWVT-LD, KSLM, and KPWC, which serve an area from Longview, Washington to Eugene, Oregon. Two stations are licensed to Salem but operate out of Portland: KPXG-TV and KRCW.
As of 2012, seven radio stations broadcast from Salem, including three commercial AM stations, three non-commercial FM stations, and a community radio station. KBZY was a popular Top 40 station from its sign-on in 1957 through the 1960s and 1970s. Today KBZY has an oldies format, and continues to use live and local personalities. KBZY is affiliated with the ABC Radio Network. KYKN carries syndicated conservative talk hosts. KWOD is a Spanish language sports talk station. KSLM features conservative talk programming. KWBX is a non-commercial station licensed to Corban University with a Contemporary Christian format. KMUZ, established in 2012, is a non-commercial community radio station carrying locally produced content in a variety format.
Salem is part of the Portland Arbitron survey area for radio stations, and most of the Portland stations can be received in Salem. Powerful AM news/talk stations include KEX, KXTG, and progressive talk KPOJ. Stations to the south in Corvallis and Albany are also easily heard in Salem.
NPR programming is carried by Oregon Public Broadcasting, which can be heard on KOPB-FM from Portland, and KOAC from Corvallis.
The Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, a minor league baseball team, play their home games in the city of Keizer, which adjoins Salem on the north. Three teams within the Eugene-based NNFL are from Salem; the Copperheads, Chargers, and three-time league champion, Pioneers. The Corban University Warriors are a private Christian university located in Salem. Corban has 13 athletic teams and competes within the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). The Willamette University Bearcats are also based in Salem, they are a Division III athletics program. More recently there has been an addition of a women's roller derby league known as the Cherry City Derby Girls. CCDG is home to four home teams, the Rydel Bells, Thrill Kill Kittens, Dolls of Anarchy, and Panty Raiders as well as a travel team the 8 Wheel Assassins. CCDG also has a "b" ranked travel team called the Bone Yard Brawlers. CCDG hosts a juniors derby league. The Star City Offense, a men's roller derby team, is also based in Salem.
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 1,200 acres (490 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 and 23-acre (9.3 ha) Riverfront Park which is adjacent to downtown and the Willamette River and is home to the Salem Carousel. Marion Square Park is downtown next to Marion Street Bridge and has a skatepark and basketball court. The skatepark also allows bicycles. Marion Square Park was laid out by city founder William H. Willson, and is the next oldest municipal park in Salem after Willson Park at the Oregon State Capitol.
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. The NRHP-listed Union Street Railroad Bridge, repurposed as a bicycle and pedestrian bridge, connects Wallace Marine Park and West Salem to Riverfront Park and downtown Salem.
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 in Portland is the smallest in the world.
The capitol grounds, which is maintained by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, cover three city blocks and include Willson and Capitol parks.
Other large parks located in the Salem area include the 1,680-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 and its environs are to the north, while Eugene and its environs are to the south.
Salem also provides two great disc golf courses. A nine-hole course located in the woods of Woodmansee Park (located behind Judson Middle School), and a more open style 18-hole course located throughout Cascade Gateway Park. They are both free and open to the public.
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 and Salem Academy Christian. 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 and the Oregon School for the Deaf.
Post secondary schools include Chemeketa Community College, Corban University, Tokyo International University of America and Willamette University, the oldest university in the American west. Portland State University, Eastern Oregon University, Western Oregon University and Oregon State 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.
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 the Salem Amtrak station.
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, provides routes between downtown Salem and Wilsonville. From Wilsonville, WES Commuter Rail connects to TriMet routes in Beaverton, including MAX Light Rail.
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 general 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 a load factor of less than 85 percent, 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, one of the largest of Oregon's 57 acute care hospitals, a 454-bed acute care medical facility. It is a not for profit organization, and is also the city's largest private employer.
Salem has two sister cities:
As of 2014, there was talk of reviving the now-stagnant Sister City project launched in 1964 with the Salem in Tamil Nadu, India.
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