Salem is Oregon's capitol, and a capital place from which to launch explorations of sites both cultural, like the neighboring city of Mt. Angel's famous Benedictine Abbey, and natural, like nearby recreation mecca Detroit Lake. The Kalapuya Indian name for the area was Chemeketa, or "Place of Rest." Of like minds, Salem's Methodist missionary founders named it after an anglicized form of the Arabic salaam and the Hebrew shalom, meaning "peace."
The name is manifested in the tranquil beauty of the city's Willamette University campus (the oldest institution of higher learning west of the Mississippi) and Riverfront Park, which offers peaceful panoramas of the smooth Willamette River as it slides on past, Columbia River bound (one of the few rivers that flows south to north). Silver Falls State Park, an easy drive out of town, is similarly noted for its natural setting, the park's Eden-like scenery set off by sparkling cascades that plummet over slick cliffs into limpid forest-framed pools.
And with Salem's first two capitol buildings burned to the ground, the third one certainly seems to be the charm: The white Vermont marble, Greek-style Capitol turned 60 in 1998. From inside its rotunda or at the viewpoint under the pioneer statue atop the building, visitors get a view of both the Coastal Range and the Cascade Mountains. Not far from this architectural centerpiece are a handful of historic sites popular with visiting school groups and aspiring history buffs like the Mission Mill Museum, Bush House and Deepwood Estate.
Salem is located in the Willamette Valley just off I-5 about an hour south of Portland and north of Eugene. To learn more about Salem, select a topic of interest from the left-hand column.