Our City Our Neighborhood

Re-discovering history

In 2010, after years of close partnership and shared vision, Mission Mill Museum (established 1964) and the Marion County Historical Society (established 1950) merged to form the Willamette Heritage Center. Today the Center connects generations by preserving and interpreting the history of the Mid-Willamette Valley.

The five-acre campus is home to fourteen historic structures, including the oldest frame houses still standing in the Pacific Northwest. Permanent and changing exhibits exploring the pre-statehood history of Oregon and the state’s textile industry are housed here. Tours, classes and events that highlight aspects of our community’s history expand on that.  

The Center also stewards a large collection of historical materials and operates a research library and archive with extensive information documenting the history of the Mid-Willamette Valley – specifically Marion County and the greater Salem area.

One of the popular resources for researching homes are the City Directories. These have been published in Salem since the late 1800s and are like a phone book before phones. Their alphabetical listing of individuals includes names, addresses and occupations. Later editions of the city directories have reverse look ups for addresses to help identify the individuals that were living in a house year by year.

Property research can be complicated, but our knowledgeable staff and volunteers can help you access our extensive collections and suggest other resources.

“We also have a good selection of Sanborn Fire Insurance maps” she added. These maps were originally drawn up to sell to fire insurance companies to help them determine information like risk of fire based on the layouts of buildings, what they were made of, their heating systems, etc. Today, these provide a snapshot of buildings in time and can help show how buildings and neighborhoods have evolved. Our photograph collection of over 200,000 images contains many photographs of early residences.”

The WHC’s Research Library and Archive is located on the NW corner of the Heritage Center’s site at 1313 Mill St SE, Salem, Oregon 97301 in a yellow stucco building.  It is open to the public Tuesdays – Fridays, noon – 4 pm and by appointment outside those hours.

Visit their website, call 503-585-7012 ext 257 or email [email protected].

Thank you to Anna and Kaylin of the Willamette Heritage Center for answering our questions.

A neighborhood older than us

Mitch and Mia found the home of their dreams touring our neighborhood. And then went and unearthed its history.