In the heart of downtown Salem sits a historic Victorian house unlike any other, and though it may be a pretty place, it has become so much more. What was once home to some of the city’s most influential early families has become a community staple that offers a variety of experiences, including learning opportunities, a home for events and programs, and a place to enjoy nature. Locals and visitors alike are welcome to explore here, whether it be a stroll in the gardens, enjoying a special event on the grounds, or visiting the museum home as you immerse yourself in Salem’s early history. All this and more can be found at Salem’s living legacy Deepwood Museum & Gardens!
Deepwood’s First Residents, The Port Family
The story of the Deepwood, as it was once simply called before it was known as Historic Deepwood Estate and then Deepwood Museum and Gardens, began in 1893 when Dr. Luke A. Port had the home constructed for his family.
Dr. Port, born in Sussex, England, was raised in Ohio, where he eventually served in the Ohio Infantry during the Civil War. He held the title of speculator, with his business dealings listed as “undercover by Dun & Bradstreet in 1867. After returning from the war, he and his family settled near San Diego but decided to move on to Salem in 1884. Upon arrival, Dr. Port opened a local drugstore called Port and Son Drugs. Tragically, Dr. Port’s son, Omega, drowned in 1887.
Despite their son’s untimely death, the Port family remained in Salem and went on to have Deepwood created for him and his wife, Lizzie. The home, along with a carriage house, was completed under the watchful eye of American architect William C. Knighton as Knighton’s first solo commission after moving to Oregon to be the apprentice of C. S. McNally in Salem. It would be the Deepwood house that would launch his career in Oregon upon its completion, leading to him becoming Oregon’s first paid State Architect in 1912.
What truly made the Queen Anne style house unique and stand out above the rest as one of the most impressive and beautiful homes at the time was the use of Povey Brothers Studio stained glass windows throughout the structure. Ultimately, the total cost to create the home for the Port family totaled between $12,000 and $15,000. However, despite spending so much money on the creation of the house, the family would only call it home for a short 16 months before Dr. Port sold the home in 1895 to Judge George G. Bingham.
The Bingham Family Turns the Deepwood House into a Home
It wouldn’t be until the Bingham Family moved in that a true home would be created from the property. Bingham already had a stellar reputation throughout the community as he was a well-known attorney in the area and a professor at Willamette University for 30 years before serving as a District Attorney and Circuit Court Judge.
Once the sale was final, he moved his family, consisting of his wife Willie and daughter Alice, into the home where they would live for the next 30 years. While residing at the 1116 Mission Street address, the Binghams would enjoy entertaining many guests. George was also an extensive gardener who maintained a small orchard, a large vegetable garden, and even some livestock on the four acres of land surrounding the property.
When George passed away in 1924, his wife Willie passed on just a few short weeks after. Their daughter Alice who had by then married Keith Powell, inherited the home and subsequently sold it to another Willamette Valley couple.
Improvements When the Brown Family Move in to Deepwood
The new owners, Clifford Brown and his wife Alice Bretherton Brown, spent a year completing numerous renovations on their new Victorian home before finally moving in with their two sons, Werner and Chandler, in 1925. Alice would stay in the house and become the property’s longest resident.
Sadly her husband, Clifford, passed on in 1927 from a boating accident in British Columbia, leaving the now-widowed Alice the house. It became her main focus as she renovated further to enhance the home’s beauty. In 1929 she commissioned Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver’s firm, Lord & Schryver, to work on the property’s landscape design. At the time, they were the first female-owned landscape design firm in the Northwest.
They began work on the English Beauz Arts-Style gardens that the property is now famously known for, with the project not being completed until 1935. Upon completing the gardens, Alice officially named the property Deepwood, after a favorite children’s book of the widow, “The Hollow Tree and the Deep Woods,” by Albert Bigelow Paine.
Eventually, in 1945 Alice would remarry and tie the knot with Keith Powell, the widower of Alice Bingham Powell, who grew up in the home. They exchanged their vows and were married in the gardens of Deepwood, where they would continue to live until 1968, when it was decided that it was time for a smaller home nearby.
Saving Deepwood and Establishing the Friends of Deepwood
With the moving of the last family to reside in the Deepwood home came the threat of demolition, as there was a strong commercial interest in the property as soon as it went up for sale. An extensive community-led movement quickly jumped into action to save the historic home from such a demise. Eventually, the property was purchased by the City of Salem and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 to protect it forever.
The Friends of Deepwood was founded in 1974, a non-profit organization that now manages the property. Together they work with the City of Salem, the Deepwood Gardeners, and the Lord & Schryver Conservancy to keep the house and grounds lovely and maintained for public enjoyment. Over the past 40 years, the Friends of Deepwood have also worked hard to restore the home and maintain its vibrant collection of artifacts and archival materials. Several restoration projects have occurred, including the Alice Brown Suite in 2013 and a kitchen restoration in 2007.
Throughout the years, the love and care that they’ve devoted to the upkeep of this historic home have led to hosting a number of exhibits, programs, and events throughout the year as they open the doors in welcome for guests to share in the structure’s history as well as the city of Salem.
Visitors can enjoy the gardens and nature trails on the property daily from sunrise to sunset. Museums tours are held Wednesdays through Saturdays at the hours of 9, 10, 11 a.m. and noon, with a maximum of eight people per tour. Those interested can also find a list of Deepwood Museum and Gardens’ upcoming events by checking out the Events Calendar on their website, including a list of the property’s annual events.
Deepwood Museum and Gardens
1116 Mission Street SE, Salem