Marion County sure has a rich history when it comes to historic buildings and places. With over 120 preserved historic spots in the county, these buildings continue to provide a tangible link to what once was as they tell the stories of the community’s past. Here are just a few of these amazing structures still standing today!  

Gaiety Hollow

545 Mission Street SE, Salem

Did you know the first female-owned landscape design firm in the Northwest was founded in Salem? Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver got together to create the now-historic company in 1929 known as the Lord-Schryver Firm. Throughout their 40 years of work, the pair designed more than 250 gardens in the beautiful Northwest, including several in the Salem area. One, in particular, you might recognize would be the breathtaking gardens of the Deepwood Museum & Gardens.  

Marion County historic buildings
The Lord and Schryver Conservancy has maintained the beautiful garden of the historic Gaiety Hollow, just as the lovely business ladies left it all those years ago. Photo courtesy: Lord & Schryver Conservancy

As it still stands today, so does the dynamic duo’s office, home, and own personal garden known as Gaiety Hollow. The property is considered the masterpiece of their life’s work. It was purchased by the Lord and Schryver Conservancy in 2015, who has since restored the garden to its period of significance, which now boats seasonal floral displays just as the lovely ladies who created the garden had always intended. The property has since been added to the National Historic Register, and guests are invited to visit on certain days throughout the year. Free Open Gardens days are held on select Saturdays from April through September, and docent-led Group Garden Tours are offered by appointment.   

T.M. And Emma Witten Drugstore – House

104 N Main Street, Jefferson

Taking its historic role as the city of Jefferson’s first drug store is the Thomas M. And Emma Witten Drug Store – House. Built in 1890 by the prominent druggist T.M. Witten, the building tells the story of the commercial growth the city was experiencing during that point in its early years, playing a significant role historically for its association with commerce and the social history of the city. Witten had bought the land for a mere $500, and the property became architecturally significant upon its completion. It is a rare remaining example of a combination store and residence built in Jefferson’s early history.

Marion County historic buildings
What was once the city of Jefferson’s first drug store, the T.M. and Emma Witten Drug Store, has evolved but kept its original structure as the depiction of the architecture of the time as a storefront/residence combination. Photo credit: Valfontis

The Wittens retained ownership of the property until 1901 when the couple sold the property to Charles H. Cusick, a fellow pharmacist who continued to operate the drugstore. The building changed hands several times before being added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. Today the property still functions as a private residence remaining a beloved historic home.

Old Aurora Colony

15018 2nd Street NE, Aurora

With roots dating back to its founding in 1856, the Aurora Colony, also known as the Aurora Mills, was a Christian utopian communal society founded by William Keil in modern-day Aurora. They and a group of German immigrants who belonged to this society that believed in communal living, simple living, and hard work crossed the Oregon Trail to build their utopia between 1853 and 1855. The original colony contained 150 members who had followed Keil from his Bethel Colony in Missouri. Keil named the colony Aurora Mills after his daughter, Aurora.

Marion County historic buildings
The Aurora Colony Ox Barn was converted into Fred Will General Merchandise store after oxen were no longer necessary. Today the barn is the Old Aurora Colony Museum. Photo courtesy: Old Aurora Colony Museum

Upon their settlement, Keil purchased several acres of farmland, a sawmill and a gristmill, all adjacent to the Pudding River. More members followed in 1863, and a gain in 1865. By 1870 the total area of the colony was 19,500 acres scattered around the French Prairie. At its peak, the settlement had 650 members, with Keil living in a large house known as the “Gross Haus” (German for Big House).

The colony seemed to flourish until 1862, when a smallpox outbreak nearly decimated its member numbers. Four of Keil’s children died during the outbreak. His last remaining daughter died a few years later, in 1872. It was then he started transferring ownership of colony land to individual families in the community with the intention of transferring more later. He died in 1877 before he could finish, with a decision being made to dissolve the remaining colonies.

The land was later incorporated and became the modern-day city of Aurora. It would be decades later, in 1966, that the Old Aurora Colony Museum would be established, with a dedication to maintaining the colony’s history. From their efforts, 20 sites related to the colony were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Today, the Aurora Colony is remembered as a unique and important chapter in the history of American communalism and religious experimentation. Many of its original buildings and artifacts have been preserved and are open to the public as part of the Aurora Colony Historical Society. Those looking to visit can experience the changing exhibits and explore the history and legacy of the colony through self-guided or guided tours Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Settlemier House

355 N Settlemier Avenue, Woodburn

No king feels complete without his castle, which was the case for Woodburn’s founder Jesse H. Settlemier when he founded the city in 1892. Settlemier was eager to have his own business. He became Oregon’s pioneer nurseryman after buying a 214-acre tract of land in the lower Willamette Valley for five dollars an acre at a sheriff’s sale in March of 1863. With the land, he started Woodburn Nursery, which developed into one of the largest nurseries on the West Coast.

Marion County historic buildings
The Settlemier House is one of the finest examples of Victorian/Craftsman Homes in the Pacific Northwest and was definitely a house fit for Woodburn’s first mayor. Photo courtesy: Preservation Artisans Guild

Later, in 1871, Settlemier platted the first four blocks of downtown Woodburn, giving a lot to anyone who would build a business on it. In addition, he gave a quarter lot for a church, an entire block for a school, and 85 acres to the railroads to persuade them to build a track through town.

After becoming the town’s first mayor in 1885 and seeing that his city had everything it needed, Settlemier finally turned his attention to creating his own dream home in 1891, upgrading from the modest wood-framed farmhouse he originally built on the corner of Settlemier Avenue and Arthur Street upon his original purchase of the land. At approximately $10,000, Settlemier built a magnificent twelve-room Queen Anne Victorian-Craftsman-style home with three acres of beautifully landscaped grounds on the same corner, replacing the cabin and proclaiming the new house to be the “Grandest Mansion in Marion County.” Known now as the Settlemier House, it was eventually added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and remains open to the public as a museum. It is also available as a rental for weddings and other special events.

Gordon House

869 W Main Street, Silverton

If you’re a fan of architecture, design, or Frank Lloyd Wright, you’ll want to visit Silverton. The Gordon House is the only home designed by the influential architect in Oregon, having been started in 1957 and finished in 1963, just four years before his death. Located initially near Wilsonville and created for Evelyn and Conrad Gordon, the structure remained the family home until Evelyn died in 1997.

Marion County historic buildings
The Gordon House was originally in Wilsonville before the architectural wonder created by Frank Lloyd Wright was moved to the Oregon Garden in Silverton. Photo courtesy: Gordon House

The house was then sold to new owners, David and Carey Smith, who wanted to tear down the home to make room for a larger, more contemporary structure. Then, the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy became involved, ensuring that the historic masterpiece wasn’t torn asunder. Eventually, they obtained a three-month reprieve to dismantle the Gordon House in early 2001, after which the house was subsequently moved to the Oregon Garden in Silverton. After some refurbishing and a new foundation replicating the original was constructed, the house opened to the public one year later as the only publicly accessible Frank Lloyd Wright home in the Pacific Northwest.

Today, the house remains open to the public to educate visitors and those interested in Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural approach and design philosophy, as well as the history of the house and the Gordon family. The house is also available for private events and rentals, becoming a popular location for weddings, corporate retreats, and other special occasions.

Marion County is undoubtedly rich in history, with plenty of historic buildings serving as tangible reminders of the people, events, and cultural traditions that have shaped the area as they tell stories of the past. All of these listed and many more are open to the public to enjoy so that residents and visitors alike can immerse themselves in the region’s histories and learn about these pillars still standing today, such as McMenamins Boon’s Treasury, the Elsinore Theatre, and of course, the beloved Deepwood Museum and Gardens.

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