Just south of the Capitol Mall is Willamette University (900 State St., 503/370-6300), the oldest institution of higher learning west of the Mississippi. It began as the Oregon Institute in 1842, a school that Methodist missionary Jason Lee founded to instill Christian values among the settlers. Over the years, Willamette University has turned out its share of Oregon politicos, including longtime senators Mark Hatfield and Bob Packwood. It also has to be one of the prettier campuses in the nation.
The campus is one of Salem’s many oases of greenery that soften the hard edge of a city dominated by government buildings and nondescript downtown thoroughfares. Campus landscape architecture features a Japanese garden (the Martha Springer Garden, at the southeast corner of campus, also boasts roses, a rock garden, and an English perennial garden), ornate fountains, and a grove of five sequoias six feet in diameter.
When you stand in the middle of these redwoods, you should be able to discern a star pattern formed by their canopies, giving rise to the name “star trees.” This grove, which sits between the state capitol and Collins Hall, home of the science departments, has beside it an Oregon rock of ages. Found atop Ankeny Hill in Salem, the granite boulder floated down from northeastern Washington on an ice raft during the same Missoula Floods that shaped the Columbia River Gorge eons ago.
This glacial erratic stands as a reminder that the Willamette Valley is largely composed of Lake Missoula sediments. In Collins Hall, crystals and exhibits on Oregon glacial activity join an impressive taxidermic array of Oregon wildlife. There’s no admission charge, and it’s open during university hours.
Finally, if you’re hungry, the food court at the student union, Goudy Commons, is exceptional, reasonably priced, and with enough variety to suit all tastes.
Hallie Ford Museum
Also part of Willamette University, the Hallie Ford Museum (700 State St., 503/370-6875, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sat., 1–5 p.m. Sun., $3 adults, $2 students and seniors) features Native American baskets and a third-century Buddhist bas-relief from Pakistan. Asian pieces are also prominent. Contemporary work is exhibited on a rotating basis.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel