Twelve miles east of Corvallis  on U.S. 20 is Albany, and though you wouldn’t know it as you drive the long commercial strip between I-5 and downtown, it has more historic homes than any other city in Oregon . More than 350 Victorian houses bespeak Albany’s golden age, from 1849 to the early 20th century, when wheat was the primary crop and steamships and railroads exported Willamette Valley  produce and flour. Twenty-eight trains departed this commercial hub daily in 1910.
The Albany Visitors Association (250 Broadalbin St. SW, Suite 110, 541/928-0911 or 800/526-2256, www.albanyvisitors.com ) and an information gazebo at the corner of 8th Avenue and Ellsworth Street have maps and pamphlets (downloadable from the website) about the three historic districts that cover 100 blocks.
While you’re here, be sure to get directions to the Monteith House (518 W. 2nd Ave., 800/526-2256), the oldest pioneer frame building in Albany, dating to 1849.
Inquire about the Albany Regional Museum, whose exhibits on the Kalapuya Native American people and Albany’s pioneer and Victorian eras provide a good introduction.
In their heyday, two Albany residential districts were rivals. The Hackleman District, Ellsworth to Madison Streets and 2nd to 8th Avenues, was a working-class neighborhood that at one time featured a furniture factory and a railroad station. These houses are practical but rich in Victorian nuance. The adjoining Monteith District, Elm to Ellsworth Streets and 2nd to 12th Avenues, was home to wealthy merchants and businessmen; the houses here are grand and opulent.
Also imbued with Willamette Valley  history are the area’s charming covered bridges. These canopied crossings protected the wooden trusses from rain, extending the life of the bridges by several decades. By the late 1930s, many of the 300 or so covered bridges in the state had fallen into disrepair or were replaced by modern steel and concrete spans. Statewide, 48 remain, with 30 in the Willamette Valley.
A pamphlet available from the Albany Visitors Association lays out a self-guided tour of eight bridges within 20–30 minutes’ drive from the Albany-Corvallis  area. All of these fall within an 8-mile radius of Scio, a town 13 miles northeast of Albany on Route 226.
To get to Scio, head north on I-5 for 10 or 15 minutes, then take Exit 233 and follow the signs east to Route 226. Of all the bridges in this loop, don’t miss the bright-red paint job of the Shimanek Bridge and the creek-side splendor of the Larwood Bridge. In Scio itself a small Scio Historical Depot Museum (39004 NE 1st Ave., Scio, 503/394-2199, 1–4 p.m. Sat.–Sun.) survives on donations. The hodgepodge of Oregon Trail memorabilia, wood carvings, 19th-century newspapers, and family heirlooms in this oddly curated assemblage can be more affecting than the slicker high-tech displays you’ll encounter elsewhere in the state.
Prime time for a stroll down Albany’s memory lane is during the Christmas holiday season. In December (usually the second Sunday), annual old-fashioned parlor tours (800/526-5526, $10 adults, $8 seniors, free for children 12 and under) let you revel in eggnog, snapping fires, and frontier hospitality as a guest at a number of Victorian homes. Visitors are welcomed by hostesses at each home and are permitted to walk through the parlor and other open rooms. Entertainment and homemade refreshments are part of the festivities. Historical district hay-wagon and trolley caroling tours are part of the package and can get you in the holiday spirit.
Interior tours of historic houses are available during the last weekend in July ($10 adults, $8 seniors). Visitors are invited to walk through the gardens and entire interiors of several homes; background anecdotes are supplied by guides. Old-fashioned quilts and dolls complement the tour, as do many people in turn-of-the-20th-century dress strolling the avenues. At all times of the year, more than a dozen antique shops also lure visitors. A list of these stores is available at the information gazebo.
Albany’s World Championship Timber Carnival (541/928-2391) takes place July 1–4. While such events as speed-climbing, springboard-chopping, and log-rolling have little place in the increasingly mechanized world of modern timber management, they’re still fun to watch.
Check www.albanyvisitors.com  for more information about Albany events.
Both Eugene  and Corvallis  are more lively places to stay, but if you’re going to spend the night in Albany, it should be in an 1856 Victorian. The Trainhouse Inn B&B (206 7th Ave., 541/794-5281, www.trainhouseinn.com , $75 and up), located in the center of the historic district, fits the bill precisely. Don’t worry that you’ll be kept awake by railroad noise; the inn takes its name from Samuel Train, an early newspaper publisher.
At the Albany Farmers Market (Water Ave. and Broadalbin St., 9 a.m.–noon Sat., June–Thanksgiving) you can enjoy the Willamette Valley ’s bountiful harvests of corn, fruit, garlic, peppers, or whatever else happens to be in season. Cut flowers are on sale as well as such regional specialties as the mild-tasting large-cloved elephant garlic, marionberries (a tart hybrid blackberry developed by Oregon State University), and dried jumbo Brooks prunes. Best of all, you’re buying directly from the grower at a fraction of supermarket prices.
An Albany tradition is Novak’s Hungarian Restaurant (2306 Heritage Way SE, 541/967-9488, 7 a.m.–9 p.m. daily, dinner $10–19). Authentic kolbasz (a spicy sausage), stuffed cabbage, and chicken paprika exemplify the earthy Eastern European fare served in a family-friendly atmosphere. A $15 Hungarian buffet is a good way to sample the food. Another local tradition is coffee and a pastry or light meal at The Beanery (1852 Fescue St. SE, 541/812-2500, 6 a.m.–7 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 7 a.m.–6 p.m. Sun., $3–9), located just off I-5.
Amtrak (110 W. 10th St., 541/928-0885) makes a stop in Albany. Greyhound no longer has a station here; the nearest is in Corvallis .