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    About Salem, Oregon

    Salem, the state capital city, is Oregon's second largest city, with a population of approximately 150,000. Salem is also the county seat of Marion County. However, a small portion of Salem within its incorporated limits of 44 square miles lies across the Willamette River (Historical Note) in Polk County. This is referred to as "West Salem".

    Salem is located in the center of the Willamette Valley...one of the most fertile and agriculturally productive regions of the United States...47 miles south of Portland and 64 miles north of Eugene, Salem serves as the hub of both state government and the surrounding farming communities.

    State government is this city's largest employer, with approximately 13,000 full-time employees, 38 of the largest state agencies and more than 20 smaller ones located in the immediate area. Salem is also a major agricultural food processing center.

    Covered Wagon Salem is one of Oregon's oldest communities. The Indian name for the locality was Chemeketa, said to mean "meeting or resting place." It may also have been the name of one of the bands of Calapooya Indians. In 1840-41, the Jason Lee Mission was moved from the Willamette River upstream (south) to a site on Mill Creek.

    In 1842, the missionaries established the Oregon Institute. When the mission was dissolved in 1844, it was decided to lay out a townsite on the Institute lands. Either David Leslie, one of the trustees who came to Oregon from Salem, Mass., or W. H. Willson, who filed plats in 1850-51 for what is now the main part of the city, selected the name "Salem." Salem is the anglicized form of the hebrew word Shalom, meaning peace. *

    The location of the Oregon capital caused a spirited contest that lasted nearly 15 years. By an act of 1851, the provisional government moved the capital to Salem from Oregon City; in 1855 it was moved to Corvallis, only to move back to Salem the same year. Destruction of the Capitol at Salem on December 31, 1855, was considered an incendiary part of this controversy.

    The close proximity of government provides Salem citizens with a distinct opportunity to be involved in the decision-making processes of the state. The citizens of Salem also have a long history of commitment to community improvement and volunteerism...a commitment recognized nationally through presentation of two All-America City Awards, one for 1960-61 and more recently for 1982-83.

    * Early Salem history from Oregon Geographic Names, by Lewis A. McArthur.

    SOURCE: 1997-1998 Oregon Blue Book (edited)




    Historical Note: Willamette:

    "Wal-lamt was an Indian word. The meaning of Willamette is not known, but there are several theories, including Mackey who says "Wallamet" means "spillwater" and was applied to the river above the falls. Broughton discovered the River on October 29, 1792 and named it the River Mannings, possibly for Boatswain Mate Samuel Manning, a member of VanCouver's expedition...Clark called the river, The Multnomah."

    SOURCE: Oregon Geographic Names by Lewis L. McArthur, fifth edition, 1982

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