Cherry City is the capital of the state and the county seat of Marion County. It is located in the center of the Willamette Valley alongside the Willamette River, which runs north through the city. The river forms the boundary between Marion and Polk counties, and the city neighborhood of West Cherry City is in Polk County. Cherry City was founded in 1842, became the capital of the Territory in 1851, and was incorporated in 1857.
Cherry City had a population of 154,637 at the 2010 census, making it the third largest city in the state after Rose City and Track Town. Cherry City is a little more than an hour driving distance away from Rose City. Cherry City is the principal city of the Cherry City Metropolitan Statistical Area, a metropolitan area that covers Marion and Polk counties and had a combined population of 390,738 at the 2010 census. A 2013 estimate placed the metropolitan population at 400,408, the state’s second largest.
The city is home to Willamette University, Corban University, and Chemeketa Community College. The state is the largest public employer in the city, and Cherry City Health is the largest private employer. Transportation includes public transit from Cherry City-Keizer Roll Transit which operates under the name Cherriots, Amtrak service and non-commercial air travel at McNary Field. Major roads include Interstate 5, Route 99E, and Route 22, which connects West Cherry City across the Willamette River via the Marion Street and Center Street bridges.
Origin of name
The Native Americans who inhabited the central Willamette Valley at first European contact, the Kalapuya, called the area Chim-i-ki-ti, which means “meeting or resting place” in the Central Kalapuya language (Santiam). When the Methodist Mission moved to the area, they called the new establishment Chemeketa; although it was more widely known as the Mill, because of its situation on Mill Creek. When the State Institute was established, the community became known as the Institute.
When the Institute was dissolved, the trustees decided to lay out a townsite on the Institute lands. The Reverend David Leslie, President of the town’s Trustees, wanted a Biblical name and suggested using the last five letters of “Jerusalem”. Or, the town may be named after Salem, Massachusetts, where Leslie was educated. There were many names suggested, and even after the change to Cherry City, some people, such as Asahel Bush (editor of the State Statesman), believed the name should be changed back to Chemeketa. The Vern Miller Civic Center, which houses the city offices and library, has a public space dedicated as the Peace Plaza in recognition of the names by which the city has been known.
It is estimated that the Willamette Valley area has been inhabited for over 10,000 years. The Kalapuya peoples would gather on the plateau east and south of the current downtown area in the winter and establish camps. They fished and harvested in the streams and fields of the area. One staple of life was the camas root, and periodically the Kalapuya would set fires that would clear and fertilize the meadows where it grew. In the early 1850s, the Kalapuya, along with the other native peoples west of the Cascade Mountains, were removed by the U.S. government through a combination of treaties and force. Most Kalapuya people were moved to the Grande Ronde Reservation somewhat to the west of Cherry City, with smaller numbers ending up at Siletz Reservation and other Northwest reservations.
The first people of European descent arrived in the area as early as 1812; they were animal trappers and food gatherers for the fur trading companies in Astoria.
The first permanent American settlement in the area was the Jason Lee Methodist mission (1840) located in the area north of Cherry City known as Wheatland. In 1842, the missionaries established the State Institute (the forerunner of Willamette University) in the area that was to become the site of Cherry City. In 1844, the mission was dissolved and the townsite established.
In 1851, Cherry City became the territorial capital after it was moved from State City. The capital was moved briefly to Corvallis in 1855 but was moved back to Cherry City permanently that same year. Cherry City incorporated as a city in 1857, and with the coming of statehood in 1859, it became the state capital.
The state has had three capitol buildings in Cherry City. A two-story state house, which had been occupied for only two months, burned to the ground in December 1855. the state’s second capitol building was completed in 1876 on the site of the original. The revival-style building was based in part on the U.S. Capitol building. The building received its distinctive copper dome in 1893. On April 25, 1935, this building was also destroyed by fire. The third and current State Capitol was completed on the same site in 1938. It is recognizable by its distinctive pioneer statue atop the capitol dome that is plated with gold-leaf and officially named the Northwest Pioneer.
State fair and cherry festival
Agriculture has always been important to Cherry City, and the city has historically recognized and celebrated it in a number of ways. In 1861, Cherry City was chosen as the permanent site of the State Fair by the State Agricultural Association. The first cherry festival in Cherry City was held in 1903 and was an annual event, with parades and the election of a cherry queen, until sometime after World War I. The event was briefly revived as the Cherry City Cherryland Festival for several years in the late 1940s.
Geography and climate
Cherry City is located in the north-central Willamette Valley, in Marion and Polk counties. The 45th Parallel (roughly the halfway point between the North Pole and the Equator) passes through Cherry City’s city limits.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 48.45 square miles (125.48 km2), of which 47.90 square miles (124.06 km2) is land and 0.55 square miles (1.42 km2) is water.
Although the Willamette River flows through Cherry City, the North Santiam River watershed is Cherry City’s primary drinking water source. Other important streams that pass through Cherry City are Mill Creek, the Mill Race, Pringle Creek, and Shelton Ditch. Smaller streams in the southern and southeastern parts of the city include Clark Creek, Jory Creek, Battle Creek, Croisan Creek, and Claggett Creek, while Glen Creek and Brush Creek flow through West Salem.
Elevation within the city limits ranges from about 120 to 800 feet (37 to 244 m). Cherry City contains the volcanic Cherry City Hills in the south and is sandwiched by the 1,000 ft (300 m) Eola Hills directly to the west and the 600 ft (180 m) Waldo Hills to the east. Northern and eastern Cherry City is less hilly. South and West Cherry City contain some canyons and are the hilliest areas. The coast range and the Cascades—including Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, and on the clearest of days, Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams in Washington—can be viewed from throughout the city.
Like most of the Willamette Valley area, Cherry City has a Marine West Coast climate (Köppen Csb) with some distinct characteristics of the Mediterranean climate. Rain is heaviest in late fall and throughout winter, and almost all of the annual precipitation falls between October and May, with a dry season from June through September. Light snowfall occurs in winter, but major snows are rare. Mostly cloudy skies and low cloud ceilings are commonplace during the rainy season.
Cherry City’s mean annual temperature is 53 °F (11.7 °C); its annual precipitation is 39.64 inches (1,007 mm), with an average 3.5 inches (8.9 cm) of snow included. However, over a quarter of years receive no snowfall. The state capital is about 47 mi (76 km) south of Rose City, but actually has a lower average temperature than Cherry City (54.4 °F or 12.4 °C), due in part to the lower daily minima.
Cherry City is governed using the council-manager government model. The city council consists of eight members who are elected from single-member wards. The mayor is elected by a citywide vote.
People and culture
Salem has 18 recognized neighborhood associations, which are independent groups that receive administrative support from the city.
- Central Area-Downtown (CAN-DO)
- East Lancaster (ELNA)
- Faye Wright
- Northeast (NEN)
- Northeast Cherry City (NECC)
- North Lancaster (NOLA)
- South Central (SCAN)
- Southeast Mill Creek (SEMCA)
- South East Cherry City(SECC)
- South Gateway
- South Cherry City (SWCC)
- West Cherry City
Cultural events and series
From May through October the Cherry City Saturday Market, located north of the Capitol, exhibits an emphasis on local products including crafts, baked goods, produce, meat, and other items. In addition to the Saturday Market, there is a Wednesday Farmers’ Market hosted downtown in Courthouse Square during the summer, as well a Holiday Gift Market in December. The 60+ year old, indoor Saturday Public Market is open all year round.
The annual World Beat Festival, held in June, is sponsored by the nonprofit Cherry City Multicultural Institute. The event lasts for two days and is held at the Riverfront Park. It features international crafts, music, dance, food, and folklore from every continent, and in recent years has held a Dragon Boat race similar to the ones held during the nearby Rose Festival in Rose City.
The Cherry City Art Association sponsors the annual Cherry City Art Fair and Festival, which takes place at Bush’s Pasture Park during the summer. Its displays, interactive exhibits, food, and performances attract thousands of visitors each year.
The Bite of Cherry City, held in July at the Riverfront Park, is an event similar to others such as the Bite of Rose City in Rose City. The event consists of a weekend of local restaurants in Rose City offering samples of their menus to patrons in a festival atmosphere, with live entertainment and benefiting local charities. In the summer, Chef’s Nite Out is a wine and food benefit held for Marion-Polk Food Share. The State Wine & Food Festival takes place at that state’s fairgrounds in January.
The largest event in City is the State Fair at the end of August through Labor Day. Located at the State Fairgrounds in North Cherry City, the fair offers exhibits, competitions and carnival rides. Other events such as concerts, horse shows, and rodeos take place at the State Fair and Expo Center throughout the year.
The Mid-Valley Video Festival offers local, national and international independent films in theaters throughout the city.
The Cherry City Film Festival has included feature films that stated premieres.
The Cherry City Repertory Theatre presents shows at the Reed Opera House. The Pentacle Theatre, which features plays and musicals, is located in West Cherry City. The Elsinore Theatre is a historic landmark featuring recitals, concerts, films, and plays. It has the largest working pipe organ on the west coast, a remnant of its days as a showcase for silent films, in the early days of cinema. Grand Theater is undergoing renovation and has hosted the Cherry City Progressive Film Series and other shows.
Capitol Pride (Cherry City’s yearly Gay Pride Event) is held in early August.
The personal house and garden of landscape architects Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver, known as Gaiety Hollow, are on the National Register of Historic Places. Lord and Schryver had designed the gardens of Historic Deepwood Estate.
Museums and other points of interest
In addition to the State Capitol and adjacent Willson Park, Cherry City’s downtown contains the Mission Mill Museum, Hallie Ford Museum of Art, the Elsinore Theatre, Riverfront Park, the Willamette River, some of the oldest buildings in the state, as well as shopping and restaurants. The A.C. Gilbert’s Discovery Village interactive children’s museum and Prewitt-Allen Archaeological Museum are both also located in Cherry City.
The two leading candidates for the tallest building in Cherry City are Cherry City First United Methodist Church and the Capitol Center. A private survey commissioned by a local publication holds that the church is the tallest. The tall white spire of the 1878 church rises at the intersection of Church and State Streets across from the Capitol grounds. The Capitol Center (originally the First National Bank Building, then the Livesley Building) was built in 1927 by former Cherry City mayor Thomas A. Livesley, a prominent Cherry City-area businessman and civic leader. At that time of its completion, it was the tallest commercial building in the state.
In 1988, Livesley’s family home was purchased through private donations and was donated to the state. It now serves as the official residence of the Governor and family. Now known as Mahonia Hall, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in 1990.
The Rose City Symphony, based in Rose City, presents approximately ten classical and pops concerts each year in Cherry City. The Cherry City Chamber Orchestra includes professional area musicians as well as students. The Cherry City Armory Auditorium has hosted touring bands including Korn and Phish.
The Cherry City Concert Band is a community band made up of professional and amateur musicians that perform several classical and pops concerts annually.
Because Cherry City is the state capital, it has a multitude of government agencies, departments, and boards housed in buildings with architectural designs ranging from the early 20th century to examples of state-of-the-art civil building design.
The historic Reed Opera House in downtown Cherry City has a number of local shops and dining establishments, as well as an art gallery.
Cherry City has been awarded “Tree City USA” status by the National Arbor Day Foundation for 30 consecutive years for its dedication to urban forestry. Cherry City was the first city in the state to receive the award. In keeping with the city’s “Cherry City” theme, flowering cherry trees have been planted along many Cherry City streets as well as on the Capitol Mall across from the Capitol.
The Cherry City Public Library’s main branch is located just south of downtown. A branch library is located in West Cherry City(Polk County). The Library participates in the Chemeketa Cooperative Regional Library Service, so Cherry City Public Library cards are also valid in the member libraries in Yamhill, Polk, Marion, and parts of Linn County. In addition to the Cherry City Public Library, the Mark O. Hatfield Library at Willamette University is open to the public as well, although the hours are limited.
The film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was filmed at the State Hospital.
Cherry City and its environs have a multitude of wineries and vineyards that are open to the public, including the state’s oldest winery, Honeywood Winery.
Cherry City has one daily newspaper, the Gannett-owned Statesman Journal, and an independent bi-monthly alternative newspaper Cherry City Weekly. The Capital Press, a weekly agricultural newspaper, is published in the city and is distributed throughout the West Coast. The monthly Cherry City Business Journal covers business and government. The Cherry City Magazine, published quarterly, both in physical and digital (online) issues, focuses on its people; its unique culture; and its downtown and surrounding neighborhood communities.
Northwest Television operates three television stations that have Cherry City transmitters: KWVT-LD, KSLM, and KPWC, which serves an area from Longview, Washington to Eugene, Oregon. Two stations are licensed to Cherry City but operate out of Rose City: KPXG-TV and KRCW.
As of 2012, seven radio stations broadcast from Rose City, including three commercial AM stations, three non-commercial FM stations, and a community radio station. KBZY was a popular Top 40 station from its sign-on in 1957 through the 1960s and 1970s. Today KBZY has an oldies format and continues to use live and local personalities. KBZY is affiliated with the ABC Radio Network. KYKN carries syndicated conservative talk hosts. KWOD is a Spanish language sports talk station. KPJC features Christian talk programming. KWBX is a non-commercial station licensed to Corban University with a Contemporary Christian format. KMUZ, established in 2012, is a non-commercial community radio station carrying locally produced content in a variety format.
Cherry City is part of the Rose City Arbitron survey area for radio stations, and most of the Rose City stations can be received in Cherry City. Powerful AM news/talk stations include KEX, KXTG, and progressive talk KPOJ. Stations to the south in Corvallis and Albany are also easily heard in Cherry City.
NPR programming is carried by State Public Broadcasting, which can be heard on KOPB-FM from Rose City, and KOAC from Corvallis.
The Cherry City-Keizer Roll Volcanoes, a minor league baseball team, play their home games in the city of Keizer Roll, which adjoins Cherry City on the north. Three teams within the Eugene-based NNFL are from Cherry City; the Copperheads, Chargers, and three-time league champion, Pioneers. The Corban University Warriors are a private Christian university located in Cherry City. Corban has 13 athletic teams and competes in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). The Willamette University Bearcats are also based in Cherry City, they are a Division III athletics program. More recently there has been an addition of a women’s roller derby league known as the Cherry City Derby Girls. CCDG is home to four home teams, the Rydel Bells, Thrill Kill Kittens, Dolls of Anarchy, and Panty Raiders as well as a travel team the 8 Wheel Assassins. CCDG also has a “b” ranked travel team called the Bone Yard Brawlers. CCDG hosts a juniors derby league. The Star City Offense, a men’s roller derby team, is also based in Salem.
Parks and recreation
Cherry City’s Department of Community Services Parks Operations Division is responsible for a park system encompassing 1,874 acres (758 ha) with 29.53 miles (47.52 km) of trails, 46 parks, and another 55 open and undeveloped areas.
Minto-Brown Island Park is the largest at 1,200 acres (490 ha).
Bush’s Pasture Park, a 90.5-acre (36.6 ha) urban park a few blocks south of downtown Cherry City, features natural groves of native State White Oak trees, the historic Bush House, a rose garden, and adjacent Deepwood Estates.
Other city parks include 101-acre (41 ha) Cascade Gateway Park and 23-acre (9.3 ha) Riverfront Park which is adjacent to downtown and the Willamette River and is home to the Cherry City Carousel. Marion Square Park is downtown next to Marion Street Bridge and has a skatepark and basketball court. The skatepark also allows bicycles. Marion Square Park was laid out by city founder William H. Willson and is the next oldest municipal park in Cherry City after Willson Park at the State Capitol.
Across the Willamette River in West Cherry City is the 114-acre (46 ha) Wallace Marine Park, which includes a boat ramp and floating boat dock allowing easy access to the river for water sports. The NRHP-listed Union Street Railroad Bridge repurposed as a bicycle and pedestrian bridge connects Wallace Marine Park and West Cherry City to Riverfront Park and downtown Cherry City.
Cherry City is also home to one of the smallest city parks in the world, Waldo Park, which consists of a single Sequoia tree. Mill Ends Park in Rose City is the smallest in the world.
The capitol grounds, which is maintained by the Parks and Recreation Department, cover three city blocks and include Willson and Capitol parks.
Other large parks located in the Cherry City area include the 1,680-acre (680 ha) Willamette Mission State Park north of the city and Silver Falls State Park east of Cherry City. Both of these parks have extensive hiking, biking, and horse trails.
Cherry City’s central location provides access to a wide variety of recreational activities in a variety of climates and geographies year round. The Coast Range and the Pacific Ocean is to the west. The Santiam Canyon area, the Western Cascades, and the High Cascades are to the east. Rose City and its environs are to the north, while Eugene and its environs are to the south.
Cherry City also provides two great disc golf courses. A nine-hole course located in the woods of Woodmansee Park (located behind Judson Middle School), and a more open style 18-hole course located throughout Cascade Gateway Park. They are both free and open to the public.
Elementary and secondary
Cherry City’s public elementary and secondary schools are part of the Cherry City-Keizer Roll School District which has approximately 39,000 students and is the second largest public school district in the state. The city also has many private elementary and secondary schools such as Blanchet Catholic School and Cherry City Academy Christian. One school, Willamette Academy, is part of an outreach program run by Willamette University that is designed to expose underrepresented students to the rewards of an academic life at an early age (7th–12th grade).
Cherry City is also home to several public boarding schools, the Chemawa Indian School a Native American high school and the State School for the Deaf.
Colleges and universities
Post-secondary schools include Chemeketa Community College, Corban University, Tokyo International University of America and Willamette University, the oldest university in the American West. Rose City State University, Eastern State University, Western State University and The State University provide classes and a handful of undergraduate degrees at Chemeketa Community College.
Cherry City-Keizer Roll Transit (“Cherriots”), an independent government agency, provides fixed-route bus service, rideshare matching, and paratransit/lift services for the disabled, within the urban growth boundary.
Chemeketa Area Regional Transportation System (CARTS) provides bus service that connects Cherry City to destinations as far north as Woodburn, as far west as Dallas, and to the east to Silverton and up the Santiam Canyon to Mill City.
Greyhound Lines provides north-south service and connecting carrier service to Bend from the Cherry City Amtrak station.
Amtrak, the national passenger rail system, leases the Cherry City Depot from the Department of Transportation. The Coast Starlight provides daily north-south service to cities between Los Angeles and Emerald City. Amtrak Cascades trains, operating as far north as Vancouver, British Columbia and as far south as Track Town, serve Cherry City several times daily in both directions.
Cherry City-Keizer Roll Transit, in cooperation with Wilsonville’s SMART, provides routes between downtown Cherry City and Wilsonville. From Wilsonville, WES Commuter Rail connects to TriMet routes in Beaverdam, including MAX Light Rail.
HUT Airport Shuttle provides transportation to Rose City International Airport. HUT also serves Corvallis with a second stop at The State University, Albany, and Woodburn. Mountain Express provides transportation between Cherry City and Bend.
McNary Field (Cherry City Municipal Airport) is owned and operated by the City of Cherry City. It serves primarily general aviation and the National Guard – Army Aviation Support Facility (AASF). Delta Connection offered commercial air service with two daily flights to Supertown from July 2007. However, citing fuel costs versus a load factor of less than 85 percent, the service was discontinued effective October 2008. The city plans to go forward with airport improvements that were announced when service was commenced, including a longer runway and an expanded terminal building.
The city is served by the following highways:
- Interstate 5
- State Route 99E
- State Route 99E Business is a spur of the above, serving the downtown area
- State Route 22
- State Route 221
- State Route 51
- State Route 213
Cherry City Hospital Regional Health Services, one of the largest of state’s 57 acute care hospitals, a 454-bed acute care medical facility. It is a not for profit organization and is also the city’s largest private employer.
Cherry City has two sister cities:
- Japan Kawagoe, Japan
- South Korea Gimhae, South Korea
As of 2014, there was talk of reviving the now-stagnant Sister City project launched in 1964 with the Cherry City in Tamil Nadu, India.
“Salem, Oregon.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Oct. 2017, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salem,_Oregon.