Oregon’s capitol building is located in Salem. It’s worth a visit, even if the doors are closed.
I’ve visited a couple dozen state capitals over the years, but somehow, despite numerous trips to Oregon, I had missed Salem. On this day, on the way to Bend, Oregon, I had the option of driving south from Portland first, then east. The only problem was, it was a Sunday, and the capitol building is closed to the public on the weekends. So, I could only enjoy it from the outside.
Oregon’s current state capitol building is the third structure to house the state’s government. It was built between 1936 and 1938, which helps explain the striking art-deco features which set Oregon’s capitol apart from most other states.
A golden Oregon Pioneer stands atop the capitol dome. The 22-foot tall statue is bronze with a gold leaf finish. At night, it is illuminated with solar power.
During the week, you can take a guided tour up to the base of the statue, for a view of Salem. You can also take a self-guided tour of the rest of the capitol.
The third capitol building replaced the structure that burned in 1935. As you walk the capitol grounds, you’ll discover these broken columns from the old building.
The previous state house was constructed between 1873 and 1892. The brick cores of the columns were made by Oregon penitentiary inmates.
It might look as if the columns still lie where they fell, but the truth is, they were gathered from several locations and returned here in 1980, in an effort to preserve them.
If it hadn’t been raining on me, I probably would have explored the grounds further. On the opposite side of the building, and across Court Street, you’ll find Willamette University, which surrounds several gardens.
But, it was raining, the doors were locked, and I didn’t have much of a choice but continue on my drive to Bend, via Oregon Route 22, which is just a few blocks south of the capitol building.
The Bottom Line
If you enjoy learning about state history, or just want to see an Oregon landmark, you should plan at least a brief stop at the capitol building in Salem. Try to arrive during normal business hours to see the inside, too.
From Portland, head south on Interstate 5. The Salem Parkway, Route 99E, will take you into town and around a few corners, until you’re just a few blocks away from the building. Signs can direct you the rest of the way — just keep in mind that you’re looking for State or Court Street.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from Portland to Salem, Oregon: