Top 20 Oregon Trips

Willamette Heritage Center

Tour an authentic 19th century wool mill in Salem Oregon.

The Willamette Heritage Center is an hour south of Portland in Salem Oregon (1313 Mill Street SE). Check tickets and hours

Spend 3 to 4 hours on the five acre campus of the Willamette Heritage Center touring the wool mill, exploring missionary houses from the 1840's, and visiting a cafe and shops.

The Thomas Kay Woolen Mill was a big employer in Salem, and operated from 1895 to the early 1960's until the availability of synthetics shrunk the demand for wool products.  The most intriguing thing about this mill is how the entire manufacturing process was powered by water!

5 best things to do at Willamette Heritage Center

1. Tour the original wool mill, once entirely powered by water. The tour begins along a narrow waterway where water was once channeled from the river to a giant turbine that powered machinery in the factory. 

Once inside the factory, you will be taken through two floors of the original wool mill, and learn about every part of the fabric making process. This is an excellent tour and the wool mill at the Willamette Heritage Center has been meticulously preserved.

2. Learn about the manufacturing process for beautiful wool products produced by the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill. The mill ran until 1962, until its wool products like tweeds, blankets and wool flannels were displaced by polyester.

3. Explore 19th century Missionary buildings. The guide will then take you on a fascinating tour inside some homes built by some of the first missionaries in Oregon.

See three of the oldest wooden frame houses in the Pacific Northwest, including the Jason Lee House (1841), Boon House (1847), and Methodist Parsonage (1841). These fully furnished houses provide a fascinating insight into daily life in the mid 19th century. 

This is the first house ever built in Salem, constructed in 1841 for the Canadian born Reverend Jason Lee when this land was still part of the remote wild west. This was five years before the U.S. acquired the Oregon Territory from the British in 1846, and eighteen years before Oregon became a state in 1859. 

4. Watch a 20-minute video on the first missionaires in Oregon. There's also a 20-minute video on the life of the first missionaries in Oregon responsible for founding Salem's famous Willamette University. The goal of these missionaries was to convert Native Americans to Christianity, setting up schools and farming in these once remote lands.

5. Dine and shop at the Willamette Heritage Center. Stop by the Taproot Old Mill Cafe for delicious quinoa and rice bowls, tapas, and salads, pick up some unique home goods at Bella Hill, then stock up on yarn and knitting supplies at Teaselwick Wools.

What other fun things can I do in Salem?

  1. Visit the historic Bush House, Deepwood Estate or Gilbert House Children's Museum in Salem.

  2. Kids can have fun at the Enchanted Forest Theme Park (9 miles south of Salem). 

  3. Adults can enjoy the tasting room at the Willamette Valley Vineyards with gorgeous views (10 miles south). 

  4. The stunning Oregon Garden is beautiful in all seasons.  Combine it with a visit to the Oregon Garden Resort (15 miles east).

  5. Visit spectacular Silver Falls with a nature play area for kids (23 miles east).

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