Willamette Heritage Center

Willamette Heritage Center

1313 Mill Street SE,Suite 200, Salem, OR 97301 - United States





The Willamette Heritage Center connects generations by preserving and interpreting Mid-Willamette Valley history. The fourteen historic structures on site house permanent and changing exhibits, a research library and archive, a textile learning center, and rentable event spaces. The five-acre campus is also home to retail shops, art galleries, cooperative artist studios, and offices for our partner organizations.

Early settlement buildings take visitors back to the 1840s, when Euro-American missionaries and immigrants settled in the Mid-Willamette Valley, home of the Kalapuya. The 1841 Jason Lee House and Methodist Parsonage are the oldest standing wooden frame houses in the Pacific Northwest, featured along with the John D. Boon House (1847) and Pleasant Grove Church (1854), built by Oregon Trail immigrants. The 1896 Thomas Kay Woolen Mill, a National Park Service-designated American Treasure, vividly tells the story of industrialization in the Mid-Willamette Valley.

Experience work and life in what was once a leading textile factory in Oregon, the legacy of which is continued today by Pendleton Woolen Mills. Changing exhibits at the Willamette Heritage Center explore and highlight the rich and diverse cultural heritage of the Mid-Willamette Valley.

The Willamette Heritage Center (WHC) is a private, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization formed from the merger of the Mission Mill Museum and the Marion County Historical Society. It continues their legacies through a mission to preserve and interpret the history of the Mid-Willamette Valley.


Join the Club! An Exhibit at the Willamette Heritage Center
10th Annual Heritage Invitational Exhibit
In 2020, this exhibit will focus on the history of clubs and social organizations in the Mid-Willamette Valley. From fraternal organizations, to service groups to kid’s associations — clubs help shape our identity, widen our network and form community. They can provide a place of belonging and shared interests. They can also divide and exclude. This exhibit will look at the great variety of clubs and organizations in our region.

Lee House (1841)
Wheel chair Accessible – First Floor Only
Four missionary families originally occupied this house, living independently in four apartments, including the Lees, Judsons, Parrishes and Raymonds. The house served as headquarters for Methodist Mission operations in the Oregon Country, which included satellite stations as far north as Tacoma and east as The Dalles. It also hosted meetings of the early provisional government and served as an early post office. When the mission closed it became the private residence of Judge Ruben P. Boise. The Lee House was moved here from its original location north of downtown Salem in 1959.

In this house you can learn about:
The History of the Methodist Mission to Oregon
Missionaries and their Families and Early education in the Oregon Country

Boon House (1847)
Wheel chair accessible via ramp behind the house.
This is the oldest single family house still standing in Salem. John D. and Martha Boon and their family came to Oregon over the Oregon Trail in 1845. After a brief stint homesteading, the family relocated to Salem where John D. Boon became very involved in business and politics. He operated a store and served as territorial and later state treasurer. In 1972 this house was moved from its original location on Liberty Street next to what is now the McMenniman’s-run Boone’s Treasury, but was Boon’s mercantile.

Exhibits in this house focus on:
The Oregon Trail
The Boon Family
Early Industry and Agriculture

Methodist Parsonage (1841)
Not Wheelchair Accessible due to the narrowness of the original door jambs
The Parsonage was the 2nd frame structure built with lumber from the mission’s sawmill. Originally located near where the water tower for the mill stands today, this building was probably designed by Hamilton Campbell, a cabinet maker who came to Oregon with the mission’s Great Reinforcement in 1840. The house was designed as a duplex to house two missionary families in charge of the mission’s school. Among its residents were Rev. Gustavus Hines, Hamilton Campbell, and their families. This was the only building retained by the Methodist Church when the mission closed, and it served as the parsonage for their minister and as a base for circuit riders (itinerant preachers) in the valley.

In this house you can learn about :
The Kalapuya
Women and Children
Historic Preservation

Pleasant Grove Church (1858)
Not Wheel chair accessible
This little church is also known as the “Condit Church” for one of its founding families on whose land the church was constructed. Rev. Philip Condit and his family came to Oregon from Ohio in 1854. The church was built as a true community effort with community members pledging $1378.25 in cash, glass, nails, lumber, paint, bibles, shingles, lead and labor to complete the structure, which was finished by April 1858. Sadly, Rev. Condit didn’t live to see its completion. The church represents a meetinghouse-style associated with early country churches. It is one of the oldest surviving Presbyterian churches in the Pacific Northwest. The building was moved from outside Aumsville to the museum’s grounds in 1984. Currently, the museum rents out the church for weddings and other special events. Inquire at the front desk for more information.

Thomas Kay Woolen Mill
The Thomas Kay Woolen Mill, founded in 1889 by Thomas Lister Kay, was one of numerous textile mills that operated throughout the Valley. These textile mills were critical components in Oregon’s economic stability. The Mill produced fine woolen blankets and fabric for more than seventy years and was managed by four generations of the Kay family – a legacy still perpetuated at the world-renowned , owned and operated by Kay’s descendants.

The Mill closed in 1962 and was subsequently purchased by the Mission Mill Museum Association, a private, non-profit organization formed in 1964. It is the only woolen mill museum west of Missouri and has one of the few water powered turbines in the Pacific Northwest that is still capable of generating electricity from the millrace. Displays of the original 19th and 20th century machinery illustrate industrial wool processing, and images throughout the Mill capture the stories of the lives of the individuals and families who worked at the Mill since its founding.

Mill Building
The first two floors of the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill building are devoted to telling the story of woolen processing, on its journey from fleece to fabric. Visitors can view machinery used for carding, spinning and weaving wool on the 2nd Floor. The Finishing Room tells the story of burling and mending, fulling, napping, shearing and final inspections.

PGE Waterpower Exhibit
The PGE Waterpower Exhibit tells the story of early power generation in Salem. The history of waterpower dates to the 1840s and the Oregon Methodist Mission. Missionaries harnessed the energy from Mill Creek for a saw mill and grist mill. As the community grew and the need for power expanded, the Salem Ditch, a canal which increased water flow into Mill Creek from the Santiam River, was surveyed and dug near Stayton. Increased water flow powered many industries and made possible the man-made mill race which powered the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill and its predecessors. A turbine turned drive shafts, belts, pulleys and gears to operate the machines the mill needed. In later years a generator was added, also powered by the turbine. The generator converted water power into electricity to provide lighting for the Woolen Mill. Later electricity was used to enhance mechanical power during times of high production.

Mentzer Machine Shop
Wayne Mentzer worked as Millwright at the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill, even after the mill closed and turned into a museum. As Millwright, Metnzer was in charge of keeping everything running and in order. In the Machine Shop, you can see belts driving woodworking equipment that would have been used to make repairs around the mill, a blacksmithing forge, and the chair and ledge Wayne used to eat lunch everyday with his trained pet mice.

Participation in Museum Day is open to any tax-exempt or governmental museum or cultural venue on a voluntary basis. Smithsonian magazine encourages museum visitation, but is not responsible for and does not endorse the content of the participating museums and cultural venues, and does not subsidize museums that participate.