Travel Back in Time and Explore the Fascinating History in Downtown Salem, Oregon’s Downtown District

This concludes our tour where it began, at the Conference Center, the former site of the Marion Hotel.

Did you know that a network of tunnels underneath Salem Oregon’s streets and sidewalks once connected stores, and (according to rumors), provided an escape for errant persons visiting “speakeasy businesses”?

Did you know that most of the early buildings in the historic district were composed of bricks made at the State prison between 1880 and 1930?

Did you know that State Street was once named “Prison Row” and Center Street was called “Asylum Street”?

Guests of The Grand Hotel in Salem may not know that just outside our hotel is a world of historic significance. We invite you to have some fun in our historic downtown and travel as far back as 1847 as you experience the fascinating places that tell the story of Salem Oregon’s history. The best place to begin your historical tour of Downtown Salem is at the interpretive panel inside the Salem Conference Center on the stair landing at the Ferry and Commercial Street corner where you can look out at the City’s beginnings.

The Salem Downtown Historic District is a seven block area roughly bounded by Chemeketa, High, Ferry, and Front Streets. The district is historically significant for its association with a regional response to the discovery of gold in California, the commercial response to the development of agriculture in the Willamette Valley, and the development of the Oregon Territory, and later the State of Oregon. The district is also architecturally significant for its collection of a variety of commercial architectural styles.


Downtown Salem, Oregon.
Photo: Ron Cooper — at Oregon State Capitol. Photo Source: Travel Salem

On this trip back in time, you will learn things like the fact that many stores in downtown Salem were connected by tunnels under the sidewalks and streets. You can still see elevator openings covered by metal plates that shops used to transport goods from street level to basement throughout downtown. According to rumors, these tunnels provided an escape for errant persons visiting “speakeasy businesses”. Another rumor claims that there is a buried tunnel that served as a Chinese opium den underneath a Salem street.

Click here to download The Salem Downtown Historic Walking Tour brochure that will lead you through the remarkable history of our beautiful downtown Salem. The Salem Downtown Historic Walking Tour brochure is funded by a Preserve America Grant. Preserve America is an initiative that encourages and supports cultural, economic and educational benefits of historic preservation and heritage tourism.

Additional Info
City of Salem
Tips For A Great Walking Tour of Salem, Oregon
Travel Salem