Marionberries to butter: Tastey historic tidbits from Salem

Marionberries Salem

Marionberries thrive in Salem—the perfect climate and terrain for the blackberry variety. (Dipti Vaidya/Gannett News Service)

DealChicken spends a lot of time hunting and pecking around Salem in search of the best daily deals. So it’s no surprise that he’s come across his share of fun facts. From the marionberries to the quest for the best butter, DealChicken found his share of tastey tidbits and historical roots.

The agricultural area surrounding Salem boasts the perfect climate and terrain for growing blackberries, and 90% of the world’s marionberries—a variety of blackberry—are grown just outside of the city. The sweet, yet tart fruit makes such good jam and syrup that football recruiters reportedly use the products to lure promising players to the University of Oregon.

Salem nearly received the moniker “Chemeketa”—the Indian name for the place—back in 1846 when the town was founded. Rev. Parrish, who suggested the name, indicated that it meant “place of rest.” But W.H. Willson, another founder, pointed out that the Biblical word "shalom" or Salem meant the same thing, and the founders decided on the latter. Though they reconsidered Chemeketa in the summer of 1853, no name change ever occurred.

Back in the day in Salem, butter-making was such big news that cows and their breeders were rewarded for their efforts. One heifer, Vive La France, the Wonder Cow, held three world records for butter-fat production. This prompted the locals to build a monument stone for the Jersey cow in 1925. Today, the monument stands in the Oregon State Fairgrounds, appropriately wedged between the livestock and poultry buildings.

The location of the Oregon capitol ping-ponged around the state for several years in the mid-1800s. Though it all started in Oregon City, in 1851 the provisional government moved the capital to Salem, only to transfer it to Corvallis in 1855 and then back again to Salem that same year. Ironically, the capitol building burned to the ground after the return to Salem, but the state legislature stayed put.

Years ago, Salem police officers worked alone, without modern conveniences like radios enabling them to call back to headquarters. Instead, Salem had small light bulbs hanging in certain intersections. Though they resembled traffic signals, the bulbs were actually visual pagers that, when lit, alerted police officers that they needed to immediately report to headquarters for instructions.

Baseball had early beginnings in Salem, with organized games recorded since the 1860s. The Class B Western International League franchise brought pro baseball to Salem in 1940. The Salem Senators attracted an outstanding 4,865 spectators to their first game that year, beating their opponents from Yakima, Washington, with five runs in the ninth inning.

Salem can be credited with schooling the 31st President of the United States. In the years before taking over in the Oval Office, Herbert Hoover learned important skills when he took business classes starting in September 1888 at Salem’s Capital Business College. The former president went on to enter Stanford University’s pioneer class three years later.

No one knows why the Cherry Fair, which dates back to 1903, stopped being held in Salem sometime in the 1950s. What they do remember is the unusual floats that folks created for the event’s parade, the crowning of a cherry “queen” and the fact that after the 1907 cherry exhibits, Salem was christened the “Cherry City.”

Thanks to Salem, little boys and girls everywhere enjoyed the video game equivalent of the early 1900s—the Erector Set. Created by A.C. Gilbert, who was born in Salem in 1884, the toy was one of the most popular of all time. Gilbert was inspired to create the set after watching workmen build an electrical tower. The new invention hit the market in 1913, backed by the first major U.S. ad campaign for a toy. Soon homes everywhere were filled with miniature steel cities.

The first license to sell alcohol in Salem was issued to Philip O’Riley, who, much to the surprise of teetotalling authorities, came up with the hefty fee of $200 required for a liquor license. He also vowed to keep an orderly establishment and not to allow any gambling or loud behavior.

Mastered marrionberries and other Salem facts? Then test your knowledge of Fort Collins.