Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Woodburn: More Than a Mall

The back-to-school shopping frenzy is in full swing, and many folks will be making the trek to the Woodburn Company Stores, off I-5 between Portland and Salem. With over 100 stores, it is Oregon’s largest outlet center and the perfect place to pick up bargains.
Most shoppers rarely venture over the freeway to the east side and the town of Woodburn, and that’s a shame. They’re missing one of the most culturally diverse communities in Oregon, where the Chamber of Commerce welcomes people in English, Spanish, and Russian.
Settlemier House
The area was originally settled by Calapooya Indians and retired French-Canadian fur trappers, hence the name French Prairie. But it was the arrival of Jesse Settlemier in 1863 that led to the development of the town of Woodburn. Settlemier purchased land and established a nursery specializing in fruit and ornamental trees. When the Oregon and California Railroad arrived in the early 1870s, he platted the downtown section near the tracks and offered a city lot to anyone who would put a building on it.
The town of Woodburn grew quickly and Settlemier thrived as well. In 1892 he built a stunning, 14-room, Queen Anne Victorian home reflecting his wealth and status in the community. The property stands on a large, wooded lot on Settlemier Avenue and is owned and cared for by the French Prairie Historical Society. The home is open to the public on the first Sunday of every month.
President Obama ate here!
Agri-business has always been the life blood of Woodburn. Originally, the local economy was based on farm products including berries, hazelnuts, hops, and other fruits and vegetables. Today large nurseries and greenhouses dominate the scene and their labor-intensive operations have created a demand for year-round employees. Seasonal Mexican workers have been replaced by permanent laborers and their families. The Woodburn schools are now over 70% Hispanic and the downtown area is filled with thriving businesses catering to the needs and interests of the Hispanic community. In between the bakeries, shops, and taquerias (be sure to check out Luis's) on Front Street, is the Woodburn Historic Museum. The entrance is surrounded by a replica of an arch touting Woodburn as the World’s Berry Center, and inside is a collection of the town’s memorabilia from World War II recruitment posters to high school class photos. The museum is open Saturdays only.
Down the street, in the shadow of the water tower, is a delightful surprise for railroad buffs. Engine 1785 is a vintage, 1902 Southern Pacific steam engine beautifully restored by the Oregon Railway Historical Society. Engines like this once carried freight and passengers up and down the West Coast, and Union Pacific trains still whiz through the center of town.
In addition to its sizeable Hispanic population, Woodburn is also home to a large group of Russian Old Believers. These traditionalists broke away from the Orthodox Church during a period of reforms, and, for years, were persecuted by Tsarist and Communist Russia. During the Cold War, charities were instrumental in assisting Christians in migrating from Communist countries and over 10,000 Old Believers ended up in Oregon, mostly in the Woodburn area. South of town, their onion-domed churches are scattered across the farmland. The one at the end of Bethlehem Road with its gold domes and brightly painted fa├žade is strikingly beautiful.
Nearby, on Howell Prairie Road, is the Bauman Farms store, a 4th generation family farm and garden center. In the summer, the grounds are a riot of color with display gardens and greenhouses full of flowers and humongous, hanging baskets. Inside, the season’s bounty of fruits and vegetables, homemade jams and jellies, and fresh bakery products may be purchased.
A visit to the town of Woodburn should certainly be on every outlet shopper’s list.

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