West of the Capitol to Cottage Street, between Court and State Streets
A summer view of Willson Park looking west from the Capitol
Willson Park is named for William Willson, a Salem pioneer who laid out the first city plat when the town was established. His wife, Chloe Willson was a teacher at the school which became Willamette University.
Being adjacent to the State House and the residences of many of the most prominent citizens, as well as being only a few blocks from the commercial downtown blocks, the park was historically the center of ceremonial life and family entertainment. The several successive bandstands, Breyman Brothers Horse Trough, Waite Fountain, and Methodist Circuit Rider statuary (now moved to a site east of the Capitol) and the various gardens are significant in the social and cultural history of Salem. An event of tragic importance was the Columbus Day storm of 1963. Extensive repairs were necessary to the structures as well as to the original plantings to clear out felled trees.
When You Are Here:
A brochure entitled "A Walking Tour State of Oregon Capitol Grounds" supplied in the Capitol Lobby gives information about trees, shubs and flowers around the Capitol as well as monuments including the following:
The first bandstand was donated by a neighbor, Joseph Albert. Concerts by the Municipal Band were presented twice a week in the summertime and were the focus of entertainment and family picnics. The present bandstand was constructed after the storm of 1962.
The Waite Fountain is a replica of the one donated in 1907 in memory of E.M. Waite by his wife Louisa Breyman Waite. In the afternoon of July 13,1897, Mr. Waite, a beloved citizen of Salem, was enjoying a parade preceding a game between two local baseball clubs, the printers of the Capitol and the barbers union, when he died suddenly. The original, a wonderful evening attraction with fifteen nozzles spraying multi-colored fountains, is remembered fondly.
The Breyman Fountain, also known the "Horse Trough", was donated by the Eugene and Werner Breyman in 1904 as a watering hole for Salem horse traffic. The fountain was directly across Cottage Street from the front porch of a Breyman home.
The Circuit Rider statue, dedicated to Robert Booth and donated by his son in 1924, honors preachers who rode on the frontiers of America in the nineteenth century, bringing members of remote settlements into their own congregations of faith. This statue, originally in front of the west facing State House before the fire of 1935, was moved to the east of the present Capitol building which covered its original site. The Cicuit Rider was repaired after being toppled in the 1963 storm.
Many historic photos of Willson Park, including the restored bandstand, Waite Fountain, Breyman Brothers fountain and clean-ups other repairs after the Columbus day Storm of 1962 can be found at Willson Park in the Historic Photo Collection of the Salemhistory website.
Biographical profiles of both Willaim and Chloe Willson may be found at People in the Salemhistory website.