Silverton sojourn

Discover a jewel of a town near Salem, Oregon

Bonnie Henderson

Long before the Oregon Garden took root on the outskirts of Silverton in 1997, there was Silverton itself, a nationally registered historic district and one of the most genuinely charming small towns around. But who knew? Locals, of course, who relished living in a town where everyone knows one another, and where the Silverton Pet Parade (May 17, 10-11:15 a.m.; Main and Water Streets) is one of the year's big events, and where a penny in a parking meter still buys you 12 minutes.

"I had guests who called it 'Whoville,' " says innkeeper Sheila Rosborough. A native of Great Britain, Rosborough moved to Silverton in 2000 and bought the 1890 Wolford Hotel, transforming it into the elegant five-room Water Street Inn (421 N. Water St.; 866/873-3344), a delightful place to stay if you spend more than one day in town. Rosborough laughs about her new home, saying, "All these people smiling and greeting you ― it's like we're stuck in the '60s."

Stuck in the '60s perhaps, but with a leg in the 19th century ― when some of downtown's brick-and-stick buildings were built ― and with more than a toe in the 21st century: you'll still find antiques, but increasingly the town's merchants are leaning toward contemporary art and artful furnishings. Lunaria Gallery (113 N. Water; 503/873-7734) is a co-op showing two dozen local artists' works. Silver Creek Gallery (closed Sun-Tue; 119-A N. Water; 503/873-6767) displays Northwest oils and watercolors as well as wood, clay, and glass pieces.

Also downtown is the Garden Connection (115 N. Water; 503/874-0100), the gift shop for the Oregon Garden―the landmark two-year-old botanical display garden at the outskirts of town. Down the street, the Cottage Gate (413 S. Water; 503/873-9024) is stuffed with new and used shabby- and not-so-shabby-chic furnishings and gifts.

Come mealtime, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from. At Mac's Place (201 N. Water; 503/873-2441), eat burgers and homemade chili on the back deck overhanging Silver Creek. The Oregon Tea Garden (closed Sun-Mon; 305 Oak St.; 503/873-1230) serves simple lunches as well as an elegant multicourse "silver tea." Best of all is Silver Grille Café & Wines (dinner only, closed Mon-Tue; 206 E. Main St.; 503/873-4035), a destination in itself, with locally procured, exquisitely prepared foods such as rosemary-scented leg of lamb and strawberry-rhubarb tiramisu.

Not a bad lineup for a town that, just a few years ago, was considered merely the gateway to Silver Falls State Park, 11 miles down the road. Silverton is becoming a destination in itself, and its palpable hometown pride is still one of its best assets, Rosborough says. "The people of Silverton love their town," she adds.

Getting to Silverton

WHERE: Silverton is about 14 miles east of Salem, at the junction of State 213 and State 214. From I-5 at Salem, take exit 256 and follow signs to Silverton.

FYI: The Oregon Garden ($7; 879 W. Main St.; 503/874-8100) is open 9-6 daily. CONTACT: Silverton Area Chamber of Commerce, (503) 873-5615.