A down-home version of the pioneer experience awaits in Brownsville, which might evoke a feeling of déjà vu as it provided big-screen backdrops for a number of films, including Stand By Me.
What ended up being Oregon ’s third-oldest continuously operating settlement began as a ferry stop on the Calapooia River. This 1846 settlement began to prosper in 1862 with a woolen mill and, shortly thereafter, the coming of the railroad.
Today, the Linn County Historical Museum (101 Park Ave., 541/466-3390, 11 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 1–5 p.m. Sun., donation suggested) is located in a turn-of-the-20th-century train depot flanked by freight cars and a circus train. Inside these structures are displays (a barbershop, kitchen, post office, etc.) illustrating the lifestyle of the area’s first settlers, the Kalapuya Native American people, and local natural history. Kids will especially relish the vintage covered wagon and 50 miniature horse-drawn wagons, sleighs, carriages, and carts.
Check at the museum about tours of the Moyer House (204 N. Main St.), the elegant 1881 Italianate home of a successful mill owner and door manufacturer. The home’s high-ceilinged interior features a Carrara marble fireplace, ornate wood trim, hand-painted floral patterns, stencils on the ceilings, and oil-painted outdoor scenes on the upper panels of the bay windows. The 1881 grand piano in the south parlor is another must-see. The distinctive cupola perched atop the roof housing a glass observatory will catch your eye from a distance. Come in June to see the strangely twisted wisteria tree on the front lawn in full bloom.
The Brownsville area has other worthwhile attractions. A pioneer cemetery on the east end of Kirk Street shelters the grave of the last known member of the Kalapuya people; some headstones here date to 1846, when Brownsville was established.
A collection of rocks, Native American arrowheads, and woodcarvings is housed in an interesting stone structure at the Living Rock Studio (911 W. Bishop Way, 541/466-5814, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sat., $3 suggested donation). The highlight is the series of colorful Biblical scenes made from thin slabs of rock, but don’t miss out on the second-floor logging exhibit. The Sweet Home area (about 17 miles east of Brownsville) is famous among rock hounds for petrified wood and agates.
The historical museum coordinates wagon-ride interludes into the past during the first weekend of May. Known as Carriage Me Back Days, these excursions reenact daily life from days of old.
The third weekend in June, the 100-year-old Brownsville Pioneer Picnic features an old-time fiddlers jamboree and a tug-of-war involving large local teams. Also on the agenda are a parade, a carnival, a crafts fair, a foot race, and a tour of historical homes. The three-day celebration is held near the spot where a ferry plied the Calapooia in 1846, now part of 10-acre Pioneer Park, located off Main Street at the end of Park Avenue. Each day of the event begins with a wagon-train breakfast.
Another event of interest is the Antique Fair on the first weekend of August, where food, entertainment, and treasures from old farmsteads are featured.
In the past couple of years, the event that has drawn the biggest crowds to Brownsville is the late-August Willamette Country Music Festival (541/497-7588, www.willamettecountrymusicfest.com ), with lots of music and camping.
Should you decide to overnight in the Brownsville area, you can get a room at Pioneer Best Western Lodge (33180 Hwy. 228, 541/369-2804, $77 and up), located at the intersection of I-5 and Route 228. There’s also a campground in Brownsville’s Pioneer Park (541/466-5666, $10 tents, $15 RVs) near the Calapooia River.
From I-5 take Exit 216; Route 228 will take you 5 miles east into this small town located between the Calapooia River and the Cascade foothills.