An antique lover admires the vintage wares for sale in Aurora's historic downtown.
Aurora, Ore., 25 miles south of Portland on Highway 99e, is a sweet little spot to hunt for antiques or pursue a piece of marionberry pie. Best of all, you can visit the local history museum and discover the town's fascinating cult mystique.
Starting in 1855, Dr. William Keil, a charismatic German healer, led some 400 Christian settlers along the Oregon Trail to build a religious colony here. Their journey became part of pioneer lore when Keil's son, Willie, died just days before the trip and his casketed body, preserved in the group's homemade Golden Rule whiskey, led the wagon train, causing astonished Indians to let the caravan pass unmolested.
HIT PARADE The Music of Old Aurora captures tunes once played by the colony's band such as "Cornflower Waltz." The CD can be yours for $12 at the Old Aurora Colony Museum.
Once Aurora was established, its citizens shared all the goods from their orchards, mills, and trade shops as well as a passion for the town's oompah band. Although subsequent generations eventually abandoned communal living, they've had part of their town named a National Historic District and they've preserved its past at the Old Aurora Colony Museum. This cluster of old buildings—an ox barn, a settler's log cabin, a house dating from 1863—enshrine precious pioneer relics such as an 11-foot saw used to clear old-growth timber and the Schellenbaum (tree of bells) that was carried in front of the town band.
Aurora's antique shops, some housed in 19th-century buildings, echo this fascination with everyday treasures, although they overflow with 20th-century doodads. You'll find a whole wall of old box telephones at Main Street Mercantile, and you can bring home weathered cattle feed crates from the Antique Colony. Aurora Mills Architectural Salvage is the place to invest in a vintage doorknob or a claw-foot bathtub.
Be advised that the best local eats happen to be sweets. Try the apple dumplings at Remember When or visit the For You Only Deli for a sandwich and a milk shake, sarsaparilla soda, or the sought-after marionberry pie. Watch as fruits and hazelnuts are covered in chocolate at the Pacific Hazelnut Candy Factory, then partake of a free sample at the gift shop.
If the area's flower farms, pumpkin patches, and majestic views of Mount Hood entice you to stay a bit longer, settle in at the Willamette Gables Riverside Estate Bed and Breakfast, where patrons get cozy with—you guessed it—more antiques.
Photography by Susan Seubert
This article was first published in September 2004. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
Area code is 503. Pick up AAA's Oregon & Washington map and TourBook. Contact the Aurora Chamber of Commerce, 939-0312, www.auroracolony.com.
TO DO AND SEE
Old Aurora Colony Museum Second and Liberty Sts., 678-5754, www.auroracolonymuseum.com.
Pacific Hazelnut Candy Factory 14673 Ottaway Ave., 678-2755, (800) 634-7344, www.pacifichazelnut.com.
For You Only Deli 21620 Main St., 678-2830.
Remember When 21527 Hwy. 99E, 678-1675.
Willamette Gables Riverside Estate Bed and Breakfast
$135–$165. 10323 Schuler Rd., 678-2195.