A lot of important things have happened over the years at the old Venetian Theater in Albany, Ore., including Marcia Morse's first date.
"I sneaked out of my parents' house one night and met a boy there," recalls the Albany resident, whose own child is now well past his sneaking-out years. "As we sat watching the movie, he pretended to stretch, and the next thing I knew his arm was around my shoulders."
If you can imagine all the memories connected with the 90-year-old Venetian and multiply them by 700—roughly the number of historic buildings in Albany—you'll get an idea of why spending time in this Willamette Valley town of 39,000 feels like coming home. As you walk along shady streets lined with turn-of-the-century houses, take a drive across covered country bridges, or gaze into the evening sky while enjoying a concert in the park, Albany seems reassuringly familiar, even if you've never been there before.
Tucked in between rolling green farmland and forest at the confluence of the Calapooia and Willamette rivers, Albany was founded in 1848 by two brothers who named it after the capital of their native New York. The town's name was changed in 1853 to Takenah, the Calapooia word for "the deep pool where the rivers meet," but a scant two years later it was changed back to Albany. Too many wags, it appears, were translating Takenah as "hole in the ground."
Albany, however, turned out to be anything but—a river and rail town in a fertile region, it soon became the hub of the valley. And as it prospered, new homes and commercial blocks were built in a procession of styles—from classic revival in the 1850s to craftsman bungalow in the 1920s.
Today, Albany has the most varied collection of historic buildings in all of Oregon, thanks to the highway engineers who bypassed the downtown when designing U.S. 99 and Interstate 5. Out near the interstate, there are now shopping centers and fast-food outlets, but time has moved much slower in the older parts of town. To be sure, you can find ATMs in the old downtown and there are any number of places to get an espresso, but the bells still peal from the soaring, Gothic Revival tower of Whitespires Church, and in July the attar of roses lingers on the backstreets.
Albany boasts three separate historic districts—the downtown commercial zone and the adjacent Monteith and Hackleman residential neighborhoods. The visitors association offers a self-guided tour brochure that lets you discover them at your own pace. In the Monteith District, named for the town's founding brothers, you'll see a bevy of turreted Queen Annes and you can visit the brothers' faithfully restored 1849 house. The Hackleman District is a bit more timeworn, but its store of treasures includes the most elaborately decorated house in Albany, an 1889 peach-colored confection on Baker Street that drips with wood trim and stained glass.
Although you'll spot a few vacant storefronts downtown, the district remains remarkably vital. At Capriccio Ristorante, you can sample authentic Italian dishes like fork-tender osso buco and a rich, Ligurian seafood stew called burrida, while at the Olde Towne Cafe, your morning eggs might come with a side of town news.
You can shoot a game of pool at Riley's, a beautifully renovated, family-friendly billiards hall; check out an elegant 18th-century Chinese armchair or a kitschy 1950s bottle of Mickey Mouse bubble bath at the slew of antique stores; or listen to a guitarist at Boccherini's coffeehouse or Wyatt's brewpub. At the Venetian, now a live music venue, you might practice your swing steps one night, catch a rock, blues, or country act the next. If you're still craving history, the Albany Regional Museum provides a peek at the past with its collection of photos and artifacts, including a complete turn-of-the-century doctor's office.
And if it's a taste of the past you're after, the Victorian-costumed staff at Flinn's Tea Parlour will serve you a three-course "historic high tea" featuring such recipes as an 1800s Southern spoon bread.
Oregon is home to more covered bridges than anywhere else but New England, and a self-guided driving tour outside Albany will take you over eight of them. Most of the bridges date from the 1930s and are open to cars. At the whitewashed 1936 Hoffman Bridge, there's a cool, green view of forest and creek from its four windows, and the 105-foot-long 1939 Larwood Bridge makes a fine backdrop for a picnic, sitting as it does beside a lush park and swimming spot. Bicyclists can often see some of the covered bridges during day rides organized by local cycling groups.
Summer in Albany is a particularly busy season, with the Linn County Fair and the tours of historic homes. The Northwest Art and Air Festival, a three-day gathering of hot air balloons, draws dozens of colorful floaters, and the early morning liftoffs are spectacular. Buy yourself a ticket to ride for a real bird's-eye view.
The biggest summer jamboree—and the largest logging event on earth—is the Timber Carnival, where novice and champion loggers from around the globe compete with their Pacific Northwest counterparts in a variety of lumberjack skills. There's log chopping, speed climbing, ax throwing, and tree topping, as well as bucking and birling—for the uninitiated, that's sawing and logrolling in water. Throw in a parade and some fireworks and it's a major wingding.
During the summer there are also evening concerts in Monteith Park, an oasis of grass and trees that slopes gently to the banks of the Willamette. The music ranges from nationally known classical, big band, and jazz performers to ethnic ensembles and local bands. Bring a picnic dinner—or maybe just a bottle of fine Willamette Valley wine and some glasses—and stretch out on the lawn. Watching the steady flow of the deep-green river and hearing the music drift through the soft evening air, you may well create your own Albany memories.
Planning Your Trip
All phone numbers are in the 541 area code, unless noted. For information, contact the Albany Visitors Association at 928-0911 or (800) 526-2256, www.albanyvisitors.com..
Where to Stay
Pick up a copy of the AAA Oregon/Washington TourBook for lodging options.
Where to Eat
Capriccio Ristorante, 442 First Ave. SW, 924-9932. Authentic Italian cuisine.
The Depot, 822 Lyon St. SW, 926-7326. Homey fried seafood joint that's always packed.
Olde Towne Cafe, 236 First Ave. SW, 928-1626. Busy downtown spot for breakfast and lunch.
Wyatt's Eatery and Brewhouse, 211 First Ave. NW, 917-3727.
Boccherini's Coffee & Tea House, 208 First Ave. SW, 926-6703.
Things to Say and Do
Monteith House, 518 Second Ave. SW, 928-0911.
Albany Regional Museum, 136 Lyon St. SW, 967-7122.
Venetian Theater, 241 First Ave. W, 791-8585.
Riley's Billiardroom, 124 Broadalbin St. SW, 926-2838.
Flinn's Historic Tea Parlour, 222 First Ave. SW, 928-5008 or (800) 636-5008 (by appointment only).
Closest rentals are 11 miles away in Corvallis at Peak Sports, 129 NW Second St., 754-6444; check with local bike shops or the visitors association for suggestions on touring.
World Championship Timber Carnival, July 1–4, 928-3047.
Linn County FairJuly 19–23, 926-4314 or (800) 858-2005.
Interior Tours of Historic Homes, July 29 and December 10, 928-0911.
Northwest Art and Air Festival, July 28–30, 928-0911.
Concerts in Monteith ParkMondays and Thursdays, July 6–August 17, 917-7777.
Antiques in the Streets, September 9, 928-2469 or 928-0911.
NPRA National Rodeo Finals, September 22–24, 926-4314 or (800) 232-3052.
Photos by Peter Marbach and Greg Vaughn
This article was first published in July 2000. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.