In the days of strip malls and big box stores, there is a place within the heart of Oregon wine country where the 1800s meets the 21st Century.
While in communities around Oregon historic downtowns are struggling, along East 3rd Street in McMinnville, the downtown isn’t just surviving, but flourishing.
The first thing you notice when you take a walk along the six blocks are the amazing historic buildings, nearly all of which have been renovated and updated. In fact, there are more than a dozen historic buildings along 3rd Street, which is bordered by the McMinnville Train Depot on one end and a scenic city park on the other. Street trees have been planted along the wide sidewalks – something that was added 20 years ago – which gives the center of town an cozy feel and makes for a welcoming shade during the summer months, and a wonderful Christmas light display during the holidays.
“The downtown is fabulous, I know I feel very lucky to have the third street downtown area,” said Jennifer Feero, a member of the family that owns the historic Wright Building, which was constructed in 1893. “The downtown has a little bit of everything, you can shop, eat, be entertained, have some wine – it has the charm of being an old downtown.”
Activities abound along 3rd Street, from enjoying some of the local wines and reading a new book, or taking a bike on a ride throughout the area, or shopping for decorative items for your home and, of course, there are plenty of options for a good meal – and that are the days that special events aren’t going on.
Throughout the year there are more than 25 different events going on in the downtown and 2010 marks the 50th anniversary of the Turkey-Rama – billed as the world’s largest turkey barbecue.
“We really do have activity downtown all the time,” said McMinnville Downtown Association manager Kris Gullo. “There is something going on almost every weekend.”
Events include everything from a art and wine walk throughout the year, to a historic open house and tour, spring fling, alien costume parade, brown bag concerts throughout the summer, an International Pinot Noir Celebration, and the McMinnville Farmer’s Market which runs from May 27 through Oct. 7.
“Our farmer’s market features some of the freshest local produce and it’s very, very popular,” Gullo said. “We get people from all over the Willamette Valley visiting just for the market alone.”
But the foundation of all the events and attractions is the historic buildings and long-term businesses that make the downtown the center of commerce that it is.
“Take The Sage restaurant, for example,” Feero said. “It has been here 30 years serving their homemade bread and soups. It’s definitely a hidden gem of downtown.”
But some of the newer businesses also contribute to the ambiance of the downtown core. McMenamins, an Oregon-based brewery and hotel chain with a history of renovating historic landmarks, renovated the Hotel Oregon about 10 years ago. The building now features a restaurant, rooftop bar, 42 hotel rooms, a cellar bar and meeting rooms and live music. Throughout the 1905 building, there are historic photos of the city and even a walking tour is available.
McMinnville, being near the mid-point of any trip from Portland to the Oregon coast on Highway 99W and 18, makes a wonderful day-stop to explore not only wine country, but a piece of Americana that you can’t find many places anymore.
About downtown: Called “Oregon’s Favorite Mainstreet” 3rd Street in McMinnville is lined with not only history, but a robust group of businesses that range from lodging to art galleries to food and, of course, wineries. Visitors can spend days exploring the different offerings or learning about the history of the 1800-era buildings that line the street.
What to bring: A good set of walking shoes, as the six blocks along 3rd Street really has something for everyone. Whether it’s cozying up with a new book from a locally-owned book store, or enjoying one of the microbrews at a historic hotel, there is a lot to do and see. As with all attractions, cameras are a must to capture the architecture and the wonderful streetscape that has been created over the years.
Season: There are events happening year-round, check with the McMinnville Downtown Association, www.downtownmcminnville.com, to find the events that are going on when you visit.
Getting there: McMinnville is 38 miles from Portland, 27 miles from Salem, or 50 miles from the Oregon coast, making it perfect for a day exploration if you are travelling from Portland to the Oregon coast. To get to 3rd Street, from Portland, take Highway 99W toward the Oregon Coast, instead of turning onto Highway 18 to get to the coast, stay on 99W until you enter McMinnville. Turn left at 3rd Street.
Tips: If you want to know about the rich history of the buildings, or even find out if localvendors are having sales or special events, a quick visit to the McMinnville Downtown Association will reap many rewards. The group helps to manage the marketing and events of the downtown from their office in the historic Cozine House, on the corner of Highway 99W and 3rd Street.
History: According to the McMinnville Downtown Historic District literature, in 1853 William T. Newby erected a gristmill at the west end of a path that was to become 3rd Street. In 1856 with the assistance of Sebastian Adams, a surveyor and teacher, the original town site was platted on a portion of Newby’s land. McMinnville was incorporated as a town in 1876 and between 1885 and 1912 most of the historic 3rd Street business structures were built. Building activity peaked in 1928, with McMinnville’s commercial center extending from City Park on the west to the railroad tracks to the east.
By Patrick Johnson