The Deepwood Estate in Salem – built in 1894 for Dr. Luke and Lizzie Port – was very nearly lost to history when it was scheduled for demolition by a corporation in 1968. Thankfully, the community stepped in, halting the construction of a commercial building in favor of creating a treasured community resource and historical attraction that draws thousands of visitors each year.
“Thankfully the unique attributes and large piece of land made it stand out as having potential to become a jewel in the crown of the City of Salem Park System and tourist destinations,” says Yvonne Putze, Executive Director of the Friends of Deepwood – the nonprofit in charge of managing the estate.
And so, today, thanks in part to the three years of fundraising efforts it took to purchase the home, there stands an immaculately preserved marvel of Queen Anne Victorian Architecture – typified by sculptural shapes, asymmetrical designs and bold eclecticism – surrounded by an array of astounding gardens.
“The grounds are open to the public to experience the front border gardens and historic formal gardens,” Putze said of what is now a Salem City Park. “Structures include the Carriage House, original Gazebo and Queen Anne Victorian Home. There is also a greenhouse which is generally open year-round.”
Influenced by the visions of each of the three families who lived at Deepwood throughout its time as a residence, the most recent additions to the gardens were also the most notable, as they were implemented by Elizabeth Lord & Edith Schryver of Lord & Schryver Landscape Design – the Northwest’s first female-owned landscape architecture firm.
Collaborating for over 10 years with the home’s third owner, Alice Brown, Lord & Schryver created what is now considered the formal gardens in a landscape that was previously dominated by vegetable plots, fruit trees and a rose-lined walk. Employing the Beaux Arts style of landscaping, characterized by geometric rooms divided by hedges, the duo created a living work of art that still stuns audiences today.
Largely open to the public on a daily basis for those looking to stroll the grounds or walk one of the estate’s many nature trails, there are certain areas of the gardens that are rented for events such as class reunions, proms, family gatherings, business events, quinceañeras and of course weddings.
Starting with its very first nuptial event, between Keith Powell and Alice Bingham, the daughter of the second Deepwood family, in the early 1900s, Deepwood has hosted numerous weddings. Including, in an odd twist of events, another ceremony including Powell when he remarried – upon Alice’s death –another Alice, this one surnamed Brown and the third Deepwood owner – which was also held at the estate.
“The home is named after a book Alice Brown loved to read to her sons, The Hollow Tree and the Deep Woods by Albert Bigelow Paine, 1900,” Putze noted. Adding, that the hollow tree, referenced in the book, reminded Brown of a hollowed-out yew tree in the back of the home.
It was one of many gifts Brown gave to the estate, the last of which was its sale to the City of Salem, who would ultimately be charged with bringing it back from extreme disrepair.
“The couple [Alice and Keith] was in their 80s when they left Deepwood and weren’t able to maintain the property to the pristine standard it had been in decades prior to their departure,” Putze explained. Adding, “In 1962, the legendary Columbus Day storm made a devastating impact on the property and that was not fully recovered from until restorative work after the City of Salem purchased the property.”
Since then, 40 years of renovations have taken place at Deepwood, bringing the gardens back to life and restoring the decaying, empty home to its previous glory, and filling it with period pieces that make the museum the treasure it is today.
“One of the wonderful parts of Deepwood is the furnishings have largely come through local donations of period décor,” Putze said. “While some historic homes are primarily furnished with items of the family who lived in the home, Deepwood was empty when it was purchased. Each family who lived in the home had taken their belongings from the home at the time the home was sold, so there weren’t treasured family pieces left throughout the home. However, thanks to descendants of the families who called Deepwood home, we are fortunate to have belongings of the Ports, Binghams and Browns. The fact that the majority of items in the home are from donations from the local community makes it feel a bit more like it belongs to the local community- which of course it does.”
Some of the most interesting items on display at Deepwood include items of clothing. “The collection of fashions from the Victorian era through the 1920s are also a favorite of mine,” Putze added. “It seems extra special that our textiles include wedding dresses donated from many families across the Willamette Valley. Seeing clothing on display is a favorite of our visitors as well,” she noted.
Another favorite of Putze’s is the Povey Stained Glass windows, manufactured in nearby Portland. “They are so captivating and really show the extravagance of the home when it was finished in 1894,” Putze explained. Adding, “Having all the original Povey windows is quite remarkable. The window between the flumes of the fireplace is especially poignant as it is said to represent the Port family – three fully bloomed roses represent Luke, Lizzie and daughter Alpha while a rose bud represents the life that was never fully realized when son Omega was lost at sea several years before the construction of Deepwood. Stained glass showed a person’s wealth and even social standing. The glass colors and symbols in them had meaning to the creator or the home’s owner. As with Deepwood, fine Victorian homes would even have stained glass in the bathroom, as well as above picture windows and staircases.”
“The vision by the volunteers who drove the saving of Deepwood…was to create a destination for visitors as well as a place local residents could step back into the beauty of decades past,” Putze said. Adding, “We have certainly seen the realization of the estate as a treasured part of the local community and a destination for travelers.”