About Us

A.C. Gilbert's Discovery Village

A.C. Gilbert's Discovery Village is a private nonprofit children's museum located in downtown Salem in Riverfront Park. Founded in 1989, A.C. Gilbert's Discovery Village provides innovative and stimulating educational experiences which spark children's natural curiosity. The Village's mission is to provoke curiosity, inspire awe, foster enjoyment, encourage learning, and enable understanding in all youth. This is accomplished through fun and challenging exhibits, summer camps, birthday parties, membership opportunities and outreach programs in the sciences, arts, and humanities.

Gilbert House

The Gilbert House (1887) was built on this riverfront site by A.C. Gilbert's uncle, Andrew T. Gilbert. A.C.'s family home was located six blocks away at 700 Marion Street, replaced by Salem First Congregational Church in 1941.

The Gilbert House is a Queen Anne Victorian of Eastlake design, built by architect/designer C.A. Robert.

The City of Salem purchased the house in 1985 as part of its future Riverfront Development Project. A.C. Gilbert's Discovery Village acquired the Gilbert House through a no-cost lease and restored it with grants from the Meyer Memorial Trust and the community. The Museum opened on December 15, 1989. The Gilbert House is on the National Register of Historic Places.


Parrish House

The Josiah L. Parrish House (circa 1860) is a two-story wood frame house. The tall and narrow sash windows, capped by a wooden cornice, suggest an Italian architecture style. Some parts of the house were built in the 1860's while other parts were added later, circa 1910. Josiah L. Parrish was active in Salem's Methodist community and involved with Willamette University.

The house was moved in 1990 from its original location at 745 Capitol Street to its present location at the riverfront. The workers faced a challenge when the house became trapped under the Marion Street Bridge for hours!

Today it houses a display on the life and inventions of A.C. Gilbert.


Rockenfield House

C.S. Rockenfield and his wife, Sally, originally built the Rockenfield House on the northeast corner of Court and Summer Street in 1883. In 1937, two years after the State House burned, the state purchased the houses on Summer and Court Street and moved the Rockenfield House to 755 Capitol Street to make room for the gardens and the State Library. Finally, in 1991, during the expansion of the Capitol Mall, the Rockenfield House moved to its present location on the riverfront. In 1992 the Rockenfield House was opened to the public as part of A.C. Gilbert's Discovery Village.


The Little Gem Grocery

The Little Gem Grocery (1925) was originally built on the northwest corner of Chemeketa and 17th Streets. The store has a gabled roof hidden by a Italianate false front, much like many other frontier buildings of the West.

In the 1920's and 1930's, the store was operated by a series of owners, including the Wilsons, Clarks, Nelsons, and Largents. The "mom and pop" grocery was a single room lined with shelves and was an important source of milk, bread, eggs, and canned goods for area neighbors.

It is now used for food concession during parts of the year.


Wilson-Durbin House

The original Wilson-Durbin House was built in the Gothic-Revival style on this site in 1861 by Joseph Gardiner Wilson. Issac and Olive Durbin purchased the house in 1863 and it remained in their family for 50 years. In 1980, the house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1988, a group of citizens, led by David Duniway, began the house's restoration. On December 9, 1990 the house burned to the ground in a fire, cause unknown.

In 1999, Greg Oldham, along with local businesses and community organizations reconstructed the house. Today its space is used for classes, meetings, camps, and birthday parties.

The largest community-built project in Salem's history resulted in the finest outdoor children's discovery center in the Northwest! In only 19 days, over 6,000 volunteers and 346 businesses used 20 miles of lumber, 2 tons of nails and fasteners to create the masterpiece of A.C.'s Backyard. Within the 20,000 square-foot outdoor facility, children can climb in the world's largest Erector Set tower, play marimbas on the musical ensemble deck, explore the inside of an animal cell, be the captain of the Paddle Wheeler, see drama performances in the Amphitheater and much more.

After graduating from Yale with a degree in medicine and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault, A.C. Gilbert created the Erector Set, an engineering toy that enabled a young child to build such items as Ferris wheels and bridges. He later marketed a variety of other educational toys ranging from American Flyer trains to Mysto Magic sets, chemistry and telegraph sets. With his toys, Gilbert hoped to combine fun with an understanding and appreciation of science. Gilbert realized that a child needed playthings that would encourage creative expression and satisfy a natural curiosity about the world.

A.C. Gilbert was born in Salem, OR on February 15th, 1884. Today, his uncle's Victorian home, the A.C. Gilbert House, is one of three structures that house our museum's exhibits. A display of vintage Gilbert toys and inventions along with an exhibit chronicling his exciting life is located in the Parrish House. At the end of his life, A.C. Gilbert held 150 patents for his inventions. This creative genius that believed that "playing is essential to learning," serves as a wonderful inspiration and namesake for our hands-on, interactive museum.