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Destination: Aurora


Story and photos by

Rusty Rae

If, as poet William Cowper wrote, “Variety is the spice of life,” then Aurora, Oregon, represents a zestful opportunity for vintage collectors of all flavors.

Located midway between Portland and Salem, a short drive off I-5, the city brings together a slice of Oregon state history and an eclectic group of classic collectable stores which many antique collectors find is a slice of antique heaven.

Originally known as the Aurora Colony, or Aurora Mills, it was one of the most successful religious communes west of the Rockies. Founded in 1856 on the Pudding River by Wilhelmina Keil, a German immigrant, the Aurora Colony at one time was home to more than 600 souls who followed the basic Christian ideals of Kiel that were driven by the Christian Reformation that swept the country at the time.

Named after Keil’s daughter (who died as the result of a smallpox epidemic in 1862), Aurora became known for its music, orchards, textiles, orchards, furniture, food, and its communal lifestyle with its German traditions.

With the death of Keil’s only remaining daughter in 1870, Keil, who had purchased the land on which the Aurora Colony was built, began transfer of the land to a group of trustees. In 1877 Keil died suddenly before he completed the further transfer of land. At that point the trustees decided to disband the colony.

A decade after its dissolution in 1883, the City of Aurora incorporated with many of the colony descendants continuing to reside in the area.

The city of Aurora is now more than 125 years old, and continues to thrive. To many it’s a shining jewel for vintage collectors and history buffs alike. While both the variety and number of vintage enterprises is enough to draw those looking for that special item, Aurora offers the opportunity for a day — or more — searching for that special item, and at the same time offers a variety of other activities to keep the entire family happy.

There’s more to the vintage haven than meets the eye. It’s a community that appears to have been infused by the DNA from the original commune. Store owners and staff are customer-focused and go out of their way to help patrons find what they’re looking, even if it means sending them to a store up the street.

While everyone so far has met the pandemic challenge creatively, Jan Peel notes there is plenty of open space between stores and many of the stores are large enough to easily allow safe shopping. And yes, masks are required per state regulations.

Peel adds, “We’ve been listed in several magazines (House Beautiful for one) as one of the top 10 towns in the United States for vintage and antique shopping.”

With more than 20 vintage shops to choose from, space doesn’t allow us to write about everyone – but here’s a thumbnail on several we visited one weekend.

At Home Again Antiques, Peel, with 25 years of experience in the business, said her shop offers authentic American Country Furniture along with East Coast baskets, stoneware, folk art and country primitive items.

Peel sees the community diversifying with new shops being added to the mix on a regular basis. She notes, “We all specialize in something slightly different so we can work together for the good of the customer and the community.”

One of the first stores you’ll run into as you come from the Donald/I-5 exit is Aurora Mills Architecture Salvage, located in a 19th century grain and seed mill complex, which was part of the original Aurora Mills colony.

Walking into this proud old building transports one back more than a 100 years in time. Contained within its walls are a variety of what Katybeth Allen calls the best old stuff on the West Coast.

By old stuff she means the largest inventory of antique salvage materials perfect for restorations or that impeccable period piece for a man cave or rec room.

You’ll find everything from vintage doors and door knobs to lumber and everything in-between. But, Allen notes, “It’s really an immersive experience. Maybe you don’t buy anything — and that’s okay — we embrace all who are interested in the preservation of architectural history.”

If you’re looking for an antique lamp, another great old and massive building is proprietor Les Lingsheit’s Aurora Lampworks and Antiques. You’ll not only find general antique items, but a passel of to-die-for lamps and antique lamp parts.

The building is the former Aurora train depot. Take a breath and close your eyes and you might hear the steam engine-powered train pull into the station.

Not only that, but if you’re patient, Les will likely fill you in on the latest news of the day and give you a great story about his days in racing — be sure to ask him about the time he thought he’d become a waterski racer.

New to the area, but not necessarily to the vintage collection business, is Connie Lafarge at Main Street Mercantile. Lafarge dabbled in the business for many years and was a vendor at one of the antique parlors in McMinnville, Oregon.

She took over the shop in January, 2021, after 30 years working as a paralegal. “I visited the shop when there was a retirement sale going on and one thing led to another and here I am.

“I’ve always loved the hunting process and finding that special item. So this is a natural progression.” she said.

Of the business she notes, “This is an iconic business in Aurora that’s been here for decades. We cater to all the generations with a wide variety of items,” she said.

One booth at the Main Street Mercantile that caught our attention was a bookseller. The booth had a wide variety of books for all ages and genres at prices that are better than an eBay deal.

Today she has 30 vendors and adds, ”I’m always looking for more.”

A bit away from the main conglomeration of stores is South End Antiques where Teresa Nootenboom says she has a mix of antique furniture and a wide range of other collectible items in the 18,000-square-foot building.

In her 17th year in the shop, she calls the items shabby chic and says there are 30 vendors who bring a great range of items to the store.

“We pride ourselves on having large booths that people can walk through easily without worrying about knocking something over,” she said.

And when it comes to diversity of choice, look no further than Tin and Paisley and The Blue Alley Salon and Gift Shop. There you can explore a broad range of items and schedule an appointment a salon appointment for many hair treatments. Where else but Aurora.

Tin and Paisley owner Angela Walker offers a wide range of clothing along with her salon. Walker notes that she sees the area diversifying and broadening in its appeal to those looking to get away for an easy day trip.

Three new faces to Aurora, mom April and her two daughters Kayla and Mackenzie Marcell, opened Three Daisies Vintage in June of 2020. Though new to Aurora, the three are no strangers to the vintage and collectible business.

Moving from Arizona, April said she came from a family of antique dealers and had her own shop there for seven years previously. “Both daughters worked in antique malls during their college days,” she said.

April and her other two daisies find Aurora a welcoming environment and they appreciate the sense of community developed there.

She describes the Three Daisies Vintage shop as offering everything from hipster to farmhouse chic to collectibles. The store has 10 vendors and there’s sense of peacefulness upon entering.

“It’s definitely our happy place and we hope it’s that way for others. Of course for me, personally, it’s really wonderful to work alongside my daughters,” she said.

At Time After Time, Karen Townsend offers a broad range of gift shop items that includes soaps and lotions along with a selection of antiques which comprise of dishes and furniture items.

If you’re looking for classic vintage jewelry Aurora Antiques will entice you with a broad selection. Owner Gloria Tanner said, “I just love jewelry. I fell in love with white gold filigree diamond rings and that’s what started it all.”

The shop also features mid-century modern furniture and you’ll also see a great selection of Depression glass and other vintage glassware.

One of her prize items in the store on consignment is a George Jensen Sterling Silver tea service.

Adding a dose of art history to the mix is Historic Art & Services. Sean Moen brings to life more than 100 pieces of vintage and historical artwork including paintings and photographs that cover a wide range of genres and styles. It’s like getting admittance to art museum, only Sean will give you a detailed history of every piece in the shop if you so desire.

Moen also offers appraisals for art work – if you’ve found an old painting in the attic during your pandemic downtime cleaning party and want to know what it might be worth, Moen can assist with pricing. He also provides framing and restoration services.

Art History students take note: if you’re looking for an extra credit project, this is the place to go to find the unique image to write about.

Not far from Moen’s is a popular stop that has little to do with collectibles or antiques – Pacific Hazelnut Candy Factory where you can find many assortments of hazelnuts. They’ve taken the simple hazelnut to the next level – my favorite is the chocolate-covered hazelnuts.

No tour of Aurora would complete without a stop at the Pheasant Run Tasting Room, housed in the Aurora Bank Building which was originally built for the 1905 Portland World’s Fair (also known as the Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition). The building has been restored and is a great place for a glass wine or just to visit. Don’t worry, you won’t be locked in the vault.

Additionally, as you jump off the freeway and head to Aurora, don’t miss Aurora Colony Vineyards & Winery. You can stop on the way in, if you’re fashionably late, or on the way home. It features a great tasting room and open spaces outside for a worry free tasting experience.

If you’ve become hungry during your hike through the many Aurora shops, then there are a number of choices to satisfy your craving. For something quick, there’s the White Rabbit Bakery which features delicious pastries as well as an assortment of filling sandwiches, all prepared on homemade bread.

At the Aurora Colony Pub there’s a broad fare – that begins with breakfast if you show up early and includes a full lunch and dinner menu. And as a pub, you obviously can order your favorite barley pop. It’s a classic Aurora eatery.

If you’re looking to savor a bit more history with your meal, try Filbert’s Farmhouse Kitchen, which was constructed as an addition to the original Mohler farmhouse, built in 1865. The new building was designed to emulate the historic colonial architecture of the original house. The ambiance is perfect for relaxing after a day of walking the streets of Aurora. No detail has been left to chance in the architecture and design of this building and its bar is something right out of the 1870s, but updated to the 21st century, with charging stations for your phone, if needed.

Filbert’s serves classic American comfort food executed with culinary expertise and farmhouse flavor. At its core the menu focuses on fresh products from the local area such as made from scratch meatloaf, pork chops, and cornbread.

If you’re really ready to dive into the history of the Aurora Colony, then a stop at the Aurora Colony Museum is a must (see adjacent story.) The Museum gives insight into the colony and settler life in the mid-1800s.

While you’re vising the museum, or at any of the shops you might be visiting, be sure to get a copy of Walk with Emma. It’s a guided trip through the history of the Aurora Colony through visitations to the many buildings from the colony still standing today, many which are today’s emporiums of collectibles.

Emma Geisy was one of the original settlers who made the 2,000-mile trek west with the first group of settlers looking for a new place for the colony. The guided walk gives additional insight to the way of life in the Aurora Colony.

And if that’s not enough, within the city of Aurora there is a great city park with a nice playground and disc golf course where the family can go to relax or for the kids to run off a little pent-up energy.

Finally, for the kids – and mom and dad, too — there is Fir Point Farms a short drive outside of formal Aurora, where you can get a great sandwich or a huge cinnamon roll and the kids can visit and feed the resident bunnies, turkeys, miniature horses and tree-climbing pygmy goats. There’s also a large grass picnic area with tables for lunches and enough room for the kids to run off excess energy.

With the pandemic coming under control, Aurora is looking forward to getting back to some semblance of normalcy and has a full schedule of spring, summer, and fall events. Check the web site for the schedule, www.auroracolony.com.

And we end with the Bryant McGill’s words: Life wants you to touch, taste and see the world’s unfathomable variety. That’s the experience for collectors who venture to Aurora – a collectors’ paradise.

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