A.C. Gilbert’s Legacy of Play

Discover the incredible life of our Museum’s namesake, A.C. Gilbert. Learn about his many passions and inventions, and his impact on an entire generation. See original Erector Sets, magic kits, and more on display.


Discovery Campground

A new extension of our Outdoor Discovery Center is now open: Discovery Campground! Discovery Campground is a new adventure playground for kids; a natural playscape that could blend right into a forest! Kids will develop gross motor skills and self-awareness through climbing, jumping, and balancing. There are logs to cross, stumps to hop, rocks to climb, and tunnels to explore. In Discovery Campground, there are endless opportunities for imaginative and active play. Kids develop their creativity and imagination, becoming a variety of woodland creatures, from birds to bears. Risky play challenges kids both mentally and physically and gives them confidence in their growing abilities.
Discovery Campground was designed by Learning Landscapes, a sustainable landscapes design firm specializing in creating inspiring spaces for engaged learning and play. It came to life through the donation of time, effort, and materials given by Farwest Gardens, Capital Rental, Zena Forest Products, and Advantage Precast, Inc. The hard work of our volunteers who put on our Garden Tour in May helped raise a large portion of the funds to make this playscape possible.



Build a world of your own imagination in our newest room made for creativity! Children are encouraged to explore, problem solve, and work as a team to create their dream landscapes.

Thanks to our sponsors, Nathan & Alicia Bay and Cherry City Interiors & Design for their support of Fortopia!

Tinker Tracks

Tinker Tracks

Explore motion by building tracks on the metal walls, watching your ball go through the track, and tinkering with your track to see how things change! Tinker Tracks is a system of chutes and accessories that you can use to create a track for a ball.

Note: Small parts in use in this room. Please monitor young children and be aware of loose parts.


Outdoor Discovery Area

“A.C.’s Backyard” – completed June 6, 1998

The largest community-built project in Salem’s history resulted in the finest outdoor children’s discovery center in the Northwest. It took 19 days, over 6,000 volunteers, 20 miles of lumber, 2 tons of nails, and unending community support to create the masterpiece of A.C.’s Backyard. Climb the world’s largest erector set tower, play marimbas in the musical ensemble deck, explore the inside of the Earth’s Core, or become the captain of a paddle wheeler. These are just a few of the fantastic adventures you will have in our Outdoor Discovery Area.

Erector Set Tower

The most famous and popular of A.C. Gilbert’s inventions was the Erector Set, introduced in 1913. The Erector Set was not only used by children to build toys, but also used by architects and engineers to build models of real structures and machines. In A.C.’s Backyard, you can climb inside our playful Erector Set creation, the Giant Erector Set Tower. At 52 feet, the Tower is the largest of its kind in the world. Two giant slides, including one that is two stories high, and a maze complete the tower.

American Flyer Train

A.C. Gilbert made American Flyer Trains famous. Under his guidance, they became the most popular toy trains ever made. Climb aboard our American Flyer Train. Imagine hearing the engine chug & the whistle blow.

City of Salem Paddle Wheeler

The roads in the late 1800s in Oregon were not efficient. Various wagon trails could be found all over Oregon, but none could move people and goods as easily as the Willamette River that served as the main route to transport goods and people into and out of the Willamette Valley. Paddle wheelers were one form of transportation used on the river for passenger travel. The paddle wheeler here is a model of the City of Salem, a beautiful ship that once served the people of Salem.

Mammoth Dig

Imagine a giant mammoth crossing A.C.’s Backyard 20,000 years ago and settling down in a sand pit. Now, eons later, you can dig this prehistoric mammoth’s bones in our Mammoth Dig. With a little exploration, you can also uncover many other prehistoric creatures.

Paleontology Deck

Study the history of life on earth! Learn about different types of fossils and how they are made. Then, using what you’ve learned, examine different dinosaur bone structures and match them with dinosaurs found in the Dino Dig.

Global Village

Take a walk through the global village as you visit homes of people from around the world. Climb through the mud and sapling walls of a traditional Aboriginal hut, or imagine that you are in an adobe pueblo. Endless opportunities for make-believe abound in this tiny village of global dimensions.

Earth’s Core

Learn all about the Earth’s inner core, outer core, and mantle while playing! Climb and crawl inside and learn important facts and information about our very own planet.

Discovery Garden

Wander through the raised beds and pathways of a quiet corner of A.C.’s Backyard, the Discovery Garden. The garden is maintained by the hands and hearts of our volunteers.

Hopscotch Amphitheater

When not filled with live demonstrations and activities, the amphitheater is a great spot to enjoy a picnic lunch and play a game or two of hopscotch.

Imagination Playground

Blue Block Room

This creative room is full of big blue blocks to build with! Builders’ imaginations can run wild as they combine different blocks into structures, systems or shapes.

We are still looking for a sponsor for our new Blue Block Room in Gilbert House!  Please inquire, if interested.


Gilbert Engineering Studio

A place where kids can… design, build, test, record, improve, and learn about how things work in our world!

Stop by during open studio hours, during which guests are invited to enjoy an instructor-prompted activity or challenge that inspires creativity and ingenuity.  We desire to give our little engineers a playground for their hands & minds, something our namesake A.C. Gilbert would be proud of.

This space is designed for you to come and go as you please.  Allow your little one to suit up in a tike-sized apron and tinker for however long you’d like.  Each month will feature a new theme for our activities, so be sure to swing by for new challenges.


Center Stage Theater

Step into the limelight! Our theater space is a place for families to explore acting and drama together using costumes, puppets, and activities. Check out the activity cards in the theater for fun acting games you can play together! Thanks to Lowe’s of Salem Hero Project for all of their hard work that made this renovation possible.


All About Me

Put on a lab coat and get to work in this fun medical exhibit! Children can tend to babies in the nursery, work at the operating table, look under a microscope, or view diagnostic images on screen! Special thanks to Salem Health, Diagnostic Imaging of Salem, and the Juan Young Trust for this exciting health exhibit.

Creative Space 2

The Creative Space

Come enjoy an imaginative craft or dive into our sensory bin!  Find new crafts each week, centered on a monthly theme.

Designed for the crafty and curious… we aim to provide a creative space in which guests can engage in a positive, hands-on experience, encouraging children’s artistic and imaginative development and expression.  Guests will enjoy a variety of guided and self-directed activities, with a range of tasks catered to different ages and motor skill abilities, with graded levels of complexity.


Farm to Table

Pick fruit in our orchard, tend vegetables in the fields, milk a cow, and collect eggs from our friendly chickens. Plant and harvest your own crops from the farm to your table!

Throughout Farm to Table, murals by local artist Abram Heard depict the state’s lush ecological diversity.

Our Farm to Table Annex features historical photographs of farming, and a space featuring local Oregon farmers.

Village Vet Clinic

Vet Clinic

Put on a vet’s coat and help animals be healthy, happy pets in the Vet Clinic. From screening animal X-rays to weighing a puppy on the scale, children can participate in real-life vet clinic situations as they learn about proper pet care. Located on the second floor of the Gilbert House, the Vet Clinic will spur your child’s imagination with an exam table, a colorful kennel, a washing station and an array of stuffed animals needing TLC.

Eye Euphoria

Eye Euphoria

Eye Euphoria, considered the first of its kind in the world, is an over-sized, dynamic stained glass kaleidoscope. Created by the late artist Donald Ferris of Woodland, Washington, Eye Euphoria took over 2500 hours to craft using authentic leaded glass and three window layers with adjustable spin and rotation speed. It is located in a new exhibit area in the entryway of the Gilbert House.

Eye Euphoria was donated by Virginia Metz, the sister of Ferris, in memory of her brother.  It is the families wish that this piece of artwork be seen and enjoyed by individuals, especially children, which makes our children’s museum the perfect place to display this masterpiece of stained glass.


Up, Up and Away

Set sail for the wild blue yonder! Explore lift, drag, velocity and more by building aerodynamic creations and testing them in a vertical wind tube. There’s also the Gilbert Flyer: an airplane cockpit built just for kids with all sorts of buttons, dials and displays to check out. If you’d rather be a passenger, you can board the plane and fly in comfort to any destination you can dream up!

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Salem Station

Salem Station highlights different modes of transportation throughout Salem, and provides a hands-on experience for children to navigate, explore, and construct.

Explore bridge engineering and construct your own projects with magnetic wooden blocks, create your own town at the interactive table, drive a Cherriots bus through town, or enjoy the electric train as it journeys through Salem!

Gilbert House is grateful to have worked with committed partners, Cherriots Trip Choice, Amtrak Cascades/ODOT, and our Share Tank donors to make this exhibit possible.


Forest Friends Toddler Room

Join in learning with your littlest ones in this room designed for infants and toddlers (age 2 and under) to play with their caregivers.

Photo by Ron Cooper.


Recollections is a colorful, dazzling projection that allows visitors to create vivid, full-size, time-delayed images of themselves. Combining computer technology, a color camera, a large screen projector, and a special retro-reflective screen, artist/software designer Ed Tannenbaum has created an environment that allows the user to explore time and motion in beautiful colors. Over 256 colors can be displayed on the screen at one time as visitors move and become part of a dynamic work of art. Photo by Ron Cooper.


Main Street

Our littlest citizens will explore big ideas in our newest exhibit! Young citizens can do their own banking, shopping, and more on the smallest Main Street in town! This exhibit encourages independent thinking, making choices, and practicing social skills.