Welcome to Philomath sign
Welcome to Philomath signs made from giant logs welcome travelers to Philomath coming both east and west. They symbolize Philomath’s roots as a timber town. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

A few years ago, I attended a great session with Oregon Humanities hosted at the Marys River Grange entitled “Won’t You Be My Neighbor? How Relationships Affect the Places We Live.” It was a unique evening that brought a bunch of strangers to share our perspectives on what being a good neighbor is all about. It served as part of a statewide community conversation project.

Oregon Humanities connects people and communities through conversation, storytelling and participatory programs to inspire understanding and collaborative change.  

Oregon Humanities also hosts an annual Dear Stranger letter-writing program. It is defined on its website: “Dear Stranger is a recurring letter-exchange project that connects Oregonians through the mail to share experiences, beliefs and ideas. Since 2014, more than 1,000 people have exchanged letters through the project.”

You mail one into a stranger, Oregon Humanities matches you up, and you receive a letter from a stranger in return.

With the outbreak of the pandemic the last two years, I think we all need connection now more than ever. I decided in this month’s column, I would share my letter to a stranger describing Philomath.

As you come into Philomath from the east on Highway 20, you can enjoy the beauty of Marys Peak on the horizon. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

Dear Stranger, 

As a matter of introduction, I am a resident of Philomath, Oregon. Philomath is a small town in western Oregon that sits in between Corvallis and the coast. The word Philomath is a Greek word that means “Love of Learning.” I figured I’d reach out to you to share a few things you may find interesting about our little town over here.

Philomath is a pleasant yet rustic town where everyone knows everyone. People still wave and smile at one another here. It is a friendly place!

One of the most impressive sights you will see as you enter Philomath is Marys Peak, the highest peak on the coast range. The snow-capped peak is a beautiful sight for anyone traveling west.

Philomath started as a college town back in 1867. The town grew up around the college. That’s why we love learning, I guess.

Farming, logging and lumber mills were the early businesses around here. More recently we have had local entrepreneurs open new ventures that make everything from shoes to beer to robots. While local businesses are changing, the people are still the same down-to-earth kind of folks who have always lived in these parts.

Sunrise over the Marys River swimming hole. Kids enjoy jumping in the river during the “dog days” of summer. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

Youth are the central focus in Philomath. Philomath schools have always been among the leaders in terms of graduation rates across the state. We have good teachers who give our kids the gift of learning. Our kids have won all sorts of state championships. They have won so many titles that we may soon need a bigger gym to hang all the victory banners.

Basketball, band, choir, cross country are among a handful of the activities that have won state championships here recently. Last spring, our girls’ tennis won state and three of our boys won individual state titles in wrestling. Our boys’ soccer team won a state title this past fall. We are proud of our kids!

We have numerous parks for families to visit to have picnics and other special gatherings. We have Music in the Park, a program that offers free concerts in the summertime. Kids like to skip rocks and jump in the Marys River swimming hole. Meanwhile, people like to take their dogs for walks and let them run around in Marys River Park or just play Frisbee. Every now and then we have a group of 4-H kids ride their horses through town just like yesteryear. 

Our main event is the Philomath Frolic & Rodeo that brings in people from all over. We have an amazing fireworks display, a cornhole tournament, a big parade and some of the best barrel racing and bull riding you’ll ever see. You should come check it out this summer!

We salute our veterans who have served our nation throughout the years. We honor them by hanging banners with pictures of them on our light poles each November to recognize Veterans Day.  We sadly lost young men in WWI, WWII, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Eight young men in total made the ultimate sacrifice serving our country in battle. We know that freedom isn’t free.

We are planning to build a veteran’s park in town to remember them. Recent graduates from Philomath High School are currently serving in the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. We are proud of their service!

The Philomath Rotary Club volunteers to put up American flags all along our streets on federal holidays to reflect our patriotism and recognize everything from Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday to the Fourth of July. We celebrate freedom and we are mighty proud of our flag!

I saved the best for last — the food! Philomath is certainly a foodie town.  

Timber Towne Coffee has a unique seating area on an old truck called “Douglas” — named after Douglas fir trees, which are plentiful in the hills around Philomath. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

If you are hankering for a cup of joe, you can get one at either the Human Bean or Timber Towne Coffee. If you want something a little stronger to drink you may want to stop by Marcotte Distillery, which bottles delicious moonshine in all sorts of unique flavors. Or, perhaps amble next door to Vinwood Taphouse which serves all kinds of micro brews. Vinwood Taphouse is kind of like “Cheers.” It is a relaxed place where everyone knows your name.

If you have an appetite for wonderful Mexican food, Philomath just so happens to have two great family-owned Mexican restaurants on Main Street. One is called Ixtappa and the other is La Rockita. Each one of them offers burritos, enchiladas, tacos and many other authentic dishes. If Thai food is more your style, you can find it on the west end at the Woodsman Restaurant in an old logger tavern that predates WWII.

Bigfoot came to Philomath and decided to stay. Most times you’ll find him hanging out at the Meet’n Place. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

Dirt Road is set up in the old city bank building located in the middle of town. They brew their own beer and serve piping hot pizza with a variety of delicious toppings. If you have BBQ on your mind, Eats and Treats serves darn good food that is gluten-free. Sandy is the engaging cowboy cook who runs the smoker out back of the place. He is friendly and makes everyone feel welcome. The Meet’n Place tavern serves up roasted chicken that even makes Bigfoot drool. 

Well, that’s all for now. I better close. Whoever you are, I hope that positive things and goodness come your way in 2022. If you are ever in this neck of the woods, don’t be a stranger. Stop in and see us. You’ll be glad you came.

Best Wishes,

If you are interested in getting involved in the program by writing a letter to a stranger, you can do so by visiting the Oregon Humanities website.

Letters must be sent into Oregon Humanities by Feb. 28.

(Eric Niemann is a former mayor and city councilor in Philomath. He can be reached at Lifeinphilomath@gmail.com).