I walked Ray Lane in March 2020. This was during the “social distancing” directive by the State of Oregon, which was intended to slow spread of the novel coronavirus that was spreading throughout the world. Therefore, I met fewer of the neighbors than I normally do during my walks.
The photo above may help you remember where Ray Lane is located. The street is only two blocks long. The block to the south of Ashland Street ends at Lit Way. The one block to the north of Ashland Street ends at Hunter Park. Let’s start with some yard art I spotted in a front yard near Hunter Park.
Photos from Ray Lane north of Ashland Street
Photos from Ray Lane south of Ashland Street
If you enjoy photos of flowers, you might enjoy reading my article about Holly Street that features a “daffodil paradise” as well as the story of Ashland’s famous faith healer Susie Jessel. The daffodil paradise at the corner of Holly Street and Liberty Street is in its glory right now (late March and early April), if you would like to drive or walk by and see it for yourself.
Who was the first U.S. President to visit Ashland? When did Ashland get its first shopping mall? Which Shakespeare play was first performed by Oregon Shakespeare Festival?
First Church and First Church Building
Beginning in 1864, fourteen Methodist families began to meet in their Ashland homes. They ambitiously began raising money for both a church building and a college.
The original First Methodist Church building first hosted services in 1877, at the corner of North Main Street and Laurel Street. After a windstorm toppled the steeple in 1904, a sturdier church was built on the foundations of the original, and opened its doors in 1908. That is the church you still see today.
Ashland library can be traced to December 1879, when the Ashland Library and Reading Room Association was created – by women of the community of course. They were able to collect donations of 200 books. In 1891, they got “serious” and created the new Library Association with dues of $1 each per year.
By January 1, 1900, the library had 1,200 books and a dedicated room in city hall that was open for reading each Saturday afternoon.
In 1909, thirty years after the first library association was formed, Ashlanders received word that the Andrew Carnegie’s foundation would donate $15,000 toward building an Ashland library. The building was dedicated in 1912. It’s still there at the corner of Siskiyou Blvd. and Gresham Street. The Carnegie Foundation funded 1,687 public libraries in USA, 31 of them in Oregon between 1901 and 1915. Of the 31 in Oregon, only 11 are still operating as libraries. Ashland’s library is one of those 11.
The small 1912 Carnegie library building served Ashland until the 1950s, when an extension was built in the rear and the Gresham room was built in the basement level. A much larger expansion took place in 2003, yielding the library we see today.
First Presidential Visit
On September 28, 1880, as stagecoach full of VIPs rolled into Ashland. Very, very important people…the President of the United States Rutherford B. Hayes, the First Lady, and Civil War hero General Sherman. The Ashland Tidings estimated 2,000 people gathered in the Plaza to greet the President. It is certainly possible that among the crowd were all 854 residents of Ashland, from the youngest to the oldest.
According to O’Harra, four young girls presented the President and First Lady a selection of Ashland’s agricultural bounty: peaches, pears, apples, plums, grapes, blackberries, almonds and figs! [O’Harra 1986]
Rutherford B. Hayes was President of the United States from 1877 to 1881. This photo was taken between 1870 and 1880. (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Lucy Webb Hayes was First Lady, wife of President Hayes. This photo was taken between 1870 and 1880. (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
William Tecumseh Sherman was a famous Union army Civil War General. This photo was taken between 1865 and 1880. (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Henry Beach Carter was a pioneer farmer in Iowa as a young man. Retiring from the farm, he opened a general store in Elkader, and in 1871 established the First National Bank of Elkader, Iowa. When he and his family moved to Ashland in 1884, he duplicated the feat by cofounding the Bank of Ashland.
The Bank of Ashland building at 15 North Main Street on the Plaza is still there, now the home of Tree House Books. Bank of Ashland was the only bank in town until 1909, and finally went out of business in 1939.
As a side note, I live on Beach Street, named after Ashland pioneer Henry Beach Carter. How many people have a street named after their middle name? Not many, I would guess.
First City Park
Ashland’s first park was probably the 7 ½ acre Chautauqua Park. It was located on land that was purchased in June 1893, after the first Chautauqua meeting in Southern Oregon was moved at the last minute from Central Point to Ashland. The national Chautauqua meetings were one to two week summer program of educational lectures, musical performances, sermons and more. This fit in with Ashland citizens’ strong commitment to education.
Talk about “last minute” – the domed structure large enough to seat 1,000 people was built in only one week, and was completed just one day before the 1893 Chautauqua opened! The last summer for the Chautauqua festival in Ashland was probably 1924.
You may have heard that the concrete foundation of the 1917 Chautauqua building was incorporated into Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Allen Elizabethan Theater.
You may be familiar with the Butler-Perozzi Fountain in Lithia Park. It is named partly for Domingo Perozzi, who in 1895 founded the first creamery in Ashland, located where you’ll now find the winter skating rink on Winburn Way. This was also the first creamery in the entire Jackson County. As a result, his Ashland Creamery thrived, and Perozzi donated funds along with Gwin Butler to purchase the fountain for the 1916 grand opening of Lithia Park. Butler and Perozzi bought the fountain, carved from Verona marble by Italian sculptor Antonio Forilli, at the close of the 1915 San Francisco Pan-Pacific Exposition.
First Hospital – is it #1 or #2?
#1: In late 1907, the Fordyce-Roper house on East Main Street was converted into a small hospital. Sadly, it was badly damaged by fire in March 1909, though all patients got out safely.
As the house was being repaired, citizens discussed the need for a larger and more modern hospital. (Side-note: If you want to see the Fordyce-Roper house now, you won’t find it on East Main Street. You will find it if you walk up to the top of 2nd Street, and look to your right at the Winchester Inn. In 1910, the entire house was moved up the steep street by the power of one horse! But that’s a story for another time.)
#2: In 1910, the brand new two-story, eighteen-room Granite City Hospital was built. This was a “real” hospital. Designed by noted Southern Oregon architect Frank Clark, it occupied the current site of SOU’s Stevenson Union.
First “Shopping Mall”
Henry Enders Sr. and family moved to Ashland from Boise, Idaho in 1907. In Idaho, Enders had owned a department store. In Ashland, he built in 1910 what you could call the first shopping mall in Southern Oregon. The Enders Building is located on East Main Street between 1st Street and 2nd Street. The entire group of stores was connected with interior doors, so people could walk from one to another without going outside. Sounds like a shopping mall!
According to Henry Enders Jr.: “Well, we had everything! We had men’s clothing, furnishings, men’s and ladies’ shoes, ladies’ ready-to-wear, ladies’ dry good and piece goods, a fifteen cent store, a music store, a confectionary, hardware and sporting goods and a grocery store.” [page 2, History of Ashland Oregon, 1977, as told to Morgan Cottle]
Enders’ shops were popular with more than just Ashland residents. In the 1910s and 1920s, people from other towns would arrive in Ashland on a morning train, spend the day shopping in the Enders shops and seeing the sights of Ashland, and then go home on an afternoon or evening train. Some even stayed overnight at the Columbia Hotel above Enders’ shops, which is still in business at the same location after 110 years.
First Shakespeare Plays
Angus Bowmer moved to Ashland in 1931 to be an English professor at Southern Oregon Normal School. The expanded 1917 Chautauqua dome had been torn down in 1933, but its concrete foundation walls remained. As described on the Oregon Shakespeare Theater’s website, Bowmer “was struck by the resemblance between the Chautauqua walls and some sketches he had seen of Elizabethan theatres.” And today, “The Chautauqua walls remain standing; covered with ivy, they surround the Allen Elizabethan Theatre….”
Bowmer talked the city into supporting the production of two Shakespeare plays as part of Ashland’s 1935 4th of July holiday celebrations. The city gave him money (“not to exceed $400”) and state funds helped get the stage built. However, the city insisted that afternoon boxing matches be held on the stage as a way to bring in patrons and income.
Bowmer directed and starred in Twelfth Night on July 2 (the first play), Merchant of Venice on July 3, and Twelfth Night again on July 4. To the surprise of non-theater-lovers, income from the many patrons of the evening Shakespeare plays covered losses from the boxing matches.
I hope you have enjoyed this series of brief vignettes of Ashland history “firsts.”
Here is a link to Part 1 of the series:
Here is a link to Part 2 of the series:
As part of his contribution to building community, Peter Finkle is walking every street in Ashland and writing an article with photos about every street. Please subscribe with your email address, and you will be notified each time a new article is published.
Anon. Portrait and Biographical Record of Western Oregon: Containing Original Sketches of many well known Citizens of the Past and Present, Chapman Publishing Company, Chicago, 1904. Ashland Daily Tidings, February 26, 1927. Atwood, Kay. Jackson County Conversations, Jackson County Intermediate Education District, 1975. Atwood, Kay. Mill Creek Journal: Ashland, Oregon 1850 – 1860, self-published 1987. Enders, John. Lithia Park: The Heart & Soul of Ashland, 2016. Green, Giles. A Heritage of Loyalty: The History of the Ashland, Oregon, Public Schools, School District No. 5, 1966. LaLande, Jeff. from The Oregon Enyclopedia, https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/ashland/#.XdYMxi2ZM2I Lewis, Raymond (possibly), “Abel D. Helman, Founder of Ashland,” Table Rock Sentinel, October 1981 (Southern Oregon Historical Society). O’Harra, Marjorie. Ashland: the first 130 years, Northwest Passages Publishing Inc. 1986. Oregon Shakespeare Festival website. https://www.osfashland.org/en/company/our-history.aspx (accessed 1/22/2020) Ott, Katherine. History of the Ashland Public Library, 1938 (8 pages).
On a chilly blue-sky day in February, my wife and I walked Kestrel Parkway in the North Mountain neighborhood with one of the “locals.” Sherri Morgan, who showed us around, lives near Kestrel. I met Sherri when she gave an informative talk about fertilizing plants to the Ashland Garden Club. If you enjoy gardening, think about joining the club. Learn more here.
The ‘front yard’ is Bear Creek
It’s quite a spot. The top photo shows the view from a front yard along Kestrel Parkway. To take the photo just above, my wife and I walked across the lawn shown on the top photo, and found a bench along Bear Creek. Had it been a summer day, I may have lingered there for an hour. With the temperature about 40 degrees, I only managed five minutes or so of lingering.
Kestrel Parkway is only two blocks long right now. It is currently being extended. Towards the end of the article you will see a photo of the road under construction. This North Mountain neighborhood is on the opposite side of North Mountain Avenue from the Mountain Meadows retirement community. Quite new, it has been gradually built up through the past 20 years, with several areas still to be developed.
I enjoy finding creative, lovely or whimsical yard art during my walks around Ashland. This looks like it could be a Quan Yin (or Guanyin) statue, symbolizing the Buddhist goddess of compassion. In the photo below, it looks like angels are visiting the house.
This circular brick work brightens the intersection of Kestrel Parkway and Fair Oaks Avenue. It provides a feel-good moment as you walk or drive through this intersection.
I see many dark green houses as I explore Ashland, but rarely do I see a bright green house. This one really works for me, especially in this setting.
Kestrel Parkway is only two blocks long right now, but it looks like it will be a block or two longer by the end of 2020. Fifteen small “cottages” with solar panels on the roofs are planned to be built in this area.
Taken from the Bear Creek riparian area up Fair Oaks Avenue, this photo gives a sense of the current North Mountain neighborhood.
I will leave you with another look at Bear Creek very near the Kestrel Parkway homes, as the creek flows north towards Talent, Phoenix and Medford.
As part of his contribution to building community, Peter Finkle is walking every street in Ashland and writing an article with photos about every street. Please subscribe with your email address, and you will be notified each time a new article is published.
How did a 3-year-old help start Ashland School District No. 5? Which Presidential candidate did Ashlanders vote for in 1860? What year was the Ashland Tidings newspaper founded? How many name changes has SOU had in its first 148 years?
Part 1 began with a brief introduction to a Native American village where Lithia Park is now located, as described by some of the first Americans who settled in Ashland. Part 1 ended with a description of the first formal schooling in Ashland. Classes began October 3, 1854 with a handful of children in the home of Eber Emery.
To begin Part 2, let’s pick up that story three years later with another surprising school story.
First Ashland School District
Three years after a handful of students began meeting for school in Eber Emery’s house, locals decided to organize a formal school district. This would enable Ashland to receive public funds to help with school expenses. Here’s how Marjorie O’Harra described what happened. “An enrollment of thirteen children was necessary to establish the district…. After a thorough scouring of the community only twelve children could be found. Pioneers being resourceful folks, three-year-old John Helman was pressed into service and School District No. 5 came into being.”
I guess you could say that John Helman was “small but mighty” with his power to bring School District No. 5 into being!
First Post Office
In the first three years of the tiny community, a local resident had to travel to Jacksonville’s post office once a week to get mail for Ashland, and then people picked up their mail in Abel and Martha Helman’s kitchen.
Ashland graduated to an official Post Office in 1855. Mail still came only once a week, but the post “office” moved from Helman’s kitchen to the Ashland Flour Mill office. Abel Helman was Postmaster of Ashland for the first 27 years of the local Post Office.
First School Building
Ashland citizens built the first dedicated school house in 1860. About 18 students attended regularly, not many more than the 13 students enrolled back in 1857. In this photo, the students are with blind music instructor Professor Rutan, in front of the first school building.
First Ashland Presidential Election
“Ashlanders voted for Lincoln in 1860, while the remainder of the region strongly supported the pro-slavery candidate, and the town remained a dependably Republican island in a Democratic sea for decades thereafter.” [quote from LaLande, Oregon Encyclopedia]
First Residential Streets
Ashland’s first known map, drawn in 1860, showed the Plaza and one street, called “Street!” This one street was actually the Jacksonville-to-Yreka stage road.
By the time of B.F. Myer’s 1867 official map, Ashland had grown. Not only was the stage road through town now called “Stage Road,” but also there were nine residential streets shown on the map! The streets radiated out from the Ashland Plaza, and about four blocks west along what is now North Main Street. From East to West, the street names are Oak Street, Water Street, Granite Street, Church Street, Pine Street, Bush Street, Laurel Street, Manzanita Street and Factory Street (now Central Avenue).
Creating a college was a vision of Southern Oregon Methodists, which got a boost in 1869 when a Methodist conference was held in Ashland. Reverend Joseph H. Skidmore made it a reality in 1872. He used his carpentry skills to finish a half-built structure, then opened Ashland Academy for training teachers in the new building. After failing financially and then opening again in 1882, the renamed Ashland College and Normal School had 42 students and 4 teachers. At that time, it was located at what is now the Briscoe School site on North Main Street.
Today, after a total of 10 name changes (!), Southern Oregon University has 6,000 students on a 175 acre campus and is one of the jewels of Ashland.
First Fraternal Organization
Fraternal organizations were an important part of community life in frontier America. In Ashland, the first fraternal organization was formed in 1873 — Ashland Lodge No. 45 of the International Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.).
After the Plaza fire of March 11, 1879, the Odd Fellows built a two-story structure with local bricks. To this day, their brick building anchors the corner of the Plaza, and still proudly identifies itself with “I.O.O.F. 1879” visible at the top of the building.
June 17, 1876 marked the day Ashland residents got their own newspaper, the Ashland Tidings. Before that, they got their news from Jacksonville newspapers. It began as a weekly paper and became a twice-weekly by 1896. Becoming a daily paper in 1912, the name was changed to the Ashland Daily Tidings. And what is the name now? Once again, it is the Ashland Tidings as of 2019. For a small-circulation newspaper in a small town, it is amazing that the Tidings has been able to survive for 144 years!
First City Band
According to the Ashland City Band website, an Ashland Brass Band came into being in 1876. It quotes the April 14, 1877 issue of the Ashland Tidings: “The article, about a musical program given at the Ashland Academy, ends with, ‘We cannot omit to mention the Ashland Brass Band whose valuable services were tendered without charge and enlivened the occasion with many pieces of music.’” Now the Ashland City Band, our community band has had four (and possibly six) names in the past 144 years.
The band became more prominent in town after 1890, when Otis Helman was named the conductor. Helman had attended and graduated from the Chicago School of Music, so he raised the quality of the music. Under Helman, this band was also known as the “Helman Red Suit Band.”
The city band has marched in Ashland parades for more than 100 years. Even today, the Ashland City Band leads the 4th of July parade, immediately after the Color Guard.
I hope you are enjoying this series of brief vignettes of Ashland history “firsts.”
Here is a link to Part 1 of the series:
Part 3 will introduce you to the first United States President to visit Ashland, the first “shopping mall” in town, the first play performed by Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and more.
As his contribution to building community, Peter Finkle is walking every street in Ashland and writing an article with photos about every street. Please subscribe with your email address, and you will be notified each time a new article is published.
Anon. Portrait and Biographical Record of Western Oregon: Containing Original Sketches of many well known Citizens of the Past and Present, Chapman Publishing Company, Chicago, 1904. Ashland Daily Tidings, February 26, 1927. Atwood, Kay. Jackson County Conversations, Jackson County Intermediate Education District, 1975. Atwood, Kay. Mill Creek Journal: Ashland, Oregon 1850 – 1860, self-published 1987. Enders, John. Lithia Park: The Heart & Soul of Ashland, 2016. Green, Giles. A Heritage of Loyalty: The History of the Ashland, Oregon, Public Schools, School District No. 5, 1966. LaLande, Jeff. from The Oregon Enyclopedia, https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/ashland/#.XdYMxi2ZM2I Lewis, Raymond (possibly), “Abel D. Helman, Founder of Ashland,” Table Rock Sentinel, October 1981 (Southern Oregon Historical Society). O’Harra, Marjorie. Ashland: the first 130 years, Northwest Passages Publishing Inc. 1986.
In the centuries before European and American settlers began arriving in the Rogue Valley of Southern Oregon, the Shasta and Takelma people lived in this valley. In the summer, small family groups spread out at higher elevations and in river valleys to hunt deer, fish for salmon and gather acorns and other wild plants.
Archeology digs and pioneer writings suggest that during the winter they lived in villages of semi-permanent plank or bark-covered structures. Captain Thomas Smith and James Cardwell both arrived in the winter of 1851-1852. Both described an Indian village of perhaps 100 people along Ashland Creek, located in the area that is now Lithia Park and the Plaza. According to one account, in 1853 the village leader called Tipsoe led his people away from the Ashland area to live near the Applegate River.
First known Euro-Americans in the Rogue Valley
In February 1827, Hudson’s Bay Company fur trapper Peter Skene Ogden led a party of 28 men and 100 horses northward over the Siskiyou Pass into the now-Ashland area. Ogden documented the area with the help of the local Shasta tribe. His group trapped as many as 500 beavers and other fur-bearing mammals along Bear Creek before continuing north to the Rogue River and beyond.
First American settlers in Ashland
On January 6, 1852, Robert Hargadine and Sylvester Pease made a donation land claim for 160 acres in what is now the Railroad District. Two days later, Abel Helman came over the Siskiyou Pass from Yreka and made his donation land claim for 160 acres along the creek. His land claim now includes the entrance to Lithia Park, the Plaza area and land to the south. On January 11th, Helman was joined by Eber Emery, Jacob Emery and James Cardwell, who planned to develop the land and build a saw mill with him. Cardwell reported that the four of them made small payments to the local Indians and reached an agreement that the group could build on this land.
First house in Ashland
When Abel Helman entered the valley on January 8, 1852, he saw Hargadine and Pease cutting timber to build a cabin. Theirs was the first house built, before there was even a town. (For those of you who are Ashland history experts, I acknowledge Hugh Barron had built a cabin nearby in 1851, but his land and his “Mountain House” stage coach stop were located four miles south of Ashland.)
First commercial building in Ashland
Within a month after arriving in the valley, Abel Helman, Eber Emery, Jacob Emery and James Cardwell started to build a sawmill. After multiple failures at gold mining in Northern California, they were ready for a change. All skilled carpenters, they realized they could make a lot of money providing wood to miners and local settlers, since gold had been discovered in Southern Oregon in January 1852. The mill was completed on June 16, 1852.
Cardwell wrote, “We finished our work on the mill as fast as we could. The mines in Jacksonville began to attract considerable attention. A great many miners came in…we had our mill in operation…and the demand for lumber was good. We could sell all we could make at $80 per thousand.” [Atwood 1987, page 22]
Note: $80 per thousand board feet in 1852 is equivalent to about $2,580 per thousand board feet today. Today’s Ashland price for good quality building lumber (standard no. 2 and better Douglas Fir) is about $750 per thousand board feet. That means the Ashland saw mill, with little competition in 1852, was able to charge about three times what a mill could charge today. [My thanks to Dale Shostrom for helping me with the lumber calculations.]
First town name — Ashland Mills
This story about the naming of Ashland was told by Abel Helman’s granddaughter, Almeda Helman Coder. “This doesn’t appear in any of the history books, but this is the story that is in my family, the Helman family. There were these men that came over from the mines down in California. The seven of them that came together, and some of them, as I said, went on, and the two Emerys that came from Ashland, Ohio Territory, and my grandfather, and a man by the name of Cardwell stayed for a while. They began to wonder what they would call the little settlement. It wasn’t much of a settlement, so to settle the argument, they drew straws. They wanted to call it after Ashland, Kentucky. Well, Mr. Cardwell did. Grandfather and Mr. Emery wanted to call it after Ashland, Ohio. So, they drew these straws. Grandfather held the straws, and Mr. Emery drew the long straw, which was to be Ashland, Ohio.” [Atwood 1975]
The town was first named Ashland Mills because of the 1852 lumber mill and the 1854 flour mill, both built along Mill Creek (now Ashland Creek). When the town was formally incorporated with the State of Oregon October 13, 1874, the name was shortened to Ashland.
First American child born in Ashland
On January 7, 1854, Abel and Martha Helman’s son John Kanagy Helman was born. Abel and Martha’s other children were named Almeda Lizette, Mary Elizabeth, Martha Jane, Abe Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Ulysses Grant and Otis Orange. You can tell that Abel and Martha were strong supporters of the Union during the Civil War.
First hotel/lodging house in Ashland
In 1854 Abel Helman and Eber Emery saw a new opportunity. The busy Jacksonville-to-Yreka road ran through the tiny settlement, right in front of the flour mill. Helman persuaded Emery to build a lodging house on his land, about 100 yards north of the Ashland Flour Mill. Called Ashland House, it opened for business in early 1855. Only a year later, Emery sold the lodging house to Morris Howell, but Howell was not happy being an innkeeper.
On August 22, 1856, Dr. David Sisson and his young wife Celeste arrived in Ashland after crossing the Siskiyou Mountains from California. They lodged at the Ashland House and left their pack animals at the livery. When there are only a few dozen residents, news travels fast. The very next morning, Abel Helman walked across the Plaza from his flour mill to the boarding house and greeted Dr. Sisson. He told Sisson there was no doctor within many miles, and implored him to consider staying in Ashland Mills. Surprisingly, just nine days later, David and Celeste Sisson purchased the Ashland House from Morris Howell and made it their new home! They ran the lodging business, and it was also where Dr. Sisson saw patients.
Sadly, Dr. Sisson was murdered in 1858 and the Ashland House burned to the ground in 1859. During the fire, renters in the second-floor rooms threw their possessions out the windows and then got out safely. Due to the blaze, Ashland lost not only the lodging house, but also the town post office on the ground floor and local records that were kept there.
Two weeks after the fire, Eber Emery started construction of a new Ashland House at the same site.
First school class in Ashland
October 3, 1854, formal schooling in Ashland began with a handful of children in the home of Eber Emery. The teacher was Miss Lizzie Anderson. As a side note, in 1876 Lizzie became the wife of Captain John McCall, who built the McCall House on Oak Street in 1883.
Two weeks later, there were millions at the school! How was this possible? It happened when Bennett and Armilda Million bought a land claim and moved to Ashland Mills with their five school-age children.
This story of early Ashland “firsts” will be continued with Part 2.
Ashland Daily Tidings, February 26, 1927. Atwood, Kay. Jackson County Conversations, Jackson County Intermediate Education District, 1975. Atwood, Kay. Mill Creek Journal: Ashland, Oregon 1850 – 1860, self-published 1987. Green, Giles. A Heritage of Loyalty: The History of the Ashland, Oregon, Public Schools, School District No. 5, 1966. LaLande, Jeff. The Ashland Plaza: Report on Findings 2012-2013 Sub-Surface Archeological Survey of the Ashland Plaza Project Area Jackson County, Oregon, 2013. Lewis, Raymond (possibly), “Abel D. Helman, Founder of Ashland,” Table Rock Sentinel, October 1981 (Southern Oregon Historical Society). O’Harra, Marjorie. Ashland: the first 130 years, Northwest Passages Publishing Inc. 1986. Olmo, Rich and Hannon, Nan. “Archeology in the Park,” Table Rock Sentinel, January 1988 (Southern Oregon Historical Society).
1856 – The man Walker School is named after builds the house 1959 – The 23-year President of Southern Oregon University buys the house 1973 – The 29-year Ashland High School science teacher renovates the house 2019 – I interview Lance Locke and his daughter Teresa Locke Benson
Three people are associated in special ways with the oldest house in Ashland: (1) the man Walker School and Walker Street are named after; (2) a 23-year President of Southern Oregon College; (3) an Ashland High School science teacher for 29 years who also coached the football team for seven years.
Since it is set back from the street, you may have driven by 1521 East Main Street many times and hardly noticed it. If you stop and look (across East Main Street from ScienceWorks Museum), you will see the oldest house in Ashland, a white two-story house that looks almost the same today as when it was built in the late 1850s. Note: This is a private home, so please do not disturb the residents.
The three Ashland citizens we will learn about are John Walker, Elmo Stevenson and Lance Locke. Let’s take them one at a time.
John P. Walker took the Applegate Trail to Ashland in 1853. He purchased a donation land claim from Samuel and Elizabeth Grubb in 1856, and may have begun building his large house that year. (When the house was renovated, the owner found newspapers from the year 1856 used as insulation. More on that later.) The house is 1 ½ miles from the Ashland Plaza, which at the time he built it was “out in the country.” It is still surrounded by acres of open land.
School classes were first taught in Ashland in 1854 at Eber Emery’s house, with Miss Lizzie Anderson the teacher. This informal arrangement continued until April 3, 1857, when the small community held a meeting to elect three directors and a clerk for the new Jackson County School District No. 5. Walker was dedicated to education and wanted to be a school director.
He was chosen, along with Asa G. Fordyce and Bennett Million, while Robert B. Hargadine was the clerk. In October of 1857, the school board authorized a tax on each property owner, according to the value of his property. As the owner of the largest, most valuable piece of property in Ashland, John Walker willingly paid the highest taxes — $10.00 that first year. There were ten boys and eleven girls in the all-grades school that year.
In 1860, when the first dedicated school house was built, Walker’s school taxes were again the highest, and they had increased significantly to $170.42. This was slightly more than double the second-highest taxes, which were paid by R.B. Hargadine. No wonder the citizens of Ashland named a school after John Walker.
When Elmo Stevenson was hired as President of Southern Oregon College in 1946, only 45 students were enrolled, and the college was in danger of being closed. As World War II veterans entered higher education in the next few years, Stevenson stabilized and then strengthened the college. During his tenure, he “flew” around the state in his Oldsmobile, driving anywhere he could find high school students to recruit. By the time he retired in 1969, student enrollment was over 3,700.
President Stevenson was very ambitious, and oversaw a major expansion of the college, including new student residence halls, new academic buildings and new athletic facilities. He even had a long-range plan for Southern Oregon College to grow to 10,000 students.
In addition to education, Stevenson also loved family, hunting and cattle ranching. In 1959, he bought the Walker house and 50 acres of property that went with it. His interest was in the land he could use for grazing cattle, so he left the empty house alone and it continued to deteriorate. According to Lance Locke, Stevenson had 100 acres of land and about 100 head of cattle by the early 1970s.
Raymond Lance Locke (Lance) married Elmo Stevenson’s daughter Vivian, with whom he had two daughters. Vivian and Lance were both professional educators. Vivian passed away in 2017. I was able to interview Lance, and his daughter Teresa, in 2019.
Locke taught science at Ashland Junior High School for three years in the early 1960s. Locke told me that in the 1960s the Junior High School students would cross the street from the school to the abandoned John Walker house to hide and smoke cigarettes. He then taught science at Ashland High School for 29 years.
He was Ashland High’s head football coach from 1968 to 1975. Football was Lance’s sport, but I found a surprising article that said he coached the Ashland High School ski team’s first season at Mt. Ashland. [Rogue News] When I told Lance about the school newspaper article I had found, he laughed and told me a story. In the mid-1960s, the ski area had been open only a few years. Several Ashland School Board members had daughters who were into skiing, so they told Ashland High principal Gaylord “Snuffy” Smith to organize a ski team. One day at a high school faculty meeting, Lance was chatting with a friend, not paying much attention. He heard Snuffy Smith say, “Has anyone here ever skied?” Reflexively, Lance raised his hand, and the next thing he heard was the principal telling him, “Great, you’re the ski team coach.” What makes this especially funny is to know that Lance hand-made his skis from blanks at the Junior High School wood shop, and had only been on them a few times.
When Lance had extra time, he helped his father-in-law Stevenson with the cattle. Though he didn’t have much “extra” time.
A life-changing day
In the early 1970s, Locke started clearing debris out of the Walker house in preparation for eventually demolishing it. In January 1973, he tore down the rickety two-story porch in back of the house. One day during the tear-down, Stevenson was burning a huge patch of blackberry bushes on the property in order to get rid of them once and for all. Locke brought pieces of wood from his demolition project over to the blackberry patch to feed the flames.
Locke clearly remembers that day, because it changed his life. Just hours later, his father-in-law had a fatal heart attack during dinner. The next morning Locke became responsible for taking care of Stevenson’s 100 head of cattle, in addition to full-time teaching, being the high school football coach, and raising two daughters.
On top of all that responsibility, Locke and his wife Vivian became owners of the empty, dilapidated 1856 house and responsible for 100 acres of cattle-raising property.
An Aside…100 head of cattle, “Cowboy” Murphy and the 1916 Ashland Roundup
As a novice at raising cattle, Locke had to learn fast. When he ran into problems on the cattle ranch, he turned to Ray Murphy, or “Cowboy” as he was called in Ashland. Cowboy was born in 1893 and was raised on a cattle ranch just outside Ashland. In Ashland’s 3-day 1916 Ashland Roundup rodeo, which was attended by 30,000 people July 4-6, Cowboy won the horse relay race. He competed in rodeos for decades. He even won a calf-roping contest in a rodeo at the San Francisco Cow Palace at age 72!
When Locke was learning the cattle ranch ropes in the mid-1970s, Cowboy lived at the Columbia Hotel on East Main Street. He spent his afternoons across the street at the Elks Lodge, where he had a seat of honor at the end of the bar. When Locke had questions, he would head over to the Elks Lodge, pick up Cowboy and take him out to the cattle ranch, where Cowboy would give him tips. Sadly, Locke lost his cattle-raising mentor with Cowboy Murphy’s death in 1976.
You just read about two connections between the Walker house at 1521 East Main Street and Cowboy Murphy. One was that Cowboy helped Locke through a difficult time by giving him tips about cattle raising. The second was that the 1916 Roundup rodeo took place in the current hay field right next door to the Walker house. Take a look at the two photos below, one taken in 1916 and the other taken in 2019.
The banister that saved the house
Walking through the abandoned house one day in early 1973, with bulldozer demolition still on his mind, Locke stopped and took a long, careful look at the hand-carved front stairway bannister.
The strength and solidity of the bannister spoke to him. The skill of the 1850s woodworker, who created a solid wood bannister that curved as it climbed the stairway, spoke to him. The beauty of the wood spoke to him. That bannister changed his mind, and his life changed again.
The Locke family decided to renovate the house instead of demolishing it and starting over. It turned out to be a two-year project, with a lot of help from his good friend (and building contractor) Ken Krumdieck. In the early stages of the renovation, Locke did much of the work himself.
“My greatest skill is destruction”
Locke described how Krumdieck created a blueprint based on the “bones” of the historical house to guide the renovation. Krumdieck would come over each morning and tell Locke what needed to be done that day. Locke admitted that “My greatest skill is destruction.” That skill was actually useful, because he spent endless hours during 1973 taking the interior of the 117-year-old house down to the studs. On some of the doors, Locke estimated that he removed six layers of paint.
Built in the 1850s and never renovated, the old house had no plumbing, an outhouse for a bathroom and a wood stove in the kitchen. So once it was down to the studs, the rebuilding process was comprehensive but slow, with help from friends and skilled workers.
Through the years 1973 and 1974, Locke somehow found the time (after family time, high school teaching time, football coaching time and caring for cattle time) to make a little progress each day.
Writing on the walls
One upstairs bedroom has fir walls that were too special to destroy. Lance and Vivian Locke found notes dated late 1800s and early 1900s written right on the walls. Some listed the births and deaths of calves, showing that the farm had been a cattle ranch for more than 100 years.
No fiberglass insulation back in the 1850s! Tacked to the bedroom fir wall, Locke found about an inch-thick layer of insulation made of old blankets and intact newspapers. It wasn’t pretty, but it kept the wind out. Dating to 1856, the newspapers indicate that the Walker house construction may have started in that year.
The original house contained four fireplaces and two staircases. The four fireplaces make sense, and show that John Walker, who had the house built, was a wealthy man. When Locke began renovation, he found a grill in the ceiling above the large living room fireplace. He described the purpose of the grill – to channel heat rising from the fireplace into the upstairs bedroom above the living room.
The purpose of two staircases is less clear. Yes, there were four bedrooms upstairs. But why build one staircase for the two front bedrooms, and then a second staircase in back for the two back bedrooms? Wouldn’t it have been simpler and less expensive to have one staircase and then a hallway to link the four bedrooms upstairs? We don’t have John Walker here to answer that question, so we have to live with not knowing.
Quilts on the walls
As I walked out of fir-wall bedroom, I was struck by large quilts hanging on the hallway walls. First, I noticed their beauty. Then, as Lance told me who did the quilting, I marveled at the history I was seeing.
The traditional Basket Pattern quilt was made by Elmo Stevenson’s great-grandmother, probably in the 1850s. To put that in perspective, that would be Teresa’s great-great-great-grandmother!
Another quilt in the hallway was made by Elmo’s wife Caroline Stevenson’s great-grandmother in the first half of the 19th century.
The window renovation party
Lance and Vivian Locke were committed to saving as many of the original windows and doors of the house as possible. The windows were especially a challenge, about 115 years old and neglected for decades. It was too much for Locke to take on by himself. He and his wife decided to have a “window renovation party” and invite all their friends over. They provided burgers and drinks and got the windows done the old-fashioned community way. Among their friends who helped were the Mike Morgan family and the Ken Grebner family.
Door renovation details
Most of the original doors were saved and renovated. These photos tell the story, and are worth “a thousand words.”
French toast on the floor
Locke told me the family officially moved into the renovated house on January 1, 1975. There was no furniture in the house, but there was family, there was food and there was a floor. When I interviewed Lance Locke, his daughter Teresa was with us. She added, “Our first meal was French toast on the floor!” Sure enough, as I turned the pages of their family photo album, I came upon a photo dated January 1, 1975 of six-year-old Teresa and her 8-year-old sister Stephanie eating French toast while sitting on the floor.
Above and beyond
The Locke’s went “above and beyond” in their historic renovation. They even rebuilt the picket fence in front and the Captain’s walk on top of the roof. Compare the lithograph from Walling’s 1884 History of Southern Oregon with the house today.
Locke has been a careful steward of the house and property since 1975. He told me, “I was 35 when I started on it, and it has been a life project.”
Ashland is fortunate
Ashland is fortunate to have so many residents who have committed their time and money to renovate historic homes, churches and businesses, both for our enjoyment and for the historical education of generations to come. As an Ashland history buff, I am grateful to Lance Locke and his family for choosing to renovate the oldest house in Ashland, rather than demolishing it and starting over. Beyond that, he and his wife did an incredible job, as we can all see today.
J. Campbell, M. Lahr, C. Sweet, R. Lewis. “The Murphy Family of Ashland,” The Table Rock Sentinel (Southern Oregon Historical Society magazine), April 1987, pages 19-28.
Darling, John. “John P. Walker House,” December 18, 2005, MMT.
Dermott Cedar Face, Mary Jane & Battistella, Maureen Flanagan. Southern Oregon University, Arcadia Press, 2019.
Green, Giles. A Heritage of Loyalty: The History of the Ashland, Oregon, Public Schools, School District No. 5, 1966.
Locke, Lance and Benson, Teresa Locke. Author personal interview, July 28, 2019.
Locke, Vivian. “National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form,” October 1977.
National Register of Historic Places website, October 18, 2019. https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/ashland/wal.htm
Rogue News, March 24, 1967
Walling, A.G. History of Southern Oregon, Portland, Oregon, 1884.
Ashland’s first Catholic Church, 1889 to 1959 Family Life Bible Church, 1963 to 2014 Horror film location, 2014 Now a fully renovated, lovely residence
Here are stories from the life of one building in Ashland’s Railroad District, with glimpses into some human lives that have intersected that building.
Ashland’s First Catholic Church
The booming gold-mining town of Jacksonville was home to the first Catholic Church in Southern Oregon, dedicated in 1858. At that time, no religious group had yet built a church in Ashland, where the population was fewer than 300 people.
By 1889, there were five church buildings in Ashland. That’s the year the Catholic Church became the sixth, located in the Railroad District at the corner of 6th and C Streets. According to the Ashland Tidings of August 23, 1889, “There will be services in the new Catholic Church in Ashland next Sunday at 10 a.m., Rev. Father Noel officiating.” The church opened with a membership of about 97 men, women and children.
The original name of the church was Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, which changed about 1915 to its current name, Our Lady of the Mountain.
Because the Catholic priest in Jacksonville had to serve all of Southern Oregon, masses at the new Ashland church were few and far between – only seven in the first full year of the church building. Ashland Catholics finally got their own priest in 1899, ten years after the church was built.
The congregation grew through the decades and a new, larger Catholic Church was built on Hillview Drive in 1959. The historic steeple bell and Stations of the Cross from the 6th Street church building moved there along with the congregation.
The 6th Street church building got new life in 1963, when the Family Life Bible Church purchased it. Virginia Carol Hudson told me she moved to 6th Street 27 years ago, when the church building across the street from her housed the Family Life Bible Church. Though the congregation was very small, she enjoyed hearing, while sitting in her yard, their rousing Pentecostal singing each time a church revival meeting was held.
The Pentecostal church moved out in early 2014. After being filled with worshipers for 120 years, the sad little church building now sat empty.
Horror Movie Location
Then for two days during August 2014, it was suddenly filled with people filming suspenseful, bloody scenes for a horror/thriller independent movie!
That’s a very different kind of energy from a century filled with songs of praise, the joys of new beginnings and the tears of losing loved ones. How did the old church become a film location?
Director and producer Brad Douglas needed a church scene for his movie Besetment. He couldn’t find the right location in Bend or in the tiny central Oregon town of Mitchell, the two towns where he was filming. Virginia Carol Hudson, the Wigmaster for the film, told him “There’s an empty church across the street from my house. That is your location, right there.” Across the street from her house turned out to be the empty church at 100 6th Street in Ashland.
Actress Marlyn Mason
I interviewed Marlyn Mason, one of the lead actors in the film. Here is how her acting was praised in a review of Besetment at the website morbidlybeautiful.com. “I first want to bow down to Marlyn Mason, who plays Milly, because she is so incredibly captivating and terrifying – everything you need in a horror movie performance. This woman was incredible, and I was terrified and amazed by her in the same breath.”
Born in 1940, Mason became a professional actor as a teenager. The website IMDB lists 113 television and movie acting credits in her long career! One highlight was her opportunity to act – and sing – with Elvis Presley in his second to last film, The Trouble with Girls.
I asked Marlyn why she moved from Los Angeles to the Rogue Valley. She replied that when she was in her early 50s, first her agent died and then her car died. Other agents she spoke with told her variations of the same story: “We don’t have work for an older actress.”
“Dead agent, dead career”
Depressed, she thought to herself: “dead agent, dead career.” Then she had a slightly more uplifting pep talk with herself. “If I’m going to be poor, I want to be poor where it’s beautiful.” As it turned out, a lifelong friend she had known since elementary school lived in Medford, and offered Marlyn a place to rent if she was interested.
She moved to Medford and found the beauty she was seeking, but she did not find a “dead career.” Quite the contrary. She is finding new career highlights. She recently won the Best Actress award at the Breckenridge Film Festival for her role in the feature-length movie Senior Love Triangle. And the day after I spoke with her, she was flying to New York to attend the Syracuse International Film Festival.
Mason has felt blessed to find talented Southern Oregon directors to work with, such as Ray Nomoto Robison. She acted in his short film noir called An Affair Remains, which showed at the 2019 Ashland Independent Film Festival, and she plans to make a follow-up with him.
Now back to the empty church at 100 6th Street – and movie “blood.” I also had the pleasure of interviewing Virginia Carol Hudson. She was Wigmaster and hair stylist for the Besetment thriller, which was filmed at the empty church across the street from her house. Hudson has had quite a career. For 18 years she worked as a principal wig maker at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Now she divides her time between smaller theaters (she will work two shows during the Cabaret Theater’s 2020 season) and private clients of her Wigs by Design business.
According to Hudson, filming of Besetment left its mark in the house. A horror movie requires lots of (fake) blood to be spattered, right? So the floor got its share, which the moviemakers left when they left. Remember this when I describe the renovation process next.
A Change of Owners
Now back to the house at 100 6th Street. If you walk or drive by the corner of 6th and C Streets now, you will see a beautiful residence – that looks like a church! Greg Conaway and Cory Ross have tastefully transformed the small church building and grounds.
The couple’s renovation won a well-deserved 2016 Historic Preservation Award given by the Ashland Historic Commission. Here’s how it happened.
In autumn of 2013, Ross was riding her bicycle on 6th Street and saw the old church for sale. The building stands out partly because the original church was designed with elements of the Gothic Revival style, as can be seen in the windows lining both sides of the house. She thought to herself, “Someone needs to save those windows!”
She and Conaway called realtor Patie Millen, toured the inside of the church, were intrigued, and started discussing the potential. By December, it was theirs.
Ross and Conaway already lived in a house they liked, so they invited friends and neighbors to an ice cream social at the church to brainstorm ideas for what to do with it. People proposed a dance studio, a music venue, a yoga studio, and more. Of the suggestions Ross told me, this one is my favorite: Open a food place called “Alice’s Restaurant” at the church. After all, Arlo Guthrie wrote his famous 1967 18-minute story-song after staying overnight at his friend and restaurateur Alice’s home, which had formerly been a church.
This song is called “Alice’s Restaurant.” It’s about Alice, and the restaurant, but “Alice’s Restaurant” is not the name of the restaurant, that’s just the name of the song. That’s why I call the song “Alice’s Restaurant.” (Excerpt from lyrics by Arlo Guthrie)
Renovation and Seismic Retrofit
In the end, Ross and Conaway decided to renovate the 125-year-old building and live in it themselves. They hired James Stiritz, owner of Dragonfly Construction, and the team at On Point Construction, with help from many others. The first challenge was to stabilize the structure. The seismic retrofit started with pouring a new steel-reinforced concrete foundation for the church. Then they stabilized the bowing walls that support the soaring ceiling. The solution was to tie them together with one-inch-thick steel rods. The old walls were also anchored to the foundation and the roof. The final effect is solid but subtle.
Conaway and Ross chose to keep the church interior, with its spaciousness and high ceiling, intact for their main living space – an open living room, dining room and kitchen. A 16′ by 16′ addition was built at the rear of the church building for the master bedroom. The Ashland Historic Commission wrote that “This new addition blends seamlessly with the original volume in design, detail and quality as if C.W. Ayres [who built the original 1889 church] had been on site overseeing each step of the construction, saw and hammer in hand.”
The Historic Commission added that “Ben Trieger [actually Jay Treiger] rebuilt and restored all the original windows, making them functional, including the huge and beautiful arch head windows that provide such a significant and classic architectural feature.”
Remember the floor? When the church’s pink carpet had been removed, all were happy to find a wood floor underneath, made of fir. During the renovation, refinishing parts of the fir floor proved to be a challenge, as there were spots that appeared to be blood stains soaked into the wood. Now that we know the history of the building, we know the origin of those “blood” stains. (In case you forgot from the section above, think horror movie, then think fake blood spattering all over the floor.) Despite the challenges, the fir floor was beautifully refinished.
The Steeple, the Bats and the Bell
As he described renovating the house and 1889 steeple, Conaway told me, “It wasn’t a project, it was an adventure.” Why? Because he found bats in the belfry, ivy vines up to ¾” thick inside the walls, 1880s glass brandy bottles next to cobalt blue Bromo Seltzer bottles in the crawl space, hidden windows behind the choir loft, and even an old wood-burning stove under the floor.
The original church had an open steeple, which Conaway and Ross painstakingly restored in 2015. Most likely some time between 1912 and 1915, the church added slats to the open steeple to keep rain out of the bell tower, but the slats made the space a perfect home for bats. When Conaway went up to start removing the steeple slats, three bats just three feet away from him slept through his hammering.
Through the decades, they left lots of bat guano there. Conaway removed 30 heavy bags of bat guano (perhaps 700 pounds in all) from the steeple! The bats have now resettled in the renovated steeple, but in a much smaller space above the new bell. They eat lots of insects, including mosquitos, so they are handy to have in the neighborhood.
As part of their dedication to a true historic renovation, Conaway and Ross found an old bell for the steeple. The bell was made in the 1870s and used to ring at a church in Illinois.
With a high, heavy bell, the rope was so hard to pull that Ross applied her sailing skills. She and Conaway set up a series of pulleys to make it a little easier to pull the rope and ring the bell. You might hear it ringing through the neighborhood from time to time. Neighborhood kids are invited over to ring the bell on their birthdays – one ring for each year they have lived. But over the age of 20, people only get one ring for each decade!
Building community is important to both Cory Ross and Greg Conaway. In terms of “animal community,” their garden has become an official Pollinator Garden. In terms of “human community,” in addition to the delights of neighborhood bell ringing, they hold occasional house concerts in their historic home (which has excellent acoustics). The lovingly renovated church-to-home is beautiful both outside and inside, a historic treasure for our town.
8th Street has simple, historic homes built in the early 1900s, lovely gardens, and several dramatic trees. It’s on the eastern edge of the Railroad Addition Historic District.
Early Ashland was Very Small
Before 1883, the city of Ashland was very small. Heading northwest from the plaza, the town extended only a few blocks to either side of Main Street as far as Wimer Street. Heading southeast on Main Street from the plaza, it became farmland after only two blocks.
Adding the first Railroad Addition building plots in late 1883 was a major increase in the size of the town. Town leaders saw the need for this when construction of the railroad south from Portland was nearly finished. The second section of the Railroad Addition, up to 8th Street, was added in 1888, after the railroad tracks connecting Oregon and California were completed.
Impact of the Railroad
Due to Ashland’s site at the base of the long Siskiyou Mountain range, Southern Pacific Railroad made Ashland both a train stop and a maintenance yard. According to the Ashland Tidings of January 4, 1889: “Ashland is the eating station for all passenger trains and a thirty minute stop is made here by every train.” Dozens of new railroad workers chose to build, buy or rent homes in the Railroad District near the train station. Mostly due to the coming of the railroad, Ashland’s population more than doubled between 1880 and 1890, from 842 to 1,784.
Now Let’s Walk 8thStreet
Let’s walk 8th Street now. We will start at the Rogue Valley Roasting Company at the corner of 8th and East Main Streets, then head north towards A Street.
The first house on the right is 92 8th Street. It was built as a rental house about 1909 for Mrs. Lou Reader, the wife of a prominent Ashland doctor.
In 1930, John and Callie Winters purchased this house. They owned the grocery store right next door at the corner of 8th and East Main Streets, so they didn’t have far to go from home to work! This corner store was later Johnson’s East Main Market, owned by Swede Johnson. Many current Ashland residents remember stopping by Swede’s store as children on their way home from Lincoln School or the Junior High School. The former small grocery is now the site of the Rogue Valley Roasting Company business.
Garden of the Month
Across C Street on your right, you will come to Ashland Garden Club’s September 2019 Garden of the Month.
Ruth Sloan of the Garden Club wrote: “By September, most gardens are starting to fade, at least, and some are downright shabby. But not Kelly and Jeff Straub’s gorgeous place at 110 8th Street. Kelly’s diligent work shows to good advantage all year. She keeps the planting areas well groomed, and always a delight to see with blooming plants.”
Ruth Sloan continued: “A special quality of this property is that the “parking strip” (the area between the sidewalk and the street) is especially wide, making the sidewalk appear to go right through the heart of the front and side yards. This does two things: It makes the parking strip more versatile as a desirable planting space and it also makes pedestrians feel a part of the garden. Being a block from a popular coffee shop also increases foot traffic, and Kelly enjoys interacting with passersby as she works in the garden. Understandably, she gets a lot of positive feedback.”
When you take a break from admiring the garden, look at the historic house. Built in 1905, it is known as the Engwicht-McMillan house.
George Engwicht, a conductor for the Southern Pacific Railroad, built the house in 1905. He sold the house in 1908 to another railroad employee, A.A. Conger. Conger lived there only one year.
In 1909, Alexander and Eva McMillan moved from Montana to Ashland and bought this house. Mr. McMillan was born in Scotland in 1850 and came to the United States as a small child. In the early 1900s, he owned a sheep ranch in Montana. The sale of the sheep ranch gave the McMillans enough money to buy 110 8th Street and retire in Ashland. Alexander McMillan lived in the house until 1932, when he died at the age of 81. Eva McMillan continued to live here until her death in 1950.
117 8th Street
Across the street, behind a hedge and lush foliage, is a hidden historic house with a large garden. Known as the Osmer and Lila Long house, it was built around 1901. Osmer Long was a brakeman for the railroad. So far in just the first three houses on 8th Street, we already know of a railroad conductor, a brakeman and another railroad employee who have lived in these houses. Yes, this is the “Railroad District.”
130 and 132 8th Street
Built about 1904, the first owners of 130 8th Street were not railroad employees. One was a painter, the second a plumber. The architecture of this house is considered to be vernacular bungalow style.
You can see similar architecture in the house next door, built – or possibly moved to this location – in 1948.
143 8th Street
Across the street is a dramatic old American sycamore tree (or plane tree), in front of the oldest house on 8th Street. 143 8th Street was built about 1890, and its best-known owner was Caleb Porter, a conductor for Southern Pacific. The Porter family owned the house for about 50 years, until 1955.
The house has been beautifully restored at some point in recent years. I enjoy the vine being trained around the front windows into what my eyes see as a heart shape.
155 and 156 8th Street
The house at 155 8th Street was built about 1903. The builders added a few Queen Anne elements to the basic vernacular style of the time.
Elmer Harrington worked on trains at the Southern Pacific roundhouse in Ashland. He built the house at 156 8th Street in 1907, but for some reason he sold the house the very next year.
248 8th Street
I like the way this tree, garden and house complement each other. It is a large, 1990s Craftsman style house that is designed to fit into the historic neighborhood. To me, the tree feels like part of the house. Take a look and see if you see this too.
8th and B Streets Yard Art
Though this house has a B Street address, the yard art along 8th Street is too good to pass by without a smile and admiration for the creative spirit.
286 8th Street
I am impressed by the healthy wisteria vine that was planted at the base of this large tree. Wisteria vines are normally trained to grow along a roofline or a fence. I have never seen one climbing a tree like this one does.
8th Street ends at A Street and Railroad Park, where you can find a lot more history. To read about the history of the railroad in Ashland, go to this article.
Many of the homes on 8th Street are at least 100 years old and have seen the march of time bring many periods of boom and bust to the Railroad District. Architects describe most of the older homes in the Railroad District as the “vernacular” style. Vernacular might be called a non-style style. Here is a more technical definition. “Its meaning is flexible according to the situation; but in essence, ‘vernacular’ means an unaffected, unselfconscious, unaccented way of building….it is the use of architectural style without being conscious of style.. .(Gowans, 1986:41)” [from the National Register of Historic Places, Ashland Railroad Addition Historic District, 5/6/1999, Section 7, page 2]
As the homes were being built on 8th Street, a business district was also built near the intersection of A Street and 4th Street, just four blocks away. By 1890, residents of 8th Street could find nearby a grocery, a stable, restaurants, lodging houses, even saloons. I will have several articles about 4th Street coming up soon at WalkAshland.com.
If you love gardens, I would encourage you to join me as a member of the Ashland Garden Club. You can learn about the Garden Club and find the link to their membership form here at the club home page.
What is the mystery of the Peerless Hotel marbles? To find out, you have to delve into the early and more recent history of 243 4th Street in Ashland, Oregon. Now the Peerless Hotel, you can see from the sign painted on the alley side of the building that this building was once the Peerless Rooms. With fourteen small 10′ by 10′ rooms and one common bathroom, Peerless Rooms was one of several inexpensive boarding houses in the early 1900s Railroad District. Its roomers included single male railroad workers, traveling salesmen, a few single women, and local loggers looking for a monthly shower plus a comfortable bed.
When Southern Pacific shut down most passenger railway service in 1927, the Railroad District fell into a decades-long decline. So when Crissy Barnett Donovan bought the Peerless Rooms building in December 1990, it had been long vacant and was falling apart. Crissy acted as her own general contractor and undertook a huge 3-year renovation project.
She was able to save and renovate the original doors, windows and most of the interior woodwork. This was important because it allowed her to have the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and for another surprising reason I will come to in a moment.
During renovation, they had to excavate a foot below the ground-level floor to meet current code for adequate space below the floor. The only historical objects found in the excavated dirt were many glass and clay marbles, the kind kids may have played with 100 years ago. Crissy theorizes that children played with marbles on the wooden floor of the front room, and some fell through cracks.
Speaking of marbles, they reappeared in Crissy’s life a few months later. The floors were back in place, but the original tall baseboard along the walls was still missing so you could see through that empty space to the floor of the next room.
Toward the end of a workday, lost in thought, Crissy assumed she was alone in the building as she walked through the downstairs rooms. She perked up as she heard the sound of a marble rolling nearby on a wood floor. She looked down through the missing baseboard area and saw, in the next room, a large marble rolling on the floor. She thought to herself, “One of the workers must still be here,” and went through the door into the next room. No worker, no one, no marble, just an empty room. It was a mystery.
Late in the renovation process, standing in an upstairs room, she got into a heated discussion with her historical consultant. Suddenly both of them heard the loud “Crack!” just like the sound of a marble that had been thrown hard hitting the floor right next to them. Startled, they looked around…and saw nothing. The tension between them dissolved in that moment. Yet the mystery deepened.
Fast forward to May 1994. With renovation complete, Crissy held an all-day open house for members of the Ashland community to walk through all the rooms of the Peerless Hotel before the first guests arrived. During the afternoon, Crissy noticed a white-haired, elderly woman who was spending a long time in the upstairs rooms. Toward the end of the open house, the elderly woman approached Crissy privately. She said to Crissy, “Do you know you have a friend?” A bit confused by the question, Crissy responded, “I hope I have a lot of friends.”
The woman chuckled and continued, “What I mean is you have a friend here in the Peerless and her name is Amelia. She is a spirit here and she told me she is very happy with what you have done with the building.” The elderly woman went on to tell Crissy that the spirit-Amelia was a young woman with red hair who had lived in the Peerless Rooms for many years when it was a boarding house.
Hearing this, Crissy was in a bit of shock. Since she had already felt the presence of the playful spirit twice through the sight and sound of marbles, it kind of made sense. Though Crissy did tell me, “I am generally skeptical and I wouldn’t believe it if it hadn’t happened to me.” Crissy assured me (as she would assure all who are reading this) that Amelia is not a scary spirit but has only been playful in all of her appearances.
Crissy has received praise for her beautiful renovation from the Ashland Historic Commission, from the National Register of Historic Places and from many Ashland friends. But the most memorable praise for her dedication to the legacy of the Peerless Rooms building has to be the praise from a 100 year old spirit and former resident named Amelia.
(This article is based on an interview with Crissy Barnett Donovan, May 17, 2019.)
I learn about log cabins houses — and hear a story. I learn about eco houses — and hear a story.
I started walking south from the Orchard Street end of Westwood Street. Westwood Street is in northwest Ashland, at the top of the steep street called Strawberry Lane.
The first thing that grabbed my attention was some antique farm equipment “yard art” at 189 Westwood Street, the corner of Westwood and Nyla. It looks like it was used to prepare rows for planting. I hope one of my readers will verify this assumption – or correct me.
Across Nyla Lane was 183 Westwood Street, where I enjoyed the architectural detail of the front entry. The overall house design had simple, clean lines.
When I walk around town, I notice signs that people post in their yards and businesses. This “Love Wins” sign in the front yard of 177 Westwood Street is not unique, but the message is worth seeing again and again, and then living as best we can.
Across from 155 Westwood Street is a sturdy bridge spanning a small gully that appears to have a seasonal creek. The bridge mystified me until I followed the path. It took me on a shortcut to Sunnyview Street.The city map shows that the path continues from Sunnyview Street to Hald Strawberry Park, which means people living on Westwood Street can take a short walk to the park. This is a good example of Ashland’s commitment to give people pedestrian shortcuts whenever possible.
I stopped for a long look at a modern log “cabin” at 135 Westwood Street. As I was snapping photos from the sidewalk, the homeowner Chuck came out of the house and we struck up a conversation.
First I got an education about how the modern log house is different from the frontier log cabin. All I know about frontier log cabins is that the wind and the cold always used to find their way through chinks between the logs. Chuck had me look closely at the Lodgepole Pine logs used to build his house. No chinks! The house is made with “D-logs” that are engineered with tongue-in-groove connections (similar to a tongue-in-groove wood floor). With logs 8″ thick, there is no need for wall insulation. The logs provide all the wall insulation needed, plus they absorb heat from the sun during the day and then radiate the heat into the interior rooms at night.
Chuck invited me inside. The first thing I noticed were the dramatic portrait photos in the living room. Then I was shocked by Chuck’s story how he acquired them.
In the 1950s, he worked at the Los Angeles Times Mirror Press. This press printed the L.A. Times newspaper and many magazines. The specialty magazine called Arizona Highways used portrait photos of Native Americans. At the time (before digital printing), the magazine printing process for these portrait photos used them in the form of glass positive prints. One day, during a cleanup at the printing company, Chuck was in the right place at the right time to see these glass positive print portraits being taken to the dumpster. He grabbed as many as he could. Now they have the respect they deserve in his beautiful home.
I thanked Chuck for his hospitality and continued walking uphill on Westwood Street. Nearby, I was struck by two different house design choices across the street from each other.
130 Westwood Street has very simple lines in the architectural design, complemented by a simple front yard garden.
121 Westwood Street has a more complex architectural design in the variety of shapes and the window designs.
At this time of year, I see Shasta daisies blooming all over town, including in my own yard. I like the lush exuberance of the plants and the simple beauty of the daisy flowers. At 98 Westwood Street, I got my first look at what looks like a Shasta daisy with ruffles. The daisy grew next to an attractive rock-post entry gate.
My final stop on Westwood Street, before it turns the corner and the name changes to Strawberry Lane, was a pleasant surprise. First I met Lynn, who was also out for a morning walk. She lives on nearby Wrights Creek Drive, and I told her I would write about her street eventually.
As Lynn and I were talking, the homeowner of 62 Westwood Street came out, so I introduced myself. I am glad I did. Just as Chuck had given me an education about his log house, Laura gave me an education about her eco house.
Laura’s first home in Ashland was nearby on Strawberry Lane. When she decided to fulfill a lifelong dream to design and build a house, she worked with contractor Peter Mattson, who is knowledgeable about ecological construction. I could see solar panels on the roof, so I asked her what else makes it an eco house, since it looks so “normal” from the outside.
She pointed to the wide eaves over south facing windows. I replied that the wide eaves would block the sun from entering the house during hot summer days, and allow the sun to warm the house during the winter when the sun rides lower in the sky. She said I was correct.
Two invisible eco features are responsible for the ability of her house to stay so cool on hot summer days. It was mid-July on the day of my Westwood Street walk, and the temperature within Laura’s house had not exceeded 76° F so far this summer. She had not yet needed to turn on her air conditioner.
One invisible feature is the 12″ thick ICF walls (made with Insulated Concrete Forms). An ICF wall might have an 8″ core of concrete, anchored with rebar and poured in place, sandwiched between two 2″ layers of expanded foam. No additional wall insulation is required. This ICF wall helps hold in the heat in winter and keep out the heat in summer.
The other invisible feature Laura proudly told me about is her ground source heat pump (GSHP, also called a geothermal heat pump). This way to heat and cool a house takes advantage of the constant temperature of the earth five to six feet below ground level. Unlike Ashland’s air temperature, which fluctuates widely throughout the year, the below-ground temperature normally stays at 50° to 55° F year round.
A National Geographic article I found online explained it like this: “Unlike ordinary heating and cooling systems, geothermal HVAC systems do not burn fossil fuel to generate heat; they simply transfer heat to and from the earth. Typically, electric power is used only to operate the unit’s fan, compressor, and pump.”
Laura explained to me that about a mile of coiled tubing is buried 5′ to 6′ deep, then connected to the heat pump in her house. I don’t understand all the science, but the constant ground temperature is able to warm the house in the winter and cool the house in the summer. Very little energy is needed to run the system, so over time it helps both the homeowner’s budget and the earth.
For those not interested in ecological houses with ICF walls and GSHP HVAC systems, let’s change the subject from home building to an old-fashioned slice of life story.
I noticed this unusual sign by Laura’s front door and asked her the meaning of “Bield.” With her story, she took me back to when she was age 13 and she lived in a small town called Bieldside in Northeast Scotland. Biel or Bield is a Scots word defined as a shelter or a sheltered place. The town Bieldside got its name for its location on the sheltered side of a river.
Therefore, the sign by the front door that says “Laura’s Bield” means “Laura’s Shelter,” and brings her sweet memories of her time living in Scotland.
While in Scotland, she was introduced to poet Robert Burns. He is most famous for preserving the traditional song Auld Lang Syne, which is sung round the world on New Year’s Eve. Considered the “national poet of Scotland,” Burns was born in 1759 and wrote hundreds of songs and poems before his death at the young age of 37. The word “Bield” (shelter) on the sign by her doorway not only connects Laura with the town of Bieldside, but also with a Robert Burns poem called “Bessy and Her Spinnin’ Wheel.”
After Laura told me of her fondness for this poem, I had to go home and look it up on the internet. Burns wrote Bessy and Her Spinnin’ Wheel in 1792, in the Scots dialect. Here are the first and last stanzas of the poem, first as written in the Scots dialect, and then my rough translation into American English. I highlighted the words “biel” and “shelter” in bold.
First stanza in Robert Burns’ words:
O Leeze me on my spinnin’ wheel, and leeze me on my rock and reel; Frae tap to tae that cleeds me bien, And haps me biel and warm at e’en; I’ll set me down and sing and spin, While laigh descends the simmer sun, Blest wi’ content, and milk and meal, O leeze me on my spinnin’ wheel.
Last stanza in Robert Burns’ words:
Wi’ sma’ to sell, and less to buy, Aboon distress, below envy, O wha wad leave this humble state, For a’ the pride of a’ the great? Amid their flairing, idle toys, Amid their cumbrous, dinsome joys, Can they the peace and pleasure feel Of Bessy at her spinnin’ wheel?
Rough translation of first stanza:
I’m delighted with my spinning wheel, And delighted with my spindle and reel, That clothes me comfortably from head to toe, And wraps me in shelter and warmth at evening; I’ll sit me down and sing and spin, While low descends the summer sun, Blessed with content, and milk and meal, I’m delighted with my spinning wheel.
Rough translation of last stanza:
With little to sell, and less to buy, Above distress, below envy, Oh who would leave this humble state, For all the pride of all the great? Amid their flaring, idle toys, Amid their cumbrous, noisy joys, Can they the peace and pleasure feel Of Bessy at her spinning wheel?
I will close with a description and photos of Laura’s simple and colorful front yard garden. Following the ecological theme, Laura’s garden contains a variety of native, deer resistant and low-water-usage plants. The garden was designed by Jane Hardgrove, landscape designer and watercolor artist. The flowers bloom one after another throughout the spring and summer.
As we walked her small garden, Laura pointed out manzanita, orange sedge, lavender, rosemary, barberry, heather, kinnikinnick (or bearberry) and hot lips sage (with its bright red blooms). Wildflowers like yarrow and California poppies complete the garden.
Finally, as we were saying goodbye, Laura looked across the street and told me she loved her location because of the “big front yard.” Her “big front yard” is Westwood Park, an unimproved park owned by the City of Ashland.