A Street (Part 1): The History of OAK STREET TANK & STEEL

Painting of Oak Street Tank & Steel by Dorothy Nugent

In The Beginning…

To understand Oak Street Tank & Steel, you have to go back to the beginning of time
(well, Ashland time, anyway).  

In the year 1852, Abel Helman and Eber Emery were the first settlers to claim land along Ashland Creek. The two friends from Ohio had tried, and failed, to find gold together in California.  As a fallback, they used their carpentry skills to start a business, as they built the first sawmill in Southern Oregon on the creek.

Helman is remembered today by the names of Helman Street and Helman School.  I will tell you much more about Abel Helman when I write about the Ashland Plaza.  Emery hosted Ashland’s first school classes in his home.  Keep an eye out for his name later in this article in connection with Oak Street Tank & Steel.

Two years later, in 1854, Helman and Emery built a flourmill.  These two mills formed the nucleus of the brand new town of 23 people then called Ashland Mills.  

Founding of the Business

Ashland, Park Garage (original business name for Oak Street Tank)
Park Garage 1915 (photo courtesy of Terry Skibby)

Fast-forward 60 years from the beginning of Ashland.  In 1912, the business now called Oak Street Tank & Steel began life as the Park Garage, founded by Sim Morris.   In the 1915 photo above, Sim Morris is the man on the right wearing a tall hat.  

If you had wanted to find Sim at the Park Garage in 1915, you would have walked across the street from the newly developed Lithia Park, which had its “Grand Opening” in 1916.  This address (now 51 Winburn Way) housed the Ashland Hillah Temple for decades, and is now home of Ashland’s Community Development department.  

In 1925, Sim Morris and his son Harry moved the business to a brand new building at 101 Oak Street. First called Oak Street Garage, it later became Oak Street Tank & Steel (AKA Oak Street Tank), a name they have kept through two additional moves.  

At 101 Oak Street, Sim and Harry expanded the business beyond auto repair to include a blacksmith and machine shop.  They finally found their niche in 1938 when they started making steel tanks, which they have now been doing for 80 years through many generations of the Morris family. 

Ashland, Oak Street Tank
(photo courtesy of Oak Street Tank & Steel)

The building at 101 Oak Street is on the National Register of Historic Places.  Long-time Ashlanders may remember it as the site of Pioneer Glass & Cabinet from 1953 to 1996.  It is now the site of popular brewpub Standing Stone Brewing Company.  

In 1945 they needed more room for their growing tank business, so Harry moved Oak Street Tank a short distance to a block-long building at the corner of A Street and Oak Street.  This building is still often called the Oak Street Tank building, even though the business moved out 18 years ago.  Next to the railroad tracks, the location was perfect for the expanding business that sent and received products by rail as well as by truck.

Harry Morris married the great-granddaughter of Ashland founder Eber Emery.  Harry’s son Gene Morris ran the company for decades.  It is now managed by Gene’s son Jim Morris and his daughter Chris Decker.  That makes Chris’ son Nick, who works in the business, the 5thgeneration family member (and a 6thgeneration Ashlander) to work at Oak Street Tank & Steel! 

Fascinating fact: Oak Street Tank is the third oldest business in Ashland, after the Ashland Daily Tidings (since 1876) and the Ashland Greenhouse (since 1906)  

The A Street location had been a successful fruit packing plant for Ashland’s orchards for many years. In the early 1900’s, each year hundreds of train cars full of peaches, apples, pears and other fruit would leave Ashland from that building for sale around the country.

Oak Street Tank Products

Ashland, Oak Street Tank
(photo of aluminum boat courtesy of Oak Street Tank & Steel)

Oak Street Tank stayed in business by adapting to the times.  They made many products through the years in addition to tanks: aluminum hulled boats (photo above), “wigwam” burners for local lumber mills, steam cleaners, steel boxes, bomb shelters, and more.  

Yes…even bomb shelters!

During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Cave Junction resident Art Robinson exhibited at State and County fairs, where he found a market of “preppers” who wanted to purchase bomb shelters.  He contracted with Oak Street Tank to make the shelters for him.  Gene Morris’ daughter Sharon told me she estimated about 50 of them were made for Art, both a basic 8′ by 15′ size and a larger 9′ by 24′ size.  

Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of an Oak Street Tank bomb shelter, but here are photos of some of their other unusual products.

Ashland, Oak Street Tank
(brochure courtesy of Oak Street Tank & Steel)

As company office manager Chris (Morris) Decker was showing me some company historical documents, this brochure (date unknown) jumped out at me.  Look at the “Sunmate,” described in the brochure as “The First Aluminum Surf-Paddleboard in America.”  Do you see in the description: “For added sport – use a sail.”?   Yes, the Oak Street Tank surf-paddleboard could even be used for windsurfing! 

Modern windsurfing was invented in the 1960’s and took off in the 1980’s, when it became an Olympic sport for the first time in 1984.  The brochure states that Oak Street Tank has been building aluminum watercraft since 1937. Could this old-fashioned steel tank company in Ashland have been a pioneer in both windsurfing and SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard)?  

Ashland, Oak Street Tank
(photo courtesy of Oak Street Tank & Steel)

Chris (Morris) Decker told me this photo (date unknown) was taken in Ashland.  Based on the clothing people in the photo are wearing, my guess is the early 1950’s.  

Do you recognize the purpose of the white machine on wheels?  Chris said it’s a coin collection box for the City of Ashland parking department.  Oak Street Tank made the steel box that holds the coins.

Ashland, Oak Street Tank, Wigwam burner
(photo courtesy of Oak Street Tank & Steel)

This is one of the “wigwam burners” built of steel by Oak Street Tank.  It looks like it must be 50 feet tall.  They were used at lumber mills to dispose of wood scrap by burning.  The heavy (unfiltered) smoke that came out of the top was gradually recognized as a health hazard.  The last wigwam burners (also called beehive burners or teepee burners) were shut down in Oregon in the 1980’s for health and environmental reasons.  

Some Family Stories

When I interviewed Sharon (Morris) Laskos and her husband Ed for this article, she shared with me some family stories and old newspaper articles the family has kept.

Gene Morris (Sharon’s father) started welding at the company when he was 13 years old and later ran the company for decades.

Gayle Morris (Sharon’s aunt) started working at the old Oak Street Garage when she was 15 years old. She said: “I did anything they needed done.  I would meet with customers or run to the post office.”  After her high school graduation in 1946, she ran the office for the next 50 years!  That is dedication to a family business.

Sharon told me that as children, she and her four siblings would separate scrap metal at the company or help out in the office to make some spending money.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

How many more years, and how many more generations, can Oak Street Tank stay in business?  Based on their history, I think we would have to live a long, long time to find out!

Ashland, Oak Street Tank
This is the current home of Oak Street Tank & Steel on Jefferson Avenue,
part of a small industrial area in southern Ashland.

References:

Interview with Sharon (Morris) Laskos and Ed Laskos, September 24, 2018.

Interview with Sharon (Morris) Laskos and Ed Laskos, September 24, 2018.

Interview with Chris (Morris) Decker, December 10, 2018.

Kaltenbach, Jacob. “Oak Street Tank & Steel,” Lithiagraph, October 1993.

Nishball, Shirley Bender. “Firm has long history in Ashland,” Ashland Daily Tidings, June 15, 1989.

Panebaker, Alan. “Change keeps businesses constant,” Ashland Daily Tidings, June 14, 2006.

Watson, Louise. “Morris marks 50 years at Ashland firm,” Ashland Daily Tidings, January 21, 1995.

Holly Street Part 2: Ashland’s Faith Healer and Daffodil Paradise

Article Highlights:
(1) Ashland’s Famous Faith Healer
(2) Daffodil Paradise

541 Holly Street: Former home of Ashland’s Famous Faith Healer

Mrs. Susie Jessel (photo from Jessel, no date, title page)

541 Holly Street was the home of nationally renowned faith healer Susie Jessel.  She and her family moved to Ashland in 1932, and she lived here until her death in 1966.  Her daughter wrote that Susie Jessel treated as many as 300 people a day at times, people who came from all over the country, as well as Canada and Mexico.  She treated babies, the elderly, those with tumors, people who were crippled and many more.

Cars parked on Holly Street in the 1940’s, of people going for treatment from Susie Jessel (photo from Jessel, no date, page 62)

The photo above stimulated a memory for my friend Terry Skibby.  He told me: “My folks would tour Ashland by car and see the sights when company came.  One location was the Susie Jessel place with the large crowds of people.  They were in the trailer park and street at the corner of Holly and Idaho Streets.  This was in the 1950’s.”

How did she become a healer?  Here are Susie Jessel’s own words.

“On April 2, 1891, I arrived. I was born with what they then called a veil or caul over my face.  This was to indicate a special gift in a child.  I believe now it is just termed a membrane.  Mother noticed my gift immediately.  She had trouble with her breasts, and she noticed that when my hands would touch them, the pain would leave and before long all pain and fever was gone.

“During the war Daddy’s eye had been injured and had a whitish scum over it.  Before I was two years old I started noticing that eye and I would reach up and touch it.  Soon the scum started disappearing and the sight returned to that eye.  From that time on Daddy called me his ‘little bundle of magic.’

“I can’t remember when I wasn’t carried at all hours of the night to the ailing.  Mother would place my hands on the person, and before long they would get relief from pain.  And so my healing career started before I was out of the cradle.”   (Jessel, no date, page 8)

“After all my research, I’m convinced she was the real thing, a true spiritual healer….”  That quote is from author, lawyer and retired SOU business professor Dennis Powers, who researched Jessel and was quoted in John Darling’s 2014 Mail Tribune article.   Powers said that she healed by laying on of hands and prayer.  She did not ask for payment, but some people would leave money in her apron pocket. She insisted that she did not “do” the healing, that it was entirely God working through her.

People waiting to receive treatment from Susie Jessel (photo from Jessel 1950, page 7)

Time Magazine 1953

Time Magazine even featured Susie Jessel in a 1953 article. It said: “‘Susie,’ as her patients called her, moved to Ashland 23 years ago, and she has brought a boom to the town.  Thousands of hopeful patients keep the cash registers ringing in motels, hotels, restaurants, drug stores and movie houses.”

Unlike Dennis Powers, the author of the Time article was very cynical when it came Susie’s healing powers, as shown by this line from the article.  “Says Clarence Litwiller, a local undertaker who claims that last year he buried 18 of Susie’s patients: ‘She’s the biggest business in town for everybody.”

Here is another way to look at Litwiller’s statement.  If Susie Jessel treated thousands of people in a year, many of whom their doctors said were near death, and only 18 of them died in Ashland, that could be seen as quite amazing.

Mrs. Jessel did not say that she could heal everyone who came to her.  She made no promises.  However, she stated that there was “a big improvement in at least 80% of them.” (Jessel, no date, page 49)

Was the healing only psychological?

Skeptics said that healings, if anything happened at all, were only psychological.  Mrs. Jessel addressed this attitude:

“Some may feel that the healing is merely in the minds of the patients; however, when one thinks of the skeptical and the tiny babies and animals who with no knowledge of psychology receive so much and in some cases more help faster than adults, I don’t believe this theory applies.” (Jessel, no date, page 66)

Susie Jessel had a fascinating life story, but I can’t tell all of it here.  If you want to read more, you can find many of my references for this article in the Ashland Library.

Ashland, Susie Jessel
Susie Jessel treating someone by laying on hands (Jessel, no date, page 55)

The Gardener

I will end this part of my Holly Street article with the emotional closing lines from H.K. Ellis’ 1943 magazine article about Susie Jessel.

I was packing things away in the car, getting ready to leave Ashland, when I was told that a patient wished to speak to me.  He was pointed out, a short, stocky figure laboring in the nearby truck garden.

I went over, walking across soft red loam.  The young fellow wore grimy dungarees, a faded blue shirt and a ragged straw hat pulled low over his eyes.  I did not offer to shake hands with him for he seemed desirous of overlooking any sympathy.

‘How’s the de luxe gardener?’ I asked.

‘Just swell!’ he exclaimed. ‘Look!’

He raised his face to mine. His eyes were two circles of blotchy white.  ‘Look!’ he repeated.  ‘These cataracts are thinning.  For five years I’ve seen nothing farther than a yard away.  But now, for instance, look at that robin over on the cowshed fence. It’s about 50 feet, I’d say.’

‘You’re right,’ I agreed, following his gaze.  ‘But somehow, it’s hard to believe.’

‘Not when you’re behind the eight ball,’ he said grinning.  ‘Things Mrs. Jessel once told me are beginning to come true.  I know.  Why, only last night I caught a glimpse of the moon!’

541 Holly Street is still called the Jessel House, though it is now a vacation rental.

541 Holly St, former home of faith healer Susie Jessel

Do any of the readers of this article know someone who was treated by Susie Jessel?

Now let’s walk the rest of Holly Street until it ends at Liberty Street.

500 Holly Street: Artistic Fieldstone

Ashland, stone wall
500 Holly Street has a natural fieldstone wall anchored by two huge boulders.

I always appreciate creative stone wall building, especially natural fieldstone walls like this one.  I look at a stone wall like this and I think of words like patience, right-brain, strong visual sense, trust and nature.

558 Holly Street: Lush Wisteria vine

558 Holly, trunk of the huge Wisteria vine

This is not the longest stretching Wisteria vine I have ever seen, but it is close.  I think this is the largest Wisteria trunk I have ever seen.  As shown in the photo above, from the trunk at the corner of the front porch the vine has been trained to grow towards the street.

There it takes off along the front fence line, all the way to the property line in both directions (as shown in the photo below).  I look forward to coming back in the spring to enjoy this Wisteria’s magnificent blooms.

Mrs. Susie Jessel lived here at 558 Holly Street for about two years before settling at 541 Holly Street.

558 Holly, huge wisteria

645 Holly Street: Artistic Facade

Ashland, architecture
645 Holly Street has a beautiful stone facade

My artistic eye likes this stone-facade garage with upstairs studio.  The beautiful wood garage door adds to the charm and a little design help from afternoon sun and tree shadows completes the artistic package.

750 Holly Street: Magical Japanese Maple

Ashland, tree

750 Holly Street: This was my attempt to capture the magical afternoon light through Autumn-color Japanese Maple leaves.This house has a lovely front yard, but the afternoon sunlight shining through these Japanese Maple leaves really got my attention.  This little tree was absolutely stunning.  I captured a bit of the magic, but no matter how many photos I took, I couldn’t capture all of it.

826 Holly Street: Daffodil Paradise

Ashland, flowers
826 Holly Street, daffodil paradise, planted by Carol

Here at the Liberty Street end of Holly Street is one of the most spectacular Spring gardens in Ashland.  If you love daffodils, you must walk or drive to 826 Holly Street in March or April.  I had the pleasure of walking by in March of 2018, so here are two photos I took then of the daffodils (and lavender) in all their glory.

Ashland, flowers
The colors and shapes of daffodil and lavender complement each other during the month of March 2018 at 826 Holly Street.

I met Carol, the owner of 826 Holly Street, as I was walking in the springtime.  She explained to me that she started planting daffodil bulbs 24 years ago.  She liked them so much that she has continued to plant more every year since then, as well as separating the clumps of bulbs.

Carol told me her secret was to dead-head the flowers as soon as they stop blooming.  She told me: “I want all the goodness to go back into the bulb.”  I think you’ll agree that she has plenty of “goodness” to show for her 24 years of hard work and loving care.

Two Dramatic Trees on Holly Street

I will close the Holly Street walk and article with a look at two trees that stand out.

Trail Marker Tree?

Ashland, tree
Is this Ponderosa pine at 558 Holly Street a “trail marker tree?”

When I spoke with Gary Pool, who lives on Holly Street, he pointed out this dramatic Ponderosa pine on Holly Street as a possible Native American trail marker tree.  I had never heard of the term “trail marker tree” and I did some research.  I found this interesting insight and explanation online.

“Trees have been used as signs for centuries. Between 2002 and 2005 I had the privilege of being involved with the Smithsonian  Museum of the American Indian.  During that time period, I worked with several native Americans, including a Native American ethnobotanist who taught me many interesting things about Native American Culture including the practice of using Marker Trees to show the way.  Native Americans used to use trees to tell in which direction they should travel. These were called Marker Trees.

“Favorite tree selection for these trees were oaks, maples and elms. These species were selected for their flexibility in youth, but hardwood in maturity. Marker trees were bent in the direction of a frequently visited destination such as a water source, campsite, or a safe river crossing.” (Ronda Roemmelt 2015)

The photo below shows a tree identified by experts as a Native American trail marker tree.

Ashland, tree
Trail Marker Tree in North Central Illinois, with Dennis Downes, researcher

(Photo on Great Lakes Trail Tree Society website)

After my research, I have concluded that the Ponderosa Pine on Holly Street is not a trail marker tree, though it would be romantic to call it one.  Here is my reasoning.  Nearly every trail marker tree photo I saw online shows the bent branch that “points the way” only 3′ to 6′ above the ground (like the photo above).  The lowest bent branch on the Holly Street pine is more than 10′ above the ground.  I think it is a case of unusual artwork by Mother Nature.

Massive Oak Tree

Ashland, oak tree
541 Holly Street is home to an historic oak tree, in addition to having been the home to an historic faith healer.

This oak tree is not quite as dramatic as the Ponderosa pine, but it has a massive and beautiful presence on Holly Street.

If you have thoughts about this article, or if you have a Holly Street story to add, feel free to leave a comment below.

References I consulted while writing about Holly Street:

Anon. “Medicine: Straw for the Drowning,” Time Magazine, September 7, 1953.

Darling, John. “A History of Healing,” Medford Mail Tribune, July 1, 2014. (link here)

Ellis, H.K.  “The Story of Mrs. Susie Jessel,” TRUE magazine,  Country Press Inc., 1943

Jessel, Mary Jane.  The Story of Mrs. Susie Jessel, 1950.

O’Harra, Marjorie.  Ashland: the first 130 years, 1986

Roemmelt, Ronda. “The History of Marker Trees,”  Deeproot.com, October 5, 2015

Sanderson, Mary Jessel.  Healing Hands: The Story of Susie Jessel, as told to her daughter Mary Jessel Sanderson, no date.

Holly Street Part 1: 101-Year-Old Mrs. Fader and the Pool’s Pool

Article highlights:
101-year-old Mrs. Fader tells me stories, plus…
The Pool’s bought a pool with help from Poole

Holly Street starts at Terrace Street just a few blocks from downtown, and goes downhill about nine blocks to end at Liberty Street.  When I start walking a street, taking photos and talking with people, I never know what I will find.  I found so many fascinating stories (including history) as I walked Holly Street, that I decided to divide my article into two parts.  This is Part 1.

101-year-old, 75-year Holly Street resident Mrs. Fader tells me stories

I met 101-year-old Mrs. Clara Fader at 338 Holly Street.  She told me that she and her husband Joseph bought the house (photo below) in 1943 or 1944.  Though her husband passed away in 1980, she and her daughters Louise and Mary still live there.

Ashland, history

Mrs. Fader impressed on me that she and Joseph were in education for 84 years between the two of them! She taught school for 40 years and he was a teacher and principal for 44 years.

She attended Southern Oregon Normal School (now SOU), where one of her teachers was Angus Bowmer, who founded the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 1935.  I couldn’t coax any Angus Bowmer stories out of her, just the statement: “He was really a character.”

Angus Bower, founder of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, in 1948. (photo from Julie Cortez of OSF)

Lincoln Elementary School was purposely built next to Southern Oregon Normal School to make it easy for student teachers to walk back and forth.  Mrs. Fader taught for a while at Lincoln School, and then for many years she was a First Grade teacher at Walker Elementary School.  This led to a good story.

The boy with the “big worm”

She described one of her students as a “bashful young boy” who came to her toward the end of lunch recess one day.  He told her: “I hope it’s okay that I went in the classroom and found an empty jar, because I caught a big worm and need something to put it in.”

Mrs. Fader had her teacher-intuition working, so she asked the boy to bring her the jar with the “big worm.”  When he did, she looked in the jar and saw a baby rattlesnake!

Baby Pacific rattlesnake (photo by Kristen Lalumiere)

Mrs. Fader told the boy: “Recess is almost over so go out a play for a few minutes, and I will keep the big worm.”  She found another teacher in the hallway, who offered to take the rattlesnake to the College science department a few blocks away.  After the science department did some investigation of the rattler, they reported back to Mrs. Fader that it had enough venom in its glands to potentially kill a child.

Another under-the-radar super-hero teacher at work!

Mrs. Fader remembers that day as one of three times that the children found rattlesnakes on the Walker School playground during her time teaching there.

The Fader house

The house was built in the 1880’s, according to Mrs. Fader.  She and her family have made very few changes to the house, so it retains its historic character.

She recalls that after she and her husband bought the house, they started paying the City for utilities: water, electrical, sewer and more.  Well, it took about seven years before they realized that the house had its own septic system and they weren’t even connected with the city sewer system.  At that time, their house was still a bit “in the country” and the City had to install sewer pipes ¼ mile or more to connect with the City lines.  This was quite expensive.

It seemed logical to Mr. and Mrs. Fader (and to me as I was listening to her story) that they would get credit from the city for seven or so years of sewer payments for service they didn’t even use…makes sense, right?  Then that credit would be applied to the cost of linking their house with the city system.  Who knows the bureaucratic reasons, but according to Mrs. Fader the credit was not given, and it’s a sore spot with her to this day.

Mrs. Fader’s barn at 338 Holly Street (with a visitor in the photo that is not a family pet)

The Fader family pets

When the children were young, the Fader’s had a number of pets, including rabbits, goats and dogs. Here are two pet stories Mrs. Fader told me.

Goats: The baby goats grew up with her children and would follow them around the acres of orchards and gardens around the house. During the school year, the goats knew what time the kids were due to walk home up Holly Street.  They would wait in the street keeping an eye out for the Fader children walking home from Lincoln School.  When they spotted the children several blocks away, they flew down the street to meet them.  Then they would accompany the children for the rest of their uphill walk home.  Mrs. Fader told me her neighbor down the street loved to go out in her front yard after school let out just to see this sight.

The Black Lab: Among the dogs they had as pets, the college-educated black lab whom she adopted later in his life was the most memorable to Mrs. Fader.  Yes, I do mean college-educated.

The black lab, named Christopher, made a home for himself at Southern Oregon College (now SOU).  Students would take care of the dog, and so he thrived from year to year.  Christopher had a habit of trying to visit classrooms during the day.  Most of the teachers closed their classroom doors or kicked him out, but one professor had an “open door policy” when it came to Christopher.

This was Professor Arthur Taylor, one of the most distinguished professors on campus.  He taught Social Science at Southern Oregon College from 1926 until 1963, and was Chair of the Department for many years.  He was so respected that the social science building Taylor Hall is named after him.

Taylor Hall at Southern Oregon University

Now…back to the dog named Christopher.  According to Mrs. Fader, Professor Taylor left his classroom door open so that Christopher could sit with the students, as he often did.  When Christopher was forced to leave his “home” at the college, and Mrs. Fader adopted him, Professor Taylor had words of high praise for the dog.  He told Mrs. Fader (with tongue firmly in cheek): You won’t find a better educated dog than this.  Christopher has attended college for six to eight years, sitting in class with my students.

Mrs. Fader confirmed to me that he was the smartest dog she ever had!

* * * * *

Let’s mosey on down Holly Street for more photos and stories.

Ashland, garden

357 Holly Street 

I call this photo: “The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye, and it looks like it’s climbing clear up to the sky.”  Do you recognize the song these lyrics are from?  Hint: It was an Oregon Shakespeare Festival musical in the 2018 season.  Yes, the song is from one of my favorite musicals of all time…Oklahoma.

Ashland, yard art

384 Holly Street 

I enjoy finding beautiful and unusual yard art, and this house number sign qualifies as both beautiful and unusual.

Ashland, door, art
Royalty or Prince? 397 Holly Street welcomes with a purple door and colorful art.

Purple door and colorful art makes a welcoming entrance, in my book.

* * * * *

Ashland, architecture

The Pool’s bought a pool with help from  Poole

Got it?  No?  Let me translate.

Life brought Gary and Debbie Pool a surprise, as Debbie explained to me: “When Gary and I got engaged, we thought we would sell my house and live in his, but we saw a flyer for the pool house [at 414 Holly Street] with a huge photo of the pool area with all the light and we had to see it!”

Realtor Eric Poole was Debbie’s neighbor, so they asked him to arrange a tour of the house for them.  They went, toured the house, made an offer the same day…and as the saying goes, “the rest is history.”

So in summary, the Pool’s bought a pool with help from Poole. Crazy, fun and true.

 

Ashland414 Holly Street, Gary and Debbie Pool’s entry recently rebuilt by Gary

Gary is just putting the finishing touches on an attractive new front entrance (above) and a front yard deck (where I took the photo below of Gary and Debbie).

Ashland
Debbie and Gary Pool on their almost-finished new front entry deck Gary is building at 414 Holly Street

Gary received his Bachelor’s degree at Utah State University in Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning.  That skill set took his career in a variety of directions, including doing city planning in the 1980’s.

Today he has a small landscape design and architecture business (GWPool & Assoc).  He told me that he finds his work creative and fulfilling when he is able to design and build “personal parks.” These are designs that turn a client’s yard into a delightful, relaxing oasis.

I have known Gary and Debbie for many years, and they graciously allowed me to share some photos (and a video) showing the inside of their dramatic home.

The afternoon brings garden reflections to the water and water reflections to the interior walls of the two-story house.

414 Holly St, water reflections on the walls at Gary and Debbie Pool’s home

Enjoy the 13 second video of water reflecting on the walls at the Pool’s pool house

This is only Part 1 of the Holly Street story.

In Part 2, I will introduce you to Ashland’s famous faith healer, who in her day brought as many people to Ashland as did the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  Then we will meet Carol, who has created what I call “daffodil heaven,” one of the most spectacular springtime gardens in Ashland.  Finally, we will learn about two dramatic Holly Street trees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pracht Street: A Legacy of Premium Peaches

Pracht Street:
A Legacy of Premium Peaches

“The ‘Ashland peach’ was known all over the Pacific Coast and marketed in the Eastern states and in Canada.  (The Max Pracht orchards on Ashland Street took World’s Fair premiums in Chicago.) From a few hundred boxes of peaches shipped prior to 1890, the industry grew until the 1899 output was 75,000 boxes, more than 60 railroad boxcar loads.”  (O’Hara page 64)

Ashland, peaches, Max Pracht, Pracht Street

Max Pracht peach box label, likely late 1800s

“Pear Paradise” or “Peach Paradise?”

Today we know the Rogue Valley as a “pear paradise.”  I had no idea peaches were such a huge part of Ashland’s economy in the late 1800’s until I started researching Pracht Street for this article.

“60 railroad boxcar loads” of peaches shipped out in 1899 alone!  That is amazing.

Max Pracht owned the premium peach orchard in Ashland.  Indeed, you could say his was the premium peach orchard in the country!

Take a look at this excerpt from an 1897 essay extolling Oregon fruit:  “In this connection the fact may be noted that the largest apple, the largest pear and the largest cherries, exhibited at the Columbian Exposition [1893 Chicago World’s Fair] were grown in Oregon, and that a special gold medal was awarded to Max Pracht of Ashland for the largest and best flavored peaches.” (The Overland Monthly, June 1987) (emphasis added)

Max Pracht’s House in 1900

Here is what his home and surrounding orchard looked like during the pruning season in 1900.

Max Pracht’s house and orchard in 1900 (photo courtesy of Terry Skibby)

It stands to reason that Pracht Street, where his home and orchard were located, was named after Max Pracht.

According to a July 25, 2013 Facebook post by the Ashland Historic Railroad Museum:

“Do you know that if you live around Pracht Street you are probably living on the old Peachblow Fantasy Orchard land? It was 120 acres of peaches right here in central Ashland. The largest peach orchard in the entire state of Oregon. The peaches were enormous. 20 ounce peaches were common with some as large as 26 ounces.”

Walking Pracht Street

Pracht Street is only two blocks long, with its two ends at Liberty Street and Euclid Avenue.  If you like alleys, you can find one that heads south to Ashland Street and another that goes north to Pennsylvania Avenue.

There is a small one story apartment complex at 800 Pracht Street, and from there to Euclid it’s all single family homes.

Ashland, walkApartments at 800 Pracht Street

As I walked from Liberty uphill to Euclid Avenue, I searched to see if Max Pracht’s house was still standing.  First, let me tell you about the yard art, chickens and skunk that I spotted along the way.

Chickens and Skunk

Ashland allows backyard chickens, and these are among the first I have seen in my walks around town. Then I spotted an unusual afternoon visitor…a young skunk.

First, I was surprised to see it just three feet from the chickens.  Is that normal?  Second, I was surprised to see it out and about in the mid-afternoon.  Pet skunk?  That seems unlikely, considering their potent aroma.  Maybe it was just excited about exploring the trash area.

Beauty on Pracht Street

I enjoy finding yard art and other man-made beauty, as well as nature’s beauty.  As I walked the two blocks of Pracht Street, I found both.

Artistic door at 710 Pracht Street

Yard art next to 715 Pracht Street

Ashland, walk

Lovely, rhododendron filled garden at 640 Pracht Street.  I’d like to come back here in April or May when the flowers are in bloom.

Ashland, walk, tree

My favorite tree on Pracht Street (at the corner of Pracht and Morton)

Max Pracht’s house?

I will finish the article with more about Max Pracht, who was an amazing man and a great booster of early Ashland.  I think I found his house toward the top of Pracht at 660 Pracht Street.  Take a look at the two photos below.  The large yellow house at 660 Pracht is much larger than the Pracht house shown in the 1900 photo, but it is not unusual for houses to be expanded over the years.

To me, these two clues give it away:

  • The shape of the two windows facing the street on the third floor attic is identical in the current house to the shape of the same windows in the 1900 photo.
  • The triangular wall section between the two attic windows and the roof is identical in the current house with the shape in the 1900 photo.

What do you think?  Am I right or is this just coincidence?

Ashland, walk, Pracht Street

660 Pracht Street…formerly Max Pracht’s house?

Max Pracht’s house and orchard in 1900 (photo courtesy of Terry Skibby)

Max Pracht’s Life

Max Pracht was “a Republican of irrepressible enthusiasm,” back when the Republican party was the party of Lincoln, the party that had the courage to hold our country together and outlaw slavery.

He was born in Palatinate, Germany in 1846.  There was unrest and revolution in Germany in 1848, which caused his father to immigrate to America with the family, including two-year-old Max.

According to the Republican League Register of Oregon: “He served in the navy during the Rebellion, and is a comrade of Burnside Post No. 23, G. A. R.”

In other words, he was in the Union Navy during the Civil War.  Then, as a veteran, he joined the Ashland (Burnside) post of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union Civil War veterans group.

Max moved with his wife and three children from San Francisco to Ashland in 1887, purchased land, planted an orchard, and harvested his first crop of peaches in 1891. As of 1896, he was still waiting to receive the Gold Medal he won as first prize for his peaches at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

In addition to being a grower and marketer of premium peaches, he also developed some of his land for housing after the opening of the railroad led to a population increase in Ashland starting in 1888.  On top of that, this busy businessman owned the huge Hotel Oregon downtown in 1891-1892, and his son Alexander went on to own the Ashland Depot Hotel [see Ashland Depot Hotel article here] after 1901.

Pracht Marketing “Secrets”

The Jacksonville newspaper wrote a detailed article in 1893 explaining in part why Pracht orchard peaches sold for 25% more than the market price for peaches, and why they were shipped all over the country.  In addition to growing large, flavorful peaches, Mr. Pracht also took the extra step of communicating their premium nature to customers on each individual peach wrapper.  In the process, he was a huge booster for Ashland and Southern Oregon.

“People who are fortunate enough to obtain peaches from the ‘Peachblow Paradise Orchards’ of Max Pracht this year will be fully apprised of the celestial character of the fruit, no matter in how distant a clime it may be unpacked and eaten. Mr. Pracht has just had nearly 100,000 peach wrappers printed, each bearing in blue ink on white paper his orchard trademark designed by himself. It advertises the climate of southern Oregon, the city of Ashland, the orchard business of Mr. Pracht, and there will be no danger of retail dealers in Oregon, Washington, Montana or elsewhere selling his peaches as ‘California fruit.’ Neither will there be any likelihood of any scrubby peaches being shipped in those wrappers. Mr. Pracht’s method of paying the strictest attention to the details of selection, packing and marketing, proves its value from the fact that he is able to ask and receive for his peaches 25 percent above the market price.
(Democratic Times, page 3)

My thanks to Terry Skibby for the historic photograph
  • References Quoted:
  • Democratic Times, Jacksonville, Oregon, August 18, 1893, page 3
  • Fulton, R.L. article “The Yamhill Country,” pages 498-503 in The Overland Monthly, January – June 1897, Overland Monthly Publishing Company, San Francisco, California.
  • O’Hara, Marjorie. Ashland: the first 130 years, Northwest Passages Publishing, 1986.
  • 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.
  • Republican League Register of Oregon, The Register Publishing Company, 1896, page 260.

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Railroad Park and History of the Railroad in Ashland

Railroad Park

The Railroad District grew and thrived because of the railroad, and the Railroad District struggled and suffered because of the railroad.  Let’s start with the Railroad Park, and then in future stories we’ll go on to A Street, B Street, 1st Street, 2nd Street and more.

  • See below for stories and photos about:
  • The first train to arrive in Ashland
  • The “Golden Spike” of Ashland
  • Who was the “Apple Cider Man?”
  • What did kids sell to train passengers to make spending money?
  • Huge hotel and dining room at the depot, and what is left of it
  • Why are those mysterious blocks of concrete in Railroad Park?

Railroad Park signRailroad Park memorializes the history of this part of town.  Before airplanes and airports, before automobiles and interstate highways, there were railroads and railway stations.

Huge Impact of the Railroad in America

How did Americans get around before the railroads?  They walked. Or if they were fortunate, they rode in a simple or fancy cart of some kind pulled by horses or oxen over dirt roads.  Whether it was simple or fancy, it was slow – and uncomfortably bumpy – and either dusty or muddy (take your pick).

According to the Northwest Railway Museum site, “The journey west ~ 2,400 miles and 4-8 months ~ was reduced to a mere week or two following the completion of the first transcontinental railroad.”  Imagine living at the time when this huge cultural change was happening.

There was fierce competition among cities and towns across the country for a railway stop, because towns thrived when they were awarded a station as the tracks were laid.

First Train in Ashland

That is why May 4, 1884 was such an important day for the small town of Ashland, Oregon.  That is the day the first train arrived in Ashland, coming in from Portland.  At this time, tracks had not yet been built across the Siskiyou Mountains.

Ashland, railroad, 1884

First train to arrive in Ashland (from Portland) on May 4, 1884 (photo courtesy of Terry Skibby)

With the arrival of the railroad came the arrival of the Railroad District.  It is no coincidence that the early homes in the Railroad District were built in the years 1884 to 1888.

From 1884 to 1887, as Southern Pacific slowly built tracks across the Siskiyou Mountain range, stagecoaches continued to cross the mountains and link Ashland with Northern California for West Coast travelers.  The last stagecoach carrying train passengers from Ashland to Northern California crossed the Siskiyou range on December 16 or 17, 1887.

Ashland, railroad, stagecoach, 1887

Photo of the last stagecoach carrying train passengers from Ashland to Northern California, in the last day before the first train arrived in Ashland from the south (photo courtesy of Terry Skibby)

The Golden Spike in Ashland

The Railroad District got an even bigger boost when California and Oregon were linked by rail on December 17, 1887.  Here is the plaque in Railroad Park commemorating that event.

Golden Spike marker at Railroad Park

Railroad Park, taken from the Golden Spike marker

The driving of the “Golden Spike” by Southern Pacific executive Charles Crocker brought brief national attention to Ashland, because that day marked the completion of railroad tracks around the perimeter of the continental United States.

More important to the economy and growth of Ashland, the town was now a meal stop on the busy rail service linking San Francisco and Portland.  For years, up to four trains a day stopped in Ashland.  In addition, Ashland was a good spot for Southern Pacific to locate many of its crew.

“75 company men made their homes here” in the early 20th century, wrote Marjorie O’Hara in Ashland: the first 130 years.  I bet you can guess where most of these men lived with their families…yes, in the Railroad District.  That was a lot of money flowing into the local Ashland economy.

The Apple Cider Man

Ashland, railroad, Southern Pacific, William PowellAshland Southern Pacific depot – William Powell with his apple cider cart, early 1900s (photo courtesy of Terry Skibby)

Historic photos show bustling scenes filled with travelers and peddlers around the railroad depot.  William Powell was one of the most successful Ashlanders at serving the stream of train passengers.  He lived at 462 A Street with an apple orchard on his property behind the house.  You can still see his apple trees (or descendants of his trees) from the Peerless Hotel parking area in the alley just behind the Peerless.

Ashland
Apple trees at site of William Powell’s orchard, seen from alley between A & B Streets

Apple tree close-up at site of William Powell’s apple orchard

William Powell had a cider press along the alley just off 2nd Street and a confectionary shop at the corner of A Street and 4th Street.  For many years, he and his apple cider cart were a fixture near the railroad depot.

Entrepreneurial Ashland Youngsters

Old photos also show Ashland youngsters peddling locally grown fruit to the train passengers. Here is the first person story of Ashlander Albert Meyers describing his days as an entrepreneurial youngster.

Interviewed in 1978*, he stated that he moved to Ashland with his family in 1919.  Talking about local fruit, he said: “My brother and I also had a lot of cherries at our old house and we used to bring them in little paper boxes and sell those to the people for 5 cents.”

Ashland, railroad, Southern PacificAshland Southern Pacific depot – Kids selling fruit at depot, early 1900s (photo courtesy of Terry Skibby)

But he and his brother sold a lot more than just fruit.  Albert talked about their creative way to make money from the free Lithia Water.  At the time, train passengers could sample Lithia water from a fountain located at A Street and 4th Street.  The fountain was enclosed within a gazebo similar to the one currently in Lithia Park near the band shell.

Albert Meyers: “My brother and I had a job delivering newspapers.  We delivered down at the train station too.  That was where all the activity was.  Everything happened at the train station.  Whenever a train came in, all the passengers would get off and drink some Lithia water, either liking it very much or not liking it at all.”

“My brother and I had a good business going.  They didn’t have any cups down there and the fountain wasn’t fixed like a normal drinking fountain, so it was hard to drink from.  My brother and I bought some cups from the five and dime store.  Every time a train came in, we’d sell them cups for 5 cents so they could get a drink.  We had a great big long board that the passengers were supposed to put their cups on when they got through drinking the water.  We would set them there to dry, and then, when the next 100 to 150 people came, we would use the same cups again.  We made a good amount of money in several years just using used cups.”

Ashland, railroad, Lithia waterAshland Southern Pacific depot – Powell’s Famous Apple Cider cart (on left) and Lithia water gazebo (on right), in front of the Ashland Depot Hotel, early 1900s (photo courtesy of Terry Skibby)

Ashland Depot Hotel

Ashland, railroad, Southern Pacific Depot HotelAshland Depot Hotel, built in 1888, photo taken 1913 (photo courtesy of Terry Skibby)

The hotel, built in 1888 to serve the passengers between San Francisco and Portland, had a huge dining room to accommodate a train full of passengers eating all at once.  It also provided rooms to rent and a depot for purchasing train tickets.  Sadly, the bulk of the hotel burned in 1937.

All we have left of the impressive Ashland Depot Hotel is the small, historic depot building at the corner of A Street and 5th Street.  To give you a sense of the scale of the original Ashland Depot Hotel, the surviving building (below) was originally a kitchen connected to the hotel.  It is now across the street from its original location, a bit lonely without the huge hotel seen with it in the photo above.

Here is all that is left of the Ashland Depot Hotel. Built in 1888, photo taken 2018.

Along with the coveted paying train passengers who would pay to eat or stay in Ashland, the railroad brought with it hordes of unwanted, non-paying train passengers – the tramps or hobos.

The havoc they caused in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s was regularly described by our local papers. I will write about the hobos in another article.

What are these hunks of concrete?

Close-up of one of the concrete piers in Railroad Park

Only a few concrete piers (now holding benches) remain of the dozens that used to fill this space

This small area of Railroad Park was once filled with these sturdy, square concrete piers.  Most were removed when the park was created, but a few were left as bench supports and for historical interest.  The photo below gives a hint of their original purpose.

Ashland, railroad

Aerial view of Southern Pacific depot with water towers circled, 1940s (photo courtesy of Terry Skibby)

The numerous concrete piers served as the base for two large water towers built next to the tracks.  These water towers served the Southern Pacific trains, as did the maintenance sheds and the huge engine turntable that can be seen in the photos above and below.

Ashland, railroad, Southern Pacific,Ashland Southern Pacific depot – Roundhouse and turntable, early 1900s (photo courtesy of Terry Skibby)

The “Glory Days” are Gone

Those glory days for the Railroad District took a beating when Southern Pacific re-routed most railroad traffic away from Ashland over to Klamath Falls in 1927.  The railway across the Siskiyou Pass was always very steep, slow and dangerous.

When Southern Pacific built a faster, safer route that bypassed Ashland, the Railroad District fell into decline. First, Ashland lost trains full of passengers stopping to stretch their legs and have a bite to eat – or to stay for a few days.  Second, Southern Pacific relocated most of their crew members who lived in Ashland to other cities, so the economy and liveliness of the Railroad District took a beating with that loss as well.

Limited passenger service continued until 1955, when passenger trains to Ashland were discontinued.  Since then, many have dreamed of reviving passenger train service, but so far it’s just a dream.

As we know, the Railroad District has bounced back big-time in the last 20 years, but that is another story for another day.

You might still hear a train whistle, and see the train come through Ashland once a day with some lumber or empty train cars.  I happened to be at the Railroad Park one Friday morning with Terry Skibby when this Central Oregon Pacific train rolled by.

Video: Railroad train at RR Park 6-15-2018

Enjoy your walking in Ashland, and sign up for the email list if you haven’t already done so.

To learn more of the fascinating history of Ashland's early years, and the Railroad District in particular, come to Railroad Park at 10:00 am on Friday mornings during the summer for a 1 1/2 hour Terry Skibby walking tour of the area.  
Last walk this year is September 28!

My thanks to Terry Skibby for historical information and historical photos, the book Ashland: the first 130 years by Marjorie O’Hara, the book As It Was by Carol Barrett and the Ashland Public Library.

*The interview with Albert Meyers was conducted by 8th grade student Laura Howser, and printed in the 1978 book A Bit of Old Ashland, page 67.  This book and other Ashland history books are available at the Ashland Public Library.

Photos not otherwise credited are by Peter Finkle.

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Ashland 4th of July Parade – Historical Photos

Ashland 4th of July parade – historical photos

Independence Day (the 4th of July) is the biggest community holiday of the year in Ashland, Oregon.  The parade brings together more people than any other event of the year.  I was happily surprised that Ashland Mayor John Stromberg, during his speech at the Lithia Park bandshell this July 4th, recognized and thanked the thousands of people from all over Southern Oregon who attend the Ashland parade.

Community excitement for Independence Day is not new.  The 4th of July parade has been a big event in Ashland for more than 100 years.  Let’s take “a walk down memory lane” and look at parade photos from more than 100 years ago.

1890’s

The oldest parade photo I have been able to find is from the late 1890’s, probably from the 1898 parade when America was in the middle of the short Spanish-American War that lasted from April 21 to August 13, 1898.  It was primarily a naval war, and the parade float in the shape of a battle-ship gives the hint for 1898.

Ashland 4th of July parade
Ashland 4th of July parade float, probably 1898

Ashland 4th of July parade
“W.A. Poley & Co. The Reliable Druggists and Stationers” float in the plaza – Ashland 4th of July parade, probably late 1890’s or early 1900’s

1911

Here are a number of photos from the 1911 4th of July parade.

Ashland history
Ashland 4th of July parade 1911

Ashland history
Ashland 4th of July parade 1911

Ashland history
Ashland 4th of July parade 1911

1912

Ashland got creative for the 1912 parade.  Do you think Briggs was a shoe store?

Ashland 4th of July parade
Ashland 4th of July parade 1912

Ashland history
Ashland 4th of July parade 1912

Ashland history
Ashland 4th of July parade 1912 (What is this float?)

Ashland history
Ashland 4th of July parade 1912 (very patriotic parade entry)

1915

The 1915 parade photos focus on people of Ashland.

Ashland 4th of July parade
The Ashland Concert Band, precursor of today’s Ashland City Band – Ashland 4th of July parade circa 1915

Ashland 4th of July parade, circa 1915, in front of The Columbia Hotel (the hotel is still in business at the same place on Main Street more than 100 years later)

1916

Does anyone know which community group’s Ladies Auxiliary is represented in this 1916 parade float?

Ashland history
Ashland 4th of July parade 1916

Two photos with dates unknown

I like Ashland being known as “The City Noted for Lady Equestrians.”

Ashland 4th of July
Ashland 4th of July – publicity poster?, date unknown

Ashland history
Ashland 4th of July parade, date unknown

*****

My thanks to the Ashland Library for access to their historical photo collection.

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