Ashland City Band: Rain dance parade & other stories (Part 4)

The couple who moved to Ashland to play in the City Band.
Guanajuato “Rain dance parade!” 

Who told me these stories?

This series of four articles about the Ashland City Band is based primarily on a 2019 interview with three men (Don Bieghler, Ed Wight, and the late Raoul Maddox) who between them have 164 years of experience with the Ashland City Band. 

The couple who moved to Ashland to play in the City Band

Band director Don Bieghler shocked me when he said: “We’ve had people move to Ashland so they could play in the Ashland City Band.” He was talking about Peggie and Herb Greuling. They had been living in Florida, where Herb had just retired from the U.S. Air Force band. 

As Peggie told the story to a Seattle Times reporter, she and her husband wanted to retire in a college town with four seasons, but not too cold. They hoped to find “the kind of place where they have band concerts on Sunday afternoons.” The couple flew to Portland, rented a car there, and drove thousands of miles exploring the West Coast. They were frustrated. Nothing struck them as a new “home.”

When they returned the rental car in Portland, they expressed their frustration to the rental car clerk, who responded: “You should have tried Ashland.” Former band director Maddox remembers receiving a letter from the Greulings, and responding with detailed information about Ashland and our City Band. That sealed the deal, and the couple moved to Ashland.

They lived in Ashland for more than 26 years. Yes, both played in the Ashland City Band, Peggie on saxophone and Herb on bass clarinet. 

Ashland City Band
Peggie Greuling playing saxophone with the Ashland City Band.
(still from the RVTV YouTube video, no date)

Peggie was an especially accomplished musician. In addition to playing in the band, Peggie was a school music teacher for many years. She played 11 instruments in order to be able to work with all the students! Her specialty instruments were saxophone and violin. She even volunteered to teach violin, by the Suzuki method, to Talent Elementary School first graders. And she bought the first violins to get them started.

I was happily surprised to find a YouTube video of the Ashland City Band in the 1990s playing several songs that Peggie Greuling wrote. Leona Mitchell was the vocalist and Peggie played saxophone solos.

Peggie passed away in 2018 at the age of 93, just weeks before the couple’s 60th wedding anniversary. 

City Band uniform colors through the years

Have you ever gone to an Oregon Ducks home football game and checked the team’s uniform color schedule to see what color you should wear to the game?  I learned that the Ashland City Band did something similar many years ago.

Prior to 1977, the band’s uniform colors were black slacks with a white shirt. In Raoul Maddox’s first year as conductor that year, he decided to change the uniforms to brighter colors. According to Maddox, “Every week we would change the color of our shirts, and so would the audience. So if we were wearing red, most of the audience was in red. If we were in yellow, they were in yellow. It got so they kind of liked it.”

The next year, Maddox decided on standard uniform shirts that included a swan, then the symbol of Ashland. 

Ashland City Band, 2008
The Ashland City Band marched in Ashland’s July 4th parade in 2008. They still wear teal color shirts and white pants. (photo by Peter Finkle)

In 2011, when Bieghler was conductor, it was time to buy all new uniform shirts for band members. He couldn’t find the same green color they had been wearing for a number of years. Bieghler agonized about the decision, to the point of having sleepless nights. He finally chose a teal color, and was relieved when band members told him they liked it a lot. They still wear teal color shirts to this day.

I asked for more stories. Bieghler and Maddox came up with two from the band’s trip to our sister city Guanajuato, Mexico.

Thunder in Guanajuato

Guanajuato, Mexico
This is the Teatro Juarez in Guanajuato, where the Ashland City Band played.
(photo provided by Don Bieghler)

One interesting story was on our trip to Guanajuato,” Bieghler said. “We were on stage in the opera house, and we were doing this dramatic-sounding song. There was a period of silence in the song, and all at once there was a tremendous crash of thunder and lightning outside that just filled that gap. It was like an act of God.” 

The “Rain dance parade” in Guanajuato

According to Maddox, the band was drenched as it marched in a parade in Guanajuato. But not just any parade. He laughed as he told me, “It was a parade to bring on the rains to fill the reservoirs. Halfway through the parade it started to rain, and by the time we got through, the rain was bouncing ten inches off the ground! Everybody was just soaked. So we came around this place avoiding all the gargoyles that were spitting water out from the freeways and the buildings, and went into a parking garage. A lot of the other companies that were in the parade [Mexican bands] were already in there when we came in. We were all like drowned rats; we were wet! They greeted us and then pretty soon we were all entertaining each other, and it was just like a wonderful homecoming. There were probably a couple hundred people in the parking garage trying to get out of the rain. It was a lot of fun. And it was a successful parade!” 

Supporting school bands

Band members are proud of their cooperation with Lions Club of Ashland, which sells ice cream at the evening band concerts. 100% of the proceeds from ice cream sales are donated to the Ashland Middle School and High School band programs. According to the Lions Club website, “Over the period of 2008-18 we donated $28,265 in support of the [school] bands.”

Declaration of Independence every 4th of July in Lithia Park

As many long-time Ashlanders know, the Declaration of Independence is recited in full each 4th of July at the Lithia Park bandshell. That tradition seems to go back more than 100 years.

Ashland 4th of July 1916
1916 4th of July Patriotic Program in Lithia Park, from the Ashland Tidings of July 3, 1916. Note the line: “Reading of the Declaration of Independence…Miss Minnie Bernice Jackson.”
Ashland 4th of July
Barry Kraft recited the Declaration of Independence on the 4th of July at the Lithia Park bandshell in 2019 — and in many other years. (photo by Peter Finkle)

Gettysburg Address at 4th of July City Band concert

2013 was the 150th anniversary of the Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. That year, local actor Bob Jackson Miner spoke the powerful words of the Gettysburg address after the Declaration of Independence was recited. 

Ashland 4th of July
Bob Miner (dressed as President Abe Lincoln) delivers the Gettysburg Address on July 4, 2013. (photo by Peter Finkle)

It was a hit with, so the following year, band conductor Bieghler and Miner came up with an idea to add to the emotion of the Gettysburg address. In 1998, the City Band had played a piece called “American Civil War Fantasy” that has a long drumroll during the piece. They planned the timing of the Gettysburg address during the drumroll with only one rehearsal before the concert.  

After the 2014 concert, one of the band members told Bieghler that “I had tears coming down my eyes” as they played the piece. Community members who heard the speech were so moved that Miner has spoken the Gettysburg address each 4th of July since then. 

Closing Words from Director Don Bieghler 

“One of the things I most appreciate about the band is the wonderful audiences that come to the concerts every week. We have good community support. People come up to me that I see every week, to make a comment or give a compliment. They’re curious about what we do and they appreciate that the city supports the band.”

Ashland City Band, 1920s
Big crowd to watch the Ashland City Band play in Lithia Park in the 1920s. They are playing in the original elevated bandstand. (“This image is part of the Stories of Southern Oregon Collection in the Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library digital archives and made available by Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library.”)
Ashland City Band
100 years later, in 2021, the Ashland City Band played in Lithia Park at the ‘new’ bandshell.
(photo by Peter Finkle)

References:

Anon. Peggie Greuling obituary accessed 11/13/2019

Ashland City Band website, accessed November 2019. 

Ashland City Band video, with Peggie Greuling. YouTube. (Accessed online, March 2020)

Author in-person interview with Raoul Maddox, Don Bieghler and Ed Wight, July 7, 2019. Thanks to Ed Wight and Don Bieghler for proofing the article and adding more of their memories in the process.

Godden, Jean. “How Special People Make a Difference,” The Seattle Times, June 25, 1997. (Accessed online 11/13/2019.)   

Ashland City Band: Typewriter concert and other stories (Part 3)

Three times through the 4th of July parade!
Typewriter as an instrument!
100-year-old City Band member.

This series of articles is based on an interview with three men who between them have 164 years of experience with the Ashland City Band, along with other research. 

4th of July parade story – three times through 

Who has been in Ashland’s 4th of July parade three different times in one parade? Only Raoul Maddox of the Ashland City Band. Here’s how it happened.

The Ashland City Band has led the 4th of July parade for decades. (photo by Peter Finkle)

First time through: The City Band has always marched at the front of the parade, right after the motorcycle police and color guard that lead the parade. Several band members have also been in the Firehouse 5 band that played the parade route on the back of a pickup truck or an old fire truck. 

Firehouse 5
Firehouse 5 in the Ashland 4th of July parade, circa 1965 – not the year Raoul Maddox was in the parade three times. (photo by Morgan Cottle)

Second time through: When Maddox was in the Firehouse 5 band, he kept his car on Water Street at the end of the parade route, then drove as fast as he could through the residential streets back to the parade starting point for his second time through. 

Now, third time through: For three years, in the late 1960s or early 1970s, there was also an Ashland High Alumni Band that marched in the parade. These were former high school band members who came together just for fun. Well, and also for the incentive of a keg of beer from Cook’s Tavern downtown after the parade, so they could “tip a glass or two with their old friends.” During these years, Maddox somehow had to make it back to the parade start one more time to march with the Alumni Band.

4th of July parade story – backwards through the parade

Ed told me his father Dave Wight (City Band Conductor from 1968-1976) would sometimes get a police escort back to the parade starting point, so he could make it for his second time through the parade with the Firehouse 5. In those days the Firehouse 5 would meet before the parade in an office downtown where one of them worked.  To get in the proper spirit of the parade, they consumed plenty of local ‘spirits’ beforehand.  One year when Dave played, they drove the fire truck backwards in the parade – possibly the result of a rather conspicuous consumption of local beverages that day.

Typewriter as an instrument!

2008 witnessed the centennial of American composer Leroy Anderson’s birth.  In honor of the centennial, Don Bieghler conducted a different Anderson piece during every concert that year.  One Anderson composition was a short novelty piece for typewriter and band, written in 1950.  Percussionist Yvonne Rowe was selected to perform the solo on her trusty Remington typewriter.

Sadly, I do not have a photo of percussionist Yvonne Rowe playing the piece with the Ashland City Band. This photo shows Leroy Anderson’s typewriter concert in a still from a video by Brandenburger Symphoniker on April 12, 2012. Link to watch video is below.
(photo from YouTube video)

When it came time for the piece, Yvonne surprised the band and truly made it fun.  First her husband brought out an authentic early 20th-century typewriter stand. Then Yvonne came out dressed for the part with a big grey wig, cake makeup, and long-skirted secretarial attire from 60 years earlier.  It delighted everyone, and after a great performance the band gave her a standing ‘O.’ I wish I had a video of Yvonne and the Ashland City Band performing this piece. The best I could do was find a version for you on YouTube. Here is a link to the one I liked best. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nW8dGwa2zRw

Guest conductors

James DePreist was the conductor of the Portland Symphony and the Britt Festival Orchestra. Raoul invited him to conduct encores several times at the Ashland City Band. One encore piece was a University of Michigan football fight song, and DePreist asked Maddox, “What’s a wolverine?” 

Ed Wight tells a story of two “surprise” guest conductors. The City Band closes every concert with a couple marches.  For one concert in 1979, Raoul Maddox spotted two former City Band conductors in the audience.  On the spot, he invited both Irv Myrick and Dave Wight to conduct the marches that night. Even the guest conductors were surprised.

Martin Majkut

Martin Majkut is the conductor of the Rogue Valley Symphony. Many people don’t know that his first conducting experience in the Rogue Valley was not with the symphony, but was conducting the Ashland City Band. Majkut moved here in the summer of 2010, but the symphony season didn’t start until the fall. That summer he conducted the City Band in an arrangement of a Czechoslovakian tone poem.

In the summer of 2019, in honor of his 10th year in the Rogue Valley, I got to see Majkut guest-conduct a second time with the Ashland City Band.  

Virginia and the trap door

Ashland City Band, 1916
This photo shows an Ashland City Band concert in Lithia Park, probably 1916. This is the original bandstand with the trap door in the floor. (“This image is part of the Stories of Southern Oregon Collection in the Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library digital archives and made available by Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library.”)

This is a story from the 1940s about Virginia Westerfield, a long time clarinet player in the band. To get into the old bandstand, you had to enter through a trap door. You had to climb up narrow steps, then the door in the bandstand floor was swung back to let musicians in. Before the concert could begin, the trap door had to be closed for all the musicians to fit on the stage. Apparently, Virginia was late in arriving one day and found the trap door shut tight against her. We don’t know if the conductor intentionally closed the trap door to keep her out, or if he didn’t realize she was coming up the stairs. But after that, she was never late again during all her years with the band!

A 100-year-old City Band member 

Ashland City Band
Preston Mitchell played tuba for the Ashland City Band until he was nearly 100 years old.
(photo by Greg Badger, 2015)

According to Bieghler, “Preston Mitchell, who played tuba in the band starting in 1989, was 100 years old in September 2017.  We surprised him by playing ‘Happy Birthday’ at a park concert. Preston retired at the end of the 2017 season.”   

Bieghler went on to say he gets frequent requests to play ‘Happy Birthday’ during a concert. To avoid awkward moments turning people down, the band came up with an ingenious solution. They only play ‘Happy Birthday’ “for those who are 100 years old.” So far, the only one to meet this threshold besides Preston Mitchell was an audience member – Sadie Williams – in 2016. 

More to come 

There are still more City Band stories to tell. I will share more humorous and meaningful band stories in Part 4 of this series about the Ashland City Band. 

References:

Ashland City Band website, accessed November 2019. 

Author in-person interview with Don Bieghler, Ed Wight and the late Raoul Maddox on July 7, 2019. Thanks to Ed Wight and Don Bieghler for proofing the article and adding more of their memories in the process.

Ashland City Band: Since 1876 (part 2)

145 years of City Band history.
Why the band has ‘so much fun.’
One rehearsal is all they get!

It all began in the year…

How many names has the Ashland City Band had since 1876? What makes our City Band unique? All this and more in this article, part 2 of 4. It is based primarily on a 2019 interview with three men (Don Bieghler, Ed Wight and the late Raoul Maddox) who between them have 164 years of experience with the Ashland City Band.  

Ashland City Band, possibly 1880s
This is the earliest photo of the Ashland City Band I have seen. It was called the Brass Band at the time. This photo may be from the late 1870s or in the 1880s. (photo from Ashland City Band website, from Southern Oregon Historical Society)

Founded as the Ashland Brass Band in 1876, our City Band has had four (and possibly six) names in the past 145 years. There is a photo on the Ashland City Band website taken between 1880 and 1895 labeled “Ashland Band.” After 1890, when Otis Helman (Ashland co-founder Abel Helman’s son) was named the conductor, this band was also known as the “Helman Red Suit Band.” The city band became the Ashland Concert Band in 1915. Then in the 1940s, the name was Ashland Municipal Band. Finally, in 1952 the band got its current name. 

1916 and the dedication of Lithia Park

Ashland City Band, 1916
This photo shows an Ashland City Band concert in Lithia Park, probably 1916. The current Lithia Park Bandshell is in the same location as this original bandstand. (“This image is part of the Stories of Southern Oregon Collection in the Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library digital archives and made available by Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library.”)

1916 was a big year for Ashland and for the City Band. Lithia Park was dedicated in July 1916 during the largest 4th of July celebration in our town’s history. Four local city bands played at the bandstand and other park locations during the three-day extravaganza. In addition to Ashland’s city band, bands from Medford, Grants Pass and Central Point played for three days in a row. According to an article in the Table Rock Sentinel, each band had about 20 members in 1916.

The Ashland City Band continued to play at the Lithia Park bandstand all summer, as shown by this article from the Ashland Tidings.

Ashland City Band 1916
“The Ashland band will give two concerts a week,” says the Ashland Tidings article of May 25, 1916. (photo of newspaper on microfilm by Peter Finkle)

City support for the band

In 1938, voters of the city of Ashland approved a small tax to support their city band. I consider that a huge vote of confidence in the band by the people of Ashland. However, state Measures 47 and 50 in the 1990s overrode local funding of the band. The city band is still part of the Ashland Municipal Charter, but its annual financing now comes from the city General Fund. 

The Municipal Charter states that “The City Band shall present not less than ten concerts, including the Fourth of July parade, during each summer season.” And they do (except when impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021).

Wight and Bieghler did research and found only one other city band in the state of Oregon (Corvallis) that has a full slate of summer public concerts. Having our City Band funded by the city makes it even more unique. Most city bands throughout the United States have to depend on donations and fundraising to continue playing.

Size of the City Band

The brass band started out small in the late 1800s. After Lithia Park’s dedication in 1916, the band size was limited by the size of the park bandstand. It could accommodate a maximum of 25 to 27 musicians.

During Dave Wight’s time as conductor, the number of players was usually in the 40s. Maddox conducted from 1977 to 1997 and increased the band size to between 75 and 80 musicians. 

Raised bandstand

Lithia Park bandstand, 1915 or 1916
This photo shows the original Lithia Park raised bandstand soon after it was built in 1915 or 1916. (“This image is part of the Stories of Southern Oregon Collection in the Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library digital archives and made available by Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library.”)

In 1947, Maddox’s first year with the band as a 14-year-old, the band still played at the 1916-era raised bandstand in Lithia Park. The only way up was through a trap door in the middle of the bandstand floor. Once the time came for the band to play, it was closed, and no one else could get in. 

The City of Ashland funded construction of the current band shell in 1949.

Soloists and community sing-along

From the 1930s through the 1960s, the audience would occasionally join the band in a “community sing-along.” We have lost that aspect of community singing in our nation’s culture over the decades since then.

Vocal soloists were also a much more prominent part of the band concerts many years ago. Ray Tumbleson, music professor at Southern Oregon College from 1963 to 1983, provided many vocal solo performances with the band. He was just one of many popular local singers who would perform with the band.

Boost in City Band quality

Ed Wight said, “When I was in high school, seven of my high school classmates were in the band. This was when it was 45 to 55 musicians. I looked around three or four years ago, now that the band is 75-strong. You would think there is even more room for high school kids. Well, there were only two, and they were both state champions on their instruments! The band under Raoul Maddox didn’t just get bigger, it got better.” The photo below shows the late Raoul Maddox in 2015.

Ashland City Band
Raoul Maddox played trombone for the Ashland City Band for 50 years, and also conducted the band for another 21 years. (photo by Greg Badger, 2015)

In recent years, the City Band has been able to draw musicians who play in other bands during the fall, winter and spring. One was the Rogue Valley Wind Ensemble, which first performed in 1968 and later grew into the Rogue Valley Symphonic Band. Another was the Hillah Temple Shrine Band, founded in 1909, which evolved in around 1991 into the larger Southern Oregon Concert Band. Both of these bands indirectly improved the City Band in another way.  Unlike before 1988, most players now show up for the City Band season each June in top performance condition, having just played concerts with the other bands.

One other factor also improved the quality of the band’s performance. In the mid-1950s, the band had five different conductors in five years.  That changed in 1958.  Since that year, there have been only four conductors, and each enjoyed many years at the helm:  Herb Cecil (1958-1967), Dave Wight (1968-1976), Raoul Maddox (1977-1997) and Don Bieghler (1998-present).  That individual longevity provides the stability and consistency of leadership necessary to maintain and improve overall performance standards.

“So much fun”

“We’re all having so much fun that nobody’s leaving the band. Over half the band is more than 60 years old now.” 

Don Bieghler and Ed Wight

One reason the band has so much fun is because current conductor Don Bieghler is willing to be creative. For example, at the July 29, 2021 concert, the audience and band members heard alphorns being played. What a fun sight and sound!

Ashland City Band 2021
Rogue Valley alphorns group played with the Ashland City Band at their concert on July 29, 2021. (photo by Peter Finkle)

Why is the City Band different from other bands? 

A major reason: the band has only one two-hour rehearsal for each show. The musicians walk into each Wednesday evening rehearsal and open a folder of pieces that they will play at the Thursday evening concert. That’s ten pieces to learn in two hours! How is that possible?

Here is a brief exchange during my interview to give you a little appreciation for the level of musicianship in the Ashland City Band.

Me: “The whole band concert takes 45 minutes to an hour, doesn’t it?”

Don: “Yes.”

Me: “So how can you fit a whole rehearsal into two hours…”

Don, Raoul, Ed: [laughter]

Me: “…playing the whole pieces, plus going over the challenging parts?”

Don: “I know that a piece of music is going to take four minutes to play, so I can allow eight minutes for it in rehearsal. A one-hour concert becomes two hours in rehearsal. So that’s the kind of guide I use.”

Me: “You’re really pushing…”

Ed: “It’s a challenge for the players. Not all good musicians are also good sight readers. You have to be a good sight reader – able to play a piece well the first time you see it – to play in the Ashland City Band.” 

There is no “luxury” to practice a piece for a few weeks, or even days, and then be ready for the concert. Current band conductor Don Bieghler explained that it starts with his selection of the music. “It has to be music at a level that we can read it. I have to select music that the audience will enjoy, so they want to come back. And I have to select music that the band enjoys playing.”

He gets suggestions for pieces from band members, but he makes the final selections. Bieghler also keeps detailed records, so that a popular piece is not played more than once every three years (except for marches). 

Bieghler told me that he usually chooses only one very challenging piece each season, which would take two or three weeks of rehearsal for that piece. Then he explained something that surprised me again, and took my respect for the band up another level. “Now if we have something that’s more challenging, and takes more time in rehearsal, then the piece before that and the piece after, we could probably sight read it at the concert. So, if needed, I choose something that’s simple enough to sight read while playing at the concert.”

The City Band and Jefferson Public Radio 

For about 20 years, radio station KSOR (JPR) would broadcast Thursday evening summer City Band concerts. “For several years,” said Maddox, “we would raise money for the station by having a guest conductor, and people would bid money to have their uncle come in and conduct one number with the band. The band would know the number by heart, so they didn’t have to watch the conductor at all.” 

Ashland City Band 2021
Ashland City Band plays in Lithia Park on July 22, 2021. (photo by Peter Finkle)

Conclusion

Why do band members and audience members come back each summer, year after year, decade after decade, to Ashland City Band concerts in Lithia Park? I’ll let long-time band member Ed Wright have the last word in this part 2 of 4 article. 

“It’s so much fun to play in an ensemble this good, and to get an incredible variety of music, and each concert is different. If you’re a musician who loves band music, to play with musicians this accomplished is nothing short of a thrill. Top to bottom, it’s one of the very best bands in the state, because we get the symphony wind players, the music teachers who want to play during the summer, and the SOU faculty members, all these people who are too busy to play in the community bands during fall, winter and spring. 

“Just one example: The French Horn section of the Ashland City Band is led [in 2019] by Cindy Hutton, Jennifer Cartensen and Linda Harris, and those are the top three horn players in the Rogue Valley Symphony. Additionally, the first chairs throughout the entire City Band brass section all play in the symphony. There’s such a high level of personnel sprinkled throughout the band, it increases the pleasure in performing good band repertory to hear all parts played so well.”

More to come

There are still more City Band stories to tell. I will share more humorous and meaningful band stories in Parts 3 and 4 of this series about the Ashland City Band. 

References:

Ashland City Band website, accessed November 2019. 

Ashland Tidings articles: April 14, 1877, July 18, 1879, September 26, 1879.

Atwood, Kay. Jackson County Conversations, Interview with Almeda Helman Coder, Jan 1974. 

Author in-person interview with Raoul Maddox, Don Bieghler and Ed Wight, July 7, 2019. Thanks to Ed Wight and Don Bieghler for reviewing the article and adding more of their memories in the process.

Ashland City Band: Meet the Conductors (Part 1)

Raoul Maddox: 71 years with the Ashland City Band!
Don Bieghler: 56 years with the Ashland City Band.
Ed Wight: ‘only’ 37 years with the Ashland City Band.

The Ashland City Band will play Thursday evenings at 7:00 pm on July 22, 29 and August 5, 12, 19 in 2021. Bring your chair or blanket and join them at the Lithia Park Bandshell.

164 years

Have you ever wondered about the people behind the 4th of July concert and the summertime Thursday evening concerts in Lithia Park? Today you will meet three musicians who between them have 164 years of experience in the Ashland City Band. Yes, you read that correctly — 164 years of experience either playing in or conducting the Ashland City Band!

Roots to 1876

Ashland City Band, 1916
The Ashland Concert Band (as the City Band was then called) was photographed in 1916 on the elevated bandstand in Lithia Park. (photo from the Southern Oregon Historical Society)

The Ashland City Band is truly an Ashland institution. Its roots go back to 1876, and funding for the band was even written into the Ashland City Charter by our citizens in 1938. It is one of only two city bands in the state of Oregon that give a full slate of weekly concerts each summer.

Meet the conductors

On July 7, 2019, I sat around a dining room table with them. I felt honored. I learned a lot. I want to share what I learned with you. Let me introduce you to the musicians who joined me around the dining room table at Raoul Maddox’s home. 

Raoul Maddox 
Ashland City Band
Raoul Maddox played trombone for the Ashland City Band for 50 years, and also conducted the band for another 21 years. (photo by Greg Badger, 2015)

First was Raoul Maddox, with the Ashland City Band for 71 years, from 1947 to 2018! Of those 71 years, he was the band conductor for 21 years, from 1977 to 1997. Maddox joined the band as a trombone player at age 14, while attending Medford High School. Sadly, Maddox passed away in September 2020. In case you are interested, his first name is pronounced ‘rail,’ as in ‘railroad.’

Don Bieghler
Ashland City Band conductor, 2015
Conductor Don Bieghler of the Ashland City Band. (photo by Greg Badger, 2015)

 The second was Don Bieghler, now the longest serving conductor in the history of Ashland City Band.  If you attend band concerts, you hear his informative introductions to each piece of music. He has been conductor for 22 years, from 1998 until now (2021), so he just passed Maddox’s record. However, he has been with the band in total for ‘only’ 56 years. Bieghler joined the band in 1963 as a clarinet player, and then transitioned to conductor in 1998 when he took over from Maddox. Wight described Bieghler as “truly beloved,” one reason why band members are so loyal, returning to play year in and year out.

Ed Wight
Ashland City Band
Ed Wight is a clarinet player in the Ashland City Band, and his father conducted the band. (photo by Greg Badger, 2015)

 The third was Ed Wight, not a conductor…but the son of a conductor. Wight tried to join the band in 1965, when he auditioned with his clarinet as a 14-year-old. He was disappointed to be turned down, but he came back at age 15, auditioned again, and was accepted into the band. You might call Wight a band “princeling,” because his father Dave Wight conducted the band for nine years, from 1968 to 1976. Since Ed lived outside of Ashland for a number of years, he has now played in the band for 37 years. He has also served as Band Librarian for 28 of those years.

Creative conducting

 Ed told me a funny anecdote about his father’s creativity. A few minutes before he was to conduct a concert, his father Dave discovered he’d left his conductor’s baton at home.  There was no time to get it, so Dave broke a tiny branch off a tree and used it for the concert.

Three special conductors

Bieghler, Maddox and Wight described three 20th century conductors who stand out for their transformative influence on the band.

Ward Croft, conductor from the 1920s to 1941, established the summer tradition of Thursday nights in Lithia Park (which we still enjoy). Earlier city bands contained almost exclusively brass instruments. Croft expanded the band to include a full complement of woodwind players (flutes, oboes, clarinets, saxophones and bassoons). It was now a full concert band. As an aside, Croft even featured the “Little Symphony” orchestra for some Thursday concerts in the park during the early 1930s. This Little Symphony was a precursor to today’s full Rogue Valley Symphony.

Glenn Matthews, conductor in 1947 and from 1951 to 1954, gave the band its modern title – Ashland City Band. It had previously been called the Ashland Municipal Band for many years. You might be surprised to know that for decades the National Anthem was played at the end of each concert. Matthews began our current tradition of opening each concert with the Star Spangled Banner. He also standardized the ‘extra concert’ during the July 4th week. You may have noticed that if the 4th of July is not on a Thursday, the City Band plays two concerts that week. This maintains the tradition of summer Thursday evening concerts started by Matthews.  Back in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, the band usually played only one concert that week – on July 4th.

Bieghler and Wight also praised Raoul Maddox, who was sitting at the table with us. While conducting from 1977 to 1997, Maddox expanded the band from about 55 players to 75-80 players. More important than quantity was the boost in performance quality during Maddox’s tenure. Ed told me “the band is not only bigger, it’s better – as it now draws consistently on Rogue Valley Symphony wind players, SOU Faculty members and local band teachers who want to play during the summer.” 

Ashland City Band, 2015
This photo shows the entire Ashland City Band in 2015. It was taken at the bandstand in Lithia Park. (photo by Greg Badger, 2015)

“…the audience spontaneously stood as one – and that brought tears to my eyes.”

Ed Wight

Uplifting moment

 Ed Wight described a moment in the band’s history that deeply moved him. “While we get a partial standing ovation at the end of every concert, we almost never get one during the concert itself.  I only remember one such occasion. In 2012 we performed a medley of Irving Berlin tunes.  It was a glorious arrangement, and closed with one of his two most famous songs – ‘God Bless America.’  It was such a beautiful, heartfelt version, the audience spontaneously stood as one – and that brought tears to my eyes.”

This is one small example of how the Ashland City Band uplifts us and brings us together as a community. We are fortunate to have this dedicated group of musicians in our midst, summer after summer, year after year. 

Ashland City Band, 2015
This photo shows the beautiful Lithia Park setting for Ashland City Band concerts. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2015)

Magical

I will close with this quote from an audience member that really struck me: “The Ashland City Band is magical. It reminds me of the movie The Music Man, which I loved. Not that the band is the same as the Music Man, but there is a similar flavor and feeling of an old-time place. It’s the flavor of a place where people in the community come together to sit in the park on the lawn, eat ice cream and listen to music.”

More to come 

There are many more City Band stories to tell. I will describe the band’s history and share other funny and meaningful band stories in Parts 2, 3 and 4 of this series about the Ashland City Band. 

References:

Author in-person interview with Raoul Maddox, Don Bieghler and Ed Wight, July 7, 2019. Thanks to Ed Wight and Don Bieghler for proofing the article and adding more of their memories in the process.

Ashland History ‘Firsts’ – Part 2

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!

Ashland history, Abel and John Helman 1865
Abel Helman with son, probably John Helman, in 1865 (photo detail from http://wrightarchives.blogspot.com/2012/09/ashland-oregon-founders.html)

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. 

Ashland history, Abel Helman portrait
Abel Helman in his later years (from Portrait and Biographical Record….,1904)

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.

Ashland history, first school
Ashland schoolchildren with music Professor Rutan, date unknown, 1860-1890 
(This image is part of the Stories of Southern Oregon Collection in the Southern Oregon University Hannon Library digital archives and made available by Southern Oregon University Hannon Library.)

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.

Ashland history, 1860 map of Ashland
1860 map of Ashland (from Kay Atwood 1987)

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).

Ashland history, 1867 map of Ashland
1867 map of Ashland (from City of Ashland website)

First College

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.

Ashland history, Ashland Academy building in 1900
This was the Ashland Academy building in 1900. According to Southern Oregon Digital Archives, Abel Helman sold the land for Ashland Academy to the Reverend Joseph Skidmore in 1872. 
(This image is part of the Stories of Southern Oregon Collection in the Southern Oregon University Hannon Library digital archives and made available by Southern Oregon University Hannon Library.)

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.

Ashland history, Ashland I.O.O.F. building in 1883
This 1883 drawing of the I.O.O.F. building is from West Shore Magazine
Ashland I.O.O.F. building in 2019
Detail photo of I.O.O.F. building in 2019 (photo by Peter Finkle)

First Newspaper

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.”

Ashland history, Ashland City Band plays at Lithia Park bandstand, possibly 1916
Ashland City Band at the Lithia Park bandstand, possibly 1916
(This image is part of the Stories of Southern Oregon Collection in the Southern Oregon University Hannon Library digital archives and made available by Southern Oregon University Hannon Library.)

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.

Ashland City Band leads 4th of July parade
Ashland City Band leads the 2019 4th of July parade (photo by Peter Finkle)

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.

References:

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.

The Biggest, Boldest, Brightest 4th of July in Ashland History (1916) — Part 3 … Wild West Rodeo & Fountain Unveiling

Rogue Roundup Rodeo & Wild West Show
Butler-Perozzi Fountain is Unveiled

Ashlanders thought big in 1916. Southern Oregon had never seen anything like this before. Rogue Roundup promoters brought in three train cars full of bucking horses and quarter horses, plus steers for roping, wrestling and riding. The horses and steers came from Pendleton, Oregon, home of the very successful Pendleton Roundup since 1910. Pendleton also sent many cowboys, cowgirls and Native American riders. More horses and riders came over from Klamath County. 

Rogue River Roundup 1916. Cowboy on bucking bronco before the gates opened (see how empty the grandstand is).
(“This image is part of the Stories of Southern Oregon Collection in the Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library digital archives and made available by Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library.”)

The Roundup was held at the Butler-Walker property just east of Ashland. As of 2021, this property is still an open field, located where Walker Avenue meets East Main Street. Like the parades, band concerts and baseball games, there were three days of Rogue Roundup on July 4, 5 and 6. A grandstand was built that would hold 10,000 people. The grandstand overflowed on day one and was nearly full on days two and three. Here’s a clue as to why: According to the newspaper, the Rogue Roundup was “the wildest exciting series of entertainments ever staged in the valley.”

The Rogue Roundup “Entertainments:”

**Cowboys and cowgirls half-mile pony racing.
**Cowboys on bucking horses. “Donal Cannon of Pendleton, a sixteen-year-old boy, won the $300 saddle, first prize in the bucking contest, over 78 entries.”
**Not only bucking horses, but also bucking burros and bucking calves.
**Even a lady bucking horse rider, “Dorothy Morrell of Klamath Falls, champion lady bucking horse rider of world.”
**A mile-long pony express race, with cowboys switching between two horses.
**Steer roping, with the steer getting a 50-foot start on the ropers.
**Steer bull-dogging (jumping off a horse at full speed and wrestling a steer to the ground).
**Bull riding, with riders using saddles.
**Indian relay race.
**Female Indians half-mile pony race.
**A horse-mounted tug of war, with teams of four saddle horses each.
**How about this one…”Cowboy Roman race. Two horses each, rider to rise 50 feet from start.” [I wish I had a photo of that to show you.]
**Just for fun, the “drunken ride” and fancy riding by Walter Seals of Pendleton.
**And finally, the “slick ear horse race.” The newspaper described it as: “Wild horse to be given 40 feet start. Cowboy to rope, catch and ride, without saddle or bridle.”

Ashland organizers were excited that they were able to contract for a party of ten Umatilla Indians from Northeast Oregon, who brought their families.
The Ashland Tidings described the Native Americans who participated in the Roundup this way: “These Indians have the most beautiful Indian costumes of any of the Oregon tribes and will come with full outfits. The head chief’s headdress, robes and so forth are ornate with beads and Elks’ teeth and are all together valued at $10,000. The Indians are all high-class athletes and will make the white cowboys hustle in all the events in which they enter. Sub-Chief Gilbert Minthorne will be in charge of the party.”

Illustration of a Umatilla Indian chief with traditional headdress in the Ashland Tidings, June 8, 1916.

With all of this activity, Ashland was able to attract large crowds to the Roundup. The newspaper reported attendance of 15,000 the first day, 7,000 the second day and 8,000 on the third day, for a total of 30,000. 

Postscript on the Roundup

It was such a success that the organizers decided to make it an annual event. They formed a stock company, with many locals investing $25 to $100 each. Organizers arranged a five-year lease for the land on which the 1916 Roundup stands and track were located. They built a larger covered grandstand and improved the grounds for 1917. The 1917 Roundup was very successful, with even greater attendance than in 1916. However, it went downhill from there and did not survive as an annual event.

Water Sports and Band Concerts

As the afternoon Rogue Roundup was drawing a full house of spectators east of downtown Ashland, others had the option of water sports at the Natatorium indoor swimming pools or band concerts in Lithia Park.

This 1909 photo shows what the Natatorium on A Street probably looked like in 1916.
(photo courtesy of Terry Skibby)

At the Lithia Park main bandstand, three bands played through the afternoon of July 4. First the Central Point Band played, followed by the Medford Band and finally the Grants Pass Band.

Unveiling of the new Fountain in Lithia Park

Then at 8:00 P.M., people attended the unveiling of a beloved fountain in Lithia Park that we still enjoy today. On July 4, 1916, it was called the “Unveiling of the Fountain of Youth.” We know it as the Butler-Perozzi Fountain.

The Butler-Perozzi Fountain as it looked in 1916, with two Lithia water gazebos also shown. The gazebo on the left next to Ashland Creek is still in the park. It is now called Enders Shelter. 
(“This image is part of the Stories of Southern Oregon Collection in the Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library digital archives and made available by Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library.”)

Opening the ceremony, the Medford Band played again! Professor Vining gave some remarks to dedicate the fountain and statue. Finally came the unveiling of the Fountain of Youth by 12-year-old Lucile Perozzi, daughter of Domingo and Louise Perozzi, assisted by the “flower girls.”

Here is how the Ashland Tidings of July 6, 1916 described the fountain: “The fountain is made of beautiful Verona marble. The figure is that of Cupid playing with a swan. These words are inscribed on the fountain: ‘Flori di peshi,’ [should be ‘Fiori di peshi’] which is the Italian for ‘Flower of peaches.'”

How did this fountain and statue find its way from the Florence, Italy studio of sculptor Antonio Frilli all the way to Ashland, Oregon? It came by way of the 1915 San Francisco Panama-Pacific International Exposition.  Two Ashland friends and businessmen, Gwin Butler and Domingo Perozzi, had recently donated some of their land to the expansion of Lithia Park. Butler traveled to the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, held in San Francisco’s Marina District.  Similar in size to a World’s Fair, the Exposition celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal and was attended by over 18 million people. 

Many objects displayed at the Exposition were available for purchase at the end of the fair. Butler thought this Italian marble fountain he saw there would be perfect in Lithia Park, so he sent a telegram to his friend Perozzi to come immediately. When Perozzi arrived in San Francisco, he agreed to help purchase the fountain, which the two men bought for $3,000 (equivalent to about $75,000 in 2019 dollars). 

The fountain unveiling ceremony concluded with Ashland Mayor O.H. Johnson accepting the fountain on behalf of the City of Ashland “in a short, humorous address,” and then wrap-up music by the Medford Band.

Those not interested in the fountain unveiling could have attended a band concert, this one by the Ashland Band, in another part of Lithia Park.

The Butler-Perozzi Fountain as it looks in 2019. Note the statue is now bronze, not marble. The marble statue was recreated in 1987 by sculptor Jeffrey Bernard, using marble from the same quarry in Italy that supplied marble for the original statue. Due to vandalism, the Bernard marble statue was placed in the Ashland Library for safekeeping, and a bronze statue was placed in the fountain.
(photo by Peter Finkle)

July 4th Fireworks

Was this the end of July 4th celebrations? Of course not! There must be fireworks on July 4th, and indeed there were.

Fireworks started around 9:00 P.M. on Granite Street, and were viewed by the crowds in Lithia Park. The Hitt Fireworks Company prepared the shows for all three days. T.G. Hitt was a chemist from England who opened his fireworks business in Seattle in 1905. By 1915 he was prominent enough to provide the fireworks for the massive Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco mentioned above. That may have been what brought Hitt Fireworks to the attention of Ashland organizers.

In addition to aerial fireworks, Hitt Fireworks specialized in dramatic set pieces on huge wooden frames, embedded with fireworks. Ashlanders got a taste of these set pieces all three days of the celebration. The Hitts got so famous that they were asked to create “special effects for scenes in several blockbuster movies, including the famous burning of Atlanta in Gone With the Wind, the battle scenes in All Quiet on the Western Front, and the fire and explosions in What Price Glory?” [Tate]

In addition to the best aerial fireworks Ashlanders had ever seen bursting in the sky, the Ashland Tidings described some of the elaborate set pieces produced by Hitt Fireworks. The writer raved about “dancing figures, an American flag, two monster pinwheels, a lithia fountain, a design on which below a bottle the words ‘Ashland Lithia Springs’ were emblazoned, and out of which a fountain of fire shot, more gun shots and more fixed designs, all of which beggared description.”

Following fireworks, there was a concert by the Central Point Band at 9:30 P.M. at the Lithia Park main bandstand.

Dancing past midnight

People who were still awake and on their feet after 12 hours of non-stop Independence Day celebration had a choice of two dances, where they could continue to party into the morning. One dance was at the Natatorium, which was not solely a swimming facility. It also had a maple wood dance floor and room for 500 spectators or promenaders. The Natatorium was located at A Street and First Street, a five-block walk from the entrance to Lithia Park.

The other dance was held at the Bungalow restaurant, conveniently located in Lithia Park. The Bungalow, as it was known, had just opened on June 1, 1916 across Winburn Way from the Lithia water gazebo. See below for photos of the gazebo in 1916 and the spot where The Bungalow was located 100 years ago (now an open grassy area).

Lithia water gazebo in Lithia Park, as it looked in 1916.
(“This image is part of the Stories of Southern Oregon Collection in the Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library digital archives and made available by Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library.”)
This 2019 photo was taken from the Lithia water gazebo. The Bungalow restaurant and dance hall was located in the grassy area on the other side of the road (Winburn Way).
(photo by Peter Finkle)
This ad from August 1916 shows The Bungalow promoting a “Big Dance” at their restaurant.                   
(ad from the Ashland Tidings August 28, 1916)

Ashland Partied for Two More Days!

Those who started July 4th by watching the morning parade and ended the day dancing past midnight probably did not wake up in time for the July 5 morning parade. Yes, the City of Ashland provided a second day of non-stop celebrations on July 5 for the thousands of visitors (and a third day on July 6!). I plan to write articles about July 5 and July 6, 1916 in the future.

Click here to read Part 1 of the history of Ashland’s biggest bash.

Click here to read Part 2 of the history of Ashland’s biggest bash.

REFERENCES

Ashland Tidings, May 11, 1916
Ashland Tidings, May 22, 1916
Ashland Tidings, June 1, 1916
Ashland Tidings, June 8, 1916
Ashland Tidings, June 12, 1916
Ashland Tidings, June 15, 1916
Ashland Tidings, June 29, 1916
Ashland Tidings, July 3, 1916
Ashland Tidings, July 6, 1916
Ashland Tidings, July 10, 1916
Ashland Tidings, July 13, 1916
Ashland Tidings, October 30, 1916

Anon. “The Greatest Fourth of All,” The Table Rock Sentinel (newsletter of the Southern Oregon Historical Society), May 1987, p. 13-24.

Brettschneider, Ginger. “Lithia Park’s Fountain of History,” Southern Oregon Heritage Today, Vol. 2, No. 2., February 2000, page 4. 

Tate, Cassandra. “Hitt’s Fireworks,” accessed at https://historylink.org/File/3348  July 7, 2019.

The Biggest, Boldest, Brightest 4th of July in Ashland History (three days of parties!) Part 1

Was this the largest and most audacious celebration in the history of our town? 

It takes many streams coming together to form a huge river. The Amazon River of Ashland 4th of July celebrations was the year 1916. From what I know of Ashland history, I think it was the largest and most audacious celebration in the history of our town. 

Here are the streams that created 1916’s audacious river.

The first large stream…the 4th of July parade had already been an Ashland tradition for decades as of 1916. Ashland’s parade history began with floats on horse-drawn wagons in the late 1800s. Decorated autos were added in the early 1900s. In 1916, bold Ashland boosters planned a parade on the 4th of July (of course) followed by a parade on the 5th of July (oh, my!) followed by a parade on the 6th of July (three in three days!).

Ladies Auxiliary float in 1916 4th of July parade, a first prize winner.
(“This image is part of the Stories of Southern Oregon Collection in the Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library digital archives and made available by Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library.”)

A second large tributary…the dedication of Lithia Park. Ashland’s Lithia Park grew out of a humble 1892 beginning as 8-acre Chautauqua Park. Thanks to the vision and perseverance of women in the Chautauqua Park Club and the Women’s Civic Improvement Club, with support from some wealthy men of Ashland who saw their vision, land was purchased in 1908 to create much larger Lithia Park. The official dedication of Lithia Park was July 5, 1916.

This photo from the 1920s shows how popular Lithia Park was, especially when a band was playing.
(“This image is part of the Stories of Southern Oregon Collection in the Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library digital archives and made available by Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library.”)

The third, an audacious and booster-crazed stream…July 5, 1916 was also the official dedication of Ashland’s Lithia springs water. Local boosters were convinced that the combination of Lithia water, sulphur water and soda springs water was about to catapult Ashland to recognition as a spa town of national and world renown.

This photo from 1916 shows two Lithia water gazebos in the park, in the center of photo and left of photo. The gazebo on the left is still in the park, and you can still drink Lithia water there.
(“This image is part of the Stories of Southern Oregon Collection in the Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library digital archives and made available by Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library.”)

A fourth, more modest stream…July 4, 1916 was the unveiling of the “Fountain of Youth, now known as the Butler-Perozzi Fountain. Generous Ashland businessmen Gwin Butler and Dominic Perozzi had recently donated some of their land for the expansion of Lithia Park. Butler traveled to the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, held in San Francisco’s Marina District.  A massive event, the Exposition celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal and was attended by over 18 million people. Butler thought an Italian marble fountain he saw there would be perfect in Lithia Park, so he sent a telegram to his friend Perozzi to come immediately. When Perozzi arrived in San Francisco, he agreed to help purchase the fountain, which the two men bought for $3,000 (equivalent to about $75,000 in 2019 dollars). 

Butler-Perozzi Fountain c1916 in foreground. The white Abraham Lincoln statue donated by Gwin Butler is in the center-right background. 
(“This image is part of the Stories of Southern Oregon Collection in the Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library digital archives and made available by Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library.”)
Overview of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.
(photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Fourth, another huge, audacious tributary…the Rogue Roundup, a Wild West show to rival the already successful Pendleton, Oregon Roundup. The first Pendleton Roundup (rodeo and more) in 1910 had drawn 7,000 spectators, and it just kept growing from there. Ashland aimed to outdo their fellow Oregon town in 1916. 

Fifth, a small but passionate stream…baseball fans were treated to a three-day, three-game rematch between the Medford, Oregon and Weed, California baseball teams.

Sixth, a musical stream…more band music in one place than Southern Oregon had ever heard. The Ashland band, the Medford band, the Grants Pass band and the Central Point band each played two or three times a day for all three days. They even played all together as a massed band in a grand symphony of band music.

This circa 1916 photo shows the original Lithia Park bandstand, where all four city bands played July 4, 5 and 6, 1916. The Butler Band Shell is now at this site. The Ashland City Band plays at the Band Shell around noon (almost) every July 4th. Most years, the City Band also plays there each Thursday evening between mid-June and mid-August.
(“This image is part of the Stories of Southern Oregon Collection in the Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library digital archives and made available by Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library.”)

Seventh, another bigger-and-bolder-than-Southern-Oregon-has-ever-seen stream…you can’t forget fireworks on the 4th of July. But not just one day, not even two days…three days in a row of massive fireworks! July 5 and 6 featured unusual daylight fireworks.

Finally, what made this blowout “4th” possibly the largest event in Ashland’s history was a combination of three straight days of multiple activities (each of which attracted between hundreds and thousands of spectators) with nonstop action from early morning until past midnight all three of the days.

How Big Was the 1916 Celebration?

Ashland Tidings front page, July 6, 1916

To get an idea how big, let’s compare some numbers from 1916 with recent years. In recent years the 4th of July parade attendance has been estimated at 20,000 people. That’s with Ashland’s population currently about 21,000 and Jackson County’s population about 220,000.

In 1916, 4th of July parade attendance was estimated at 30,000 people, with the City of Ashland’s population only 5,000 and the entire Jackson County population under 25,000! 

That was just July 4th. Twenty thousand more came for all-day and into-the-night celebrations on July 5 and July 6.

Where did all the people come from?

From far and wide! For example, the Ashland newspaper quoted the Klamath County Evening Herald on June 1, 1916: “there will be many automobiles of Klamath people romping across the hills for Ashland” and regarding the Roundup, “Klamath county vaqueros will of course take a prominent part – and the prominent prizes.”

Most Southern Oregon cities canceled their own 4th of July celebrations in 1916 and cooperated to make Ashland’s celebration a success.  Ashland reciprocated by calling July 5 “Medford Day” and July 6 “Grants Pass and Klamath Falls Day.”

Southern Pacific railroad company was committed to making Ashland’s 1916 Independence Day celebrations a success. It was a win for the railroad, because at that time many people still visited Ashland by train. Southern Pacific railroad sent two of their Vice Presidents and their general passenger agent John M. Scott, who spoke at one of the dedication ceremonies. 

Beyond this July 4th bash, Southern Pacific was committed to helping Ashland become a popular resort town, as that would increase their passenger train business long term. 

Sheet music front cover for “Ashland the Beautiful,” 1916 song by Henry Gilmore.
(image courtesy of University of Oregon library)

Here is one small example of Southern Pacific’s largesse. Local professor Henry Gillmore wrote a song called “Ashland the Beautiful.” The front and back covers of the sheet music described Ashland as “Oregon’s Famous Spa.” In addition, the back cover promoted Crater Lake National Park and Josephine County Caves (now Oregon Caves National Monument). Southern Pacific printed the sheet music at its own printing plant. The Tidings of July 31, 1916 wrote: “Ten thousand copies of the song are to be printed immediately for distribution throughout the east, and later ten thousand more for the Pacific coast territory.”

Sheet music back cover for “Ashland the Beautiful,” 1916 song by Henry Gilmore.
(image courtesy of University of Oregon library)

Click here to read Part 2 of the story of Ashland’s biggest bash.

Click here to read Part 3 of the story of Ashland’s biggest bash.

REFERENCES

Ashland Tidings, May 11, 1916
Ashland Tidings, May 22, 1916
Ashland Tidings, June 1, 1916
Ashland Tidings, June 8, 1916
Ashland Tidings, June 12, 1916
Ashland Tidings, June 15, 1916
Ashland Tidings, June 29, 1916
Ashland Tidings, July 3, 1916
Ashland Tidings, July 6, 1916
Ashland Tidings, July 10, 1916
Ashland Tidings, July 13, 1916

Anon. “The Greatest Fourth of All,” The Table Rock Sentinel (newsletter of the Southern Oregon Historical Society), May 1987, p. 13-24.