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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Liberty Street Walk

How can Liberty Street start and end at Siskiyou?

I walked Liberty Street on a windy, partly cloudy afternoon in April 2018.  Liberty Street has an Ashland Tree of the Year, architecture from historic to modern, not just one but two “Little Free Libraries,” and access to Ashland’s extensive trail system.

Here’s how Liberty Street can start and end at Siskiyou — it goes from Siskiyou Boulevard to the Siskiyou Mountain Range. 

You’ll find tiny Triangle Park where Liberty meets Siskiyou Blvd.

Triangle Park

Triangle Park

Triangle Park tends to be quiet.  You might see high school students eating lunch in the charming gazebo during the school year, or young people walking slack lines attached to the posts in the park.  The one day Triangle Park comes alive with a “boom” and a “bang” is the 4th of July.  When Ashland’s huge Independence Day celebration rolls around, parade headquarters is at Triangle Park.  It becomes a beehive of organizers, marching band members and honored guests ranging from locals, to Oregon’s U.S. Senators, to our Sister-City Queen and city council members from Guanajuato, Mexico.

A few steps from the park, you will see a historic bungalow-style house built in 1910, called the Grubbs Rental House.  There are many historic houses on Liberty Street, but this simple one caught my eye to share with you.

Historic 1910 bungalow

Lovely Garden and Healing Massage

At the corner of Alaska Street, Joseph and Janie enlisted some of their friends to turn a large lot into a beautiful cooperative vegetable and fruit garden.  Let’s see how many of the fruits in their garden I can remember: cherries, blueberries, raspberries, mulberries and gooseberries.  Yes, they like berries.  Sorry, they are not for public consumption!

Joseph and Janie are both massage therapists with the business name Advanced Myotherapy.  Janie also teaches Eden Energy Medicine all over the world, but I have benefited from her healing skills in both massage and energy medicine, without going any farther than Liberty Street.

They have the most amazing camellia bush I have seen in my life, and I have seen many.  Is it still a “bush” when it’s two stories tall?  The dramatic two-story camellia is hard to see from the street, so I am including photos of it here for you.

 

 

 

 

Anyone who walks or drives on Liberty Street will remember this colorful house.

Some people love it and some think it sticks out like a sore thumb. I’m in the “love it” camp. Traditional neighborhoods where all homes are built in the same style or similar colors can be aesthetically pleasing. But there is freshness that comes with variety, and Liberty Street has variety.

I would like to point out the beautiful, colorful tulip garden in the front yard of this colorful house.  Notice the deer fence, without which the tulip garden would not exist.

Short Ashland Deer Rant

I may go on a rant about the Ashland deer from time to time as I write my Walk Ashland articles.  The number of plants that Ashland deer do not eat seems to be shrinking from year to year.  For example, the first 15 years I lived in Ashland, the deer did not touch the Hypericum in my front yard.  Now they eat it regularly.  At least rosemary, lavender, daffodils and iris seem to be safe for the present.

Little Free Library

A few steps up the street, I came to the first of two “Little Free Library” stands on Liberty Street.  This book sharing movement began in 2009 when Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin placed the first Little Free Library in his front yard.  There are now over 65,000 registered Little Free Libraries in over 80 countries around the world!  (And many more not registered with the official group.)  Ashland has at least six in total.  I will find them all as I walk every street in town.

Little Free Library

Dramatic Trees

Liberty St is home to two striking trees that caught my eye.  The first, at 391 Liberty St., is Ashland’s 2001 Tree of the Year.  Each year residents nominate favorite trees around town, the Tree Commission narrows the selection to a few, and then residents vote for their top choice.  The 2001 choice is a majestic Blue Atlas Cedar.  My photo through the electric wires doesn’t do it justice.  You have to see it for yourself.

Blue Atlas Cedar, Ashland Tree of the Year 2001

The other tree, toward the top of Liberty, is a very unusual Ponderosa pine.  Before this, every Ponderosa pine I have ever seen was straight as an arrow, reaching for the sky.  Not this one.  It forks, and then forks again.  With tall trees, I have read that a lightning strike can destroy the crown of the tree and lead to a forked top as the tree strives to continue growing. This tree looks like it just decided to be different.

Ponderosa pine near top of Liberty St

Here is a close-up of the forked section of the Ponderosa pine.  Does anyone have an explanation how or why this tree is so different?  If you do, please leave a note in the comments.

Ponderosa pine near top of Liberty St

Architecture Old and New

Ascending Liberty Street, I took photos of two houses with contrasting architectural styles.  This is another example of the variety of houses on Liberty.  If you like traditional, here is one for you – on the 500 block.

If you prefer modern, you might like to view this one on the 600 block.

If you love bedtime stories, this one might be more to your liking.

“The Road Goes Ever On and On”

Finally, arriving at the top of Liberty Street, you have the option to leave the city streets for the world of trails.  From here, you can connect with a variety of trails and forest service roads that will take you almost anywhere.

End of Liberty Street, Ashland – start of mountain trails

As Bilbo said to Frodo in Lord of the Rings: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

From the top of Liberty Street, as well as from many other streets in Ashland, you can follow trails to the top of Mt. Ashland. If you are really swept off your feet, you could end up walking all the way to Canada or Mexico on the Pacific Crest Trail.

I hope you have enjoyed walking Liberty Street with me.  Stay tuned for the next installment.