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.
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
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.”
“…the audience spontaneously stood as one – and that brought tears to my eyes.”
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.
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.
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.
A river of mosaic tile. Rio Amistad = River of Friendship. Art on the Calle Guanajuato stairway. 29 photos. Artist: Sue Springer. Ashland Public Art series.
“The Rio Amistad project was just the beginning of an important transition toward recognizing the importance of public art in our community.”
Origin of the “Rio Amistad” mosaic
Following the flood of New Year’s Day 1997, the Calle Guanajuato corridor required extensive rebuilding. After years of work, the improved flow of Ashland Creek through downtown reduced (but did not eliminate) the danger of another flood damaging Plaza buildings. The redesign also had the goal of making the new pathways and vegetation more park-like and pedestrian friendly. As the Calle Guanajuato stairway was repaired, a new Calle Guanajuato overlook was built at the top of the stairway on Granite Street, where High Street ends at Granite.
Ashland residents donated public art to the city as long ago as 1910. However, Ashland did not have a formal public art program until 2002, when the Public Arts Commission was created. The commission identified the overlook above Calle Guanajuato as a good spot for an artwork. In 2005, the Rio Amistad mosaic was the first public artwork installed after the creation of the Public Arts Commission.
As she participated in the dialog for what might go there, Sue Springer knew she wanted to incorporate a water theme and also honor Ashland’s sister city relationship with the Mexican city of Guanajuato. In her 2004 proposal for the artwork, she wrote: “I propose creating and installing a ceramic mosaic ‘river’ that would flow through the overlook area in a circular pattern. The ‘creek bed’ itself would be comprised of ceramic mosaic in shades of dark blue to dark grey to represent water.” Her idea was to “honor the natural flora and fauna of Ashland, Oregon and also of Guanajuato, Mexico,” as will be described in more detail below.
Sister Cities: Ashland and Guanajuato
“The visionary behind the ties between the two cities is known in Guanajuato and Ashland as Señora Chela, a professor emerita of foreign languages and literature at Southern Oregon College (now Southern Oregon University—SOU) who saw similarities between the two cities, including impressive mountain settings, rich cultural legacies and top-notch theater.”
Ashland Amigo Club website
The sister cities of Ashland and Guanajuato share much in common. Both are university towns. Founded in 1732, the University of Guanajuato has nearly 34,000 students on multiple campuses within the state of Guanajuato. Southern Oregon University traces its roots to 1872 and currently has about 6,200 students. With student exchange programs between the two campuses since 1969, “more than 1,000 students, faculty members and others have participated in exchange programs and some families have been involved for three generations. More than 80 marriages have united partners from Ashland and Guanajuato.” [SOU 3/26/2019]
Both cities are cultural centers. “Guanajuato’s counterpart to Ashland’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) is the International Cervantes Festival (Festival Internacional Cervantino), an annual three-week celebration that features artists from around the world. The festival is considered one of Latin America’s most important cultural events, just as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is one of the most prestigious regional theaters in the United States.” [Ashland Amigo Club website]
Both cities have a history of downtown flooding. The river that flows through Guanajuato flooded the growing town periodically in the 1700s and 1800s. The solution was a network of tunnels. “The longest of the tunnels, the “Túnel La Galereña”, was originally excavated in the early 19th century to divert the “Rio Guanajuato” (Guanajuato River) that flowed through the heart of the city. The diversion was required during the wet season, around August, as the river commonly swelled and caused significant flooding. The tunnel was blasted out using dynamite, using the skills and expertise mastered during the many years of mining operations. The river diversion prevented flooding in Guanajuato since the construction.” [from guanajuatomexicocity.com]
After dams were built on the Rio Guanajuato in the 1960s, the long tunnels beneath the city were converted to roadways for cars and buses.
The sister city relationship began formally in 1969 with student exchanges between the two universities. Large celebrations were held in both cities in 2019 for the 50th anniversary of the strong sister city bond.
Rio Amistad’s similarity to other Ashland public art
Sue’s proposal reminds me of other public artworks in town. I recently wrote articles about the three public art sculptures on Bandersnatch Trail, located in the Ashland watershed just above Lithia Park. All three honor the flora and fauna of the watershed. Through that theme, they aim to remind trail hikers of the watershed’s value for Ashland’s past, present and future.
This similarity with Rio Amistad’s theme becomes clearer when you learn that Sue Springer, along with Stef Seffinger and Pam Marsh, led the effort to place the Bandersnatch trail sculptures.
Rogue Valley creatures, with a twist
Sue incorporates local Rogue Valley creatures, but with a twist. As she wrote in her proposal, “Appearing intermittently in and along the ‘water’ would be the plants and animals that inhabit the Ashland Creek drainage. The animals and plants would be depicted in the rich tradition of Mexican design, in honor of Ashland’s ties to our sister city, Guanajuato.” Here again is the two-fold concept embodied in this artwork: our relationship with nature and our relationship with our sister city Guanajuato. This concept grew to represent a “river of friendship” – “Rio Amistad” in Spanish, as the artwork was named.
Building the mosaic begins with clay
The first step is making the ceramic tiles, each one hand-made.
The process starts with about 300 pounds of clay mixed with 150 pounds of water in a big industrial mixer. When the clay is the right texture, it gets rolled into slabs. The thickness is critical. Each slab has to be rolled to the right thickness for the project. Since clay shrinks as it dries, that has to be accounted for.
Any detail work or patterns added to the tiles is done on the clay before it dries. With an animal, the design is drawn on paper first, which is laid over the fresh, wet clay. The thin clay is cut into sections following the lines of the drawing. For larger animals or designs, all the pieces are numbered on the back, following a complex system, in order to put them back together in the design later in the process.
For the textured pieces and tiny animals and plants seen in pieces of tile, the design is pressed into damp clay before the first firing.
Heat and more heat – 1,800° and 2,200°
These damp tiles get fired in the kiln for the first time, at about 1,800° F. At this point, when the clay is hard but slightly porous, it is colored or glazed. The glaze base is generally made of silica-alumina.
As a color example, look at the blue “river water” in Rio Amistad. The tiles are darker blue through the center of the “river” and lighter blue towards the edges. Adding cobalt to the glaze gives the color blue in ceramic tiles. The darker blue tiles have more cobalt, the lighter blue tiles have less.
Glazed tiles are fired in the kiln for a second time. This one is an even higher temperature, almost 2,200° F. The second firing brings the color out as the glaze and the clay merge together. It also makes the clay extremely hard and tight (no longer porous). For the larger slabs, you take a hammer to them at this point and break them up.
The finished tiles were organized in the studio, where they made panels of mosaic tiles, each roughly three or four feet in length and width. Within each panel, most of the tiles were attached to tile-setting mesh using thin-set cement. However, in spots where panels met or where tiles curved, tiles were cemented on site. This involved more numbering, mapping and keeping track of hundreds of small pieces!
Here’s what you see
Sue hopes that each time you walk by Rio Amistad, “you will slow down and see something you haven’t seen before.”
Since the flowing lines of the mosaic represent a river, local river animals predominate. The largest animals depicted are herons and steelhead.
Smaller river critters include turtle, snake and salamander. But that’s not all. Sue told me her goal was to engage people, so “we put all sorts of little surprises in it.” This is a busy stairway that people use to walk from Granite Street and north-west of the Plaza into the Plaza and Lithia Park area. Therefore, many people walk by, or even walk right over, the Rio Amistad artwork multiple times each week. With so much detail in the mosaic, Sue hopes that you will stop and see something new each time you walk by.
There is plenty to see as you stop to view the mosaic. It ended up covering about 320 square feet of the overlook. In that 320 square feet, there are hundreds of tiles imprinted with tiny animals, plants and motifs. As she was designing and making the mosaic, she thought, “What is going to have meaning for the people who are going to interact with it?”
Notice the variety of tile colors, shapes, designs and textures. I didn’t realize until talking with Sue that the textured tiles have a purpose other than visual interest. They are scattered throughout the mosaic for safety, to reduce the chance of anyone slipping. Also notice the tiles along the border of the mosaic river. Their design is hand-pressed, based on a classic Mexican water movement motif.
If you have are familiar with Rio Amistad, you may be thinking to yourself, “Why hasn’t he mentioned the frogs?” Here you go. Sue explained, “Those frogs that are in the mosaic, those odd-looking frogs, they are pre-Columbian frogs. Guanajuato is known as ‘the city of frogs.’ They have frogs everywhere.”
The story goes that the name “Guanajuato” comes from an indigenous language that described the area as “hilly place of frogs.” The frogs in Rio Amistad honor the people who lived in the area before the Spanish arrived.
The Rio Amistad team
This was a big tile project, so Sue had three or four people working on it with her. She said, “I had a great crew. I think we had two weeks to set the tiles in site.” Her primary helper for Rio Amistad was Karen Rycheck, who was working for Sue’s company Illahe Tileworks at that time.
Karen was already a talented mosaic artist. According to Sue, she did a huge amount of the work on this project and a few others. In addition, Karen did a lot of the design work for the tile blocks prepared on tabletops at the studio. You will find a link to Karen’s own public artwork in Ashland, called “Water is Life,” at the end of this article.
Dedication on November 4, 2005
It was raining the last few days before dedication was scheduled. The team was on the homestretch of completing the mosaic, but working in the rain slowed everything down. They set up tents and tarps over the work site so they could continue laying tile. Sue laughed as she told me they had to keep pushing the water off the tarps as it collected above them, so it wouldn’t come pouring down on their heads.
Finishing went down to the wire. According to Sue, “We literally were still grouting and trying to clean it up the morning of the dedication. The dedication, as I recall, was at 1:00 in the afternoon. We got it all finished, tarps removed, all cleaned up — just in time. With the dedication planned for 1:00, at about 12:45 the clouds parted and the sun came out. It was perfect timing.”
Sue Springer’s artistic journey
Art was not encouraged in Sue’s family or in her schools as she grew up. Her B.A. college degree was in foreign language and education. Years later when she lived in Portland, she worked a variety of jobs, including restaurant work. It was here that she first took pottery-throwing classes about 1971 and began to experiment with making pottery at home. She learned to love clay. Her passion grew into a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Oregon and a small business that through the years became a larger business.
From 1979 to 1992, her home and studio were in the tiny town of Illahe, Oregon. Illahe is located within the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest about 43 miles up the Rogue River from Gold Beach. The name Illahe “derives from the Chinook Jargon word ilahekh or iliʼi, meaning “land”, “earth” or “country.” [McArthur 2003]
“Illahe” may sound familiar to you, even if haven’t heard of the town. Sue owned Illahe Tileworks in Ashland for about 25 years. For years she owned a tile factory and warehouse on Mistletoe Road. She also opened a showroom and gallery at 4th and B Streets, which my wife and I visited many times to see the beautiful tiles displayed there. In addition to selling custom made tile to high end tile shops nationwide, Illahe Tileworks had public and private art installations throughout the Rogue Valley and Oregon.
In 2015, Sue closed the Illahe Gallery in Ashland so that she could move to Seattle and be closer to her daughters and a grand-daughter who live there. She was also ready to retire from the grueling work of owning and managing a store and factory, while trying to make art a profitable business. Sue described the life of an artist as a constant balancing act, creating the art that you want to create, while also creating art that people want to pay for, so you have money for food, housing, clothing for your children, employee salaries, business rent, workers comp and unemployment insurance, electric bills and so much more.
She has now retired from running a factory, but she has not retired from being creative. Her new work, as of 2020, features whimsical hand built ceramic sculptures that speak to the challenges of our time. If you’d like to see what she is creating now, this page on her website shows many of her new pieces.
Value of public art
“A lot of people think art is not important, it’s just for beautification. I think it says a whole lot more. So my goal is to always listen to my client, which in the case of Rio Amistad was the City of Ashland.”
Created in 2002, Ashland’s Public Arts Commission is relatively young. Rio Amistad was the first installation of the new commission. Sue Springer wrote: “The Rio Amistad project was just the beginning of an important transition toward recognizing the importance of public art in our community. Public art, by its very nature, is artwork created for everyone – from the very young to the very old and everyone in between. It is accessible. And it’s something that everyone in the community can feel ownership in.”
When I talked with Sue, she took the idea of public art way back in time. “Public art reflects the community in a number of different ways. It goes all the way back to cave paintings. People felt the importance of telling stories very early in human civilization.” In late Middle Ages Europe, you could think of gothic churches as public art telling stories of those communities.
Art is most often thought of these days as something people have in their homes, or something that lives in museums. Sue wants us to expand our conception of art to include community. “I think there’s a real value in drawing people together and saying, ‘this is what we are about, this is what we think is important.’ As our culture gets more homogenous, it’s harder to express our specific community stories. Because of this, I always had a practice of going to whatever group commissioned the artwork, whether it be a hospital, a municipality or an organization. I would try to understand what they were about.”
Involving the community in the creation of a piece of public art can help the artwork have more meaning to the community. When Sue led the creation of the “Peace Fence” artwork in front of the public library, it was almost all done by community volunteers, including many elementary school students and their teachers. “I think that if a kid comes in when they’re seven and they see this project being made in their home town, when they grow up and they have kids of their own, that artwork means a lot more to them than if it just appeared out of thin air.”
Good public art connects people with their own memories and with each other. Mosaic art is also about connections, Sue explained. “All these bits of tile are put together to make a whole. My goal is to have someone be able to access the public art, and to have something in that piece mean something to them, beyond ‘it’s a pretty picture.’”
Some comments on designing and building public art
Designing a public artwork involves a lot more than just the art itself. The artist takes the location into account, and so much more. Sue appreciated the help she needed and got from the City of Ashland Public Works staff as she designed and built Rio Amistad. Here are a few of the planning factors Sue described to me.
Freeze-thaw: As described in Sue’s proposal: “The ceramic elements used to create this celebratory art would be designed and fabricated in the Ashland production studio of Illahe Tileworks, and would be made from high fired stoneware clay. This clay has been developed to withstand wide variations in temperature and humidity in exterior locations. It has been specifically tested to withstand the freeze/thaw cycles particular to Ashland.”
Water run-off: Since this mosaic is on the ground, it had to be designed and built so that water would run off of it.
Level ground: You will notice that the mosaic is level with the surrounding sidewalk. The concrete sidewalk construction crew worked with Sue to make that happen. Plywood in the shape of the mosaic was laid over the overlook site’s graded dirt. The concrete sidewalk was poured up to the edge of the plywood, leaving room for the mosaic tiles to be laid flush with the sidewalk.
Earthquake or earth movement:
Concrete naturally expands and contracts over time, especially in an outdoor setting where it gets wet. If ceramic tile were laid directly on top of concrete sidewalk, the cracking of the concrete would cause the attached tile and grout to crack within a few years. An underlayment product called an “uncoupling membrane” stops that from happening. Sue used Ditra brand underlayment for the large Rio Amistad mosaic. She told me, “This photo shows bright orange tile-setting fabric underneath, which keeps everything from shifting in case of earthquake or earth movement.” The design also included an expansion joint, where the mosaic can flex or move when expansion and contraction of the base occurs.
Other artworks by Sue Springer
Sue has a number of artworks in Ashland, including several other mosaics in the city’s public art collection.
One much-loved artwork is the Peace Fence mosaic, a collaborative mosaic installed in front of Ashland Public Library, in which Sue “facilitated other people’s art.”
North Mountain Park is filled with nature, history, and art. Two mosaics at the park show Sue’s commitment to involving the community in creating public art.
“Compass Rose” at North Mountain Park
Compass Rose mosaic is in Ashland’s public art collection, so I will give a brief introduction now, and write a full article about it later. Installed in 2011, Sue designed this colorful story telling mosaic for North Mountain Park. She described it on her website: “The mosaic includes mountains, landmarks and rivers of the surrounding landscape and helps visitors and students alike orient themselves in the natural world.
“A workshop was held at the Nature Center in August of 2011 which allowed community members to make pieces representing plants and animals which were then included in the mosaic.”
Recology Mosaic at North Mountain Park
Recology Ashland hired Sue to create a mosaic that honors recycling efforts in our community. As a result, it is made primarily with recycled materials. This mosaic is a lot of fun to study closely. The round colorful “tiles” are wine bottle bottoms, while other round “tiles” are tin can lids and ends.
The city provided bags of old keys no longer in use. Recology offered old electronics and other recyclables. Sue described old bicycle chains as the “coolest thing ever” when she found a way to incorporate them into the mosaic.
Head on over to North Mountain Park and see what else you can find in the mosaic.
An “art walk” on the Calle Guanajuato stairway
Now take an art walk to the Guanajuato stairway, where you will find Rio Amistad and two other public artworks, Inorganic Compound and Fall Splendor (links to articles below). Read the three articles and then enjoy viewing the three artworks.
Link to the Ashland Public Art Collection web page
Karen Rycheck’s amazing artistic journey. Honoring watershed animals. 29 photos! Artist: Karen Rycheck. Ashland Public Art series.
“In this sculpture, I was trying to make people aware of all the life that is supported by the Ashland watershed; how important it is to keep it clean, not just for our use but also for the wildlife in the area.”
Try the Bandersnatch Trail art walk
“Water is Life” is a dramatic sight as you ascend the Bandersnatch trail from Lithia Park up the hill toward the Siskiyou Mountains. It is the third, largest, and most complex sculpture you will see on this art walk. If you don’t know the Bandersnatch trail, I give instructions to the trail at the end of this article.
“When did you first create art?”
Artist Karen Rycheck replied: “I’d say before pre-school. I started taking art classes when I was five with the local art association. My dad was instrumental in that, because he was an amateur photographer.” In her Oklahoma K – 12 schools, she didn’t get much support for art. For example, the art teacher was a football coach and they had to bring their own art supplies from home.
During her high school years, she thought she would become an architect. Jon Keith Swindell, a professor and mentor at University of Kansas, inspired her to pursue fine art. She also pursued furniture making for a while.
“How did you become a mosaic artist?”
Karen’s response turned into a fascinating story. “I kind of fell into mosaic art,” she told me. “There was a guy in St. Louis who was a sculptor. He was also a real estate mogul, which is how he supported being an artist. He would buy up old buildings, rehab them and flip them. In the process, he bought a 10-story building that had been vacant for a long time.” The photo below shows the 10-story building after he developed it into a museum.
I interrupt the story of Karen’s artistic journey for a brief description of this no-longer-vacant building from the City Museum website: “Housed in the 10-story, 600,000 square-foot warehouse of the International Shoe Company, City Museum is a mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel made out of found and repurposed objects. The brainchild of internationally-acclaimed artist Bob Cassilly, a classically trained sculptor, City Museum opened for visitors in 1997.” I looked at the website and wished I could transport myself to St. Louis to see the astounding place they have created. If you want to see it, including a drone video tour, here is the link: https://www.citymuseum.org
In Karen’s words, “He turned the building into a huge art experience. People started donating materials to him. A large donation came from a ceramic factory in Oklahoma, which donated two full truckloads of tile, seconds from the factory, all different colors and shapes and sizes.” What to do with them? The warehouse floors were cement, like a parking garage. Cassilly decided to mosaic the huge expanses of floors, thousands of square feet. Initially a couple women with some ceramic tile experience began laying the donated tile on the floors, a little each day.
This brings the story back to Karen Rycheck. One day in 1997 she was waiting by the elevator to go to an upper floor and paint the ceiling. Cassilly saw her there and said, “Hey, have you ever done this mosaic thing?” Rycheck replied, “No, but it looks really cool. I’d like to try it.” He said, “Then go over there, where they are laying tile.” And for the next year and a half she laid mosaic tile every day, 8 to 12 hours a day. It was an intense learning-on-the-job experience, and she has loved working with mosaic tile ever since.
That brings us to Karen’s creative mosaic sculpture called Water is Life.
How “Water is Life” was chosen for this site
Karen submitted a design idea to the Watershed Art Group for a sculptural mosaic piece. She highlighted flora and fauna that are present in the Ashland watershed, especially animals and plants that people might not notice. Her proposal was accepted and she built the piece over the next year or so.
“I like to look at the big picture, and also focus on the tiny little critters and plants that we take for granted or don’t even know are there.”
This was only Karen’s second sculptural mosaic artwork! Her first sculptural piece, a reclining nude made in 2010 or 2011, is displayed at Paschal Winery in Talent (and is for sale).
Meaning of the sculpture
I asked Karen about the overall meaning of the Water is Life sculpture. She replied, “I was trying to make people aware of all the life that is supported by the Ashland watershed; how important it is to keep it clean, not just for our use but also for the wildlife in the area. [The watershed] supports a lot of plants and animals, many of which are not found anywhere else in the United States. The Siskiyou region is a really unique area biologically, so protecting the land here is really important.”
Each of the four levels of the sculpture depicts different plants and animals. Let’s learn in Karen Rycheck’s own words what she portrays in each level, starting with the bottom.
Bottom (first) level
“The bottom layer is imagery of the forests and mountains. I moved here from the Midwest, the flatlands. We went to the mountains on family vacations. That’s where my love of the mountains originated, so I wanted to have that as a base.”
The bottom level shows the Ashland watershed’s “greater ecosystem, a forested mountainous area.”
This level honors small, ground-dwelling creatures in the watershed. The small native salamanders live in moist areas near streams. Karen: “They tend to hide out so you’re not likely to see them unless you are looking for them, and that’s one reason I wanted to bring some attention to them. They are dependent on moisture and plant life in the area.”
Notice the variety of plants in the mosaic design around the salamander. Karen took walks in the area where her sculpture was going to be installed. She found local plants to feature. Near the salamander’s head is a small, easily overlooked native flowering plant with tiny purple blooms. Above the salamander is a fern and by its tail another local plant. The green tiles below the salamander represent the mosses in its habitat.
On the other side of the second level is a rough-skinned newt, another animal in the watershed. Karen explained that “They have a pebbly-textured skin, so I found some tile that had a lot of texture to it.” You can see the texture difference in the photo and feel it on the sculpture.
Delightful details — notice the pebbles
Here’s why I like to talk with the artist, when possible. I didn’t notice this detail when I viewed the sculpture. I didn’t even notice this detail as I looked at my photo of the salamander on the second level of the sculpture.
Take a look at the salamander’s front foot. What is it resting on? Those are not mosaic tiles. Those are pebbles that Karen picked up in Ashland Creek! This truly gives her mosaic creation a sense of place.
Again, look for the pebbles in this detail photo from the third level. The third level features fish amidst the flowing multi-colored blue hues of river water. What is below the water, in the real world and in the sculpture? Pebbles in the creek, and from the creek. I love that creative touch. Learning that little detail helps me appreciate the entire piece even more.
More delightful details — notice the plant leaves
Each of the small ceramic tiles needs to be cut to shape. This is much more challenging in a rounded mosaic artwork like Water is Life than in a flat mosaic. Now look closely at the leaves next to the salamander and the newt on the second level. Unlike all of the other tiles, which have smooth edges, many of the leaves have serrated edges.
I asked Karen how she could add that kind of detail to hard ceramic tiles. She explained that most of her tiles with smooth edges are hand cut. However, to create the serrated leaf shapes she needed to use a tile “wet saw,” which has a diamond-encrusted grinding blade. In fact, she had to use different kinds of wet saws to give the leaves their individual details. I haven’t counted the leaves, but that’s a lot of individual serrated leaf creation.
A variety of blue-themed shapes, colors and sizes of tiles make up the flowing stream in which the stylized steelhead or salmon are swimming.
Back to details, notice how many tiles shaped as small scales are on each fish. “Each of those little tiles I shaped like scales was hand cut and then ground on a glass grinder to shape the curve better.” Karen added, “At the time I was doing this, my dad was in the hospital. I would go to the hospital with my tile and my nippers and a clear plastic bag. I would sit there and I would nip the fish scales by his bedside. It was my therapy as I was there with him.”
Fourth (and top) level
This is the level of sky and birds. The Bald eagle is soaring above (and within) a green forest in a blue, cloud-filled sky.
On the other side is a Spotted towhee, a favorite of Karen’s and one of the common birds of the Rogue Valley and Ashland watershed.
How Water is Life was made
I was surprised when Karen told me that the core of each sculptural level was made of 2” or 3” thick insulation foam board laminated together. I had assumed the cores would be made of concrete, but that would have made them much too heavy for a four-level sculpture at this location. The recycled foam board was much lighter than a concrete core would be, and she could hand carve it to just the right boulder shapes. Karen told me insulation foam board is used a lot in creating theater and movie sets.
The ceramic tiles were attached to fiberglass mesh, which was attached to the foam board base with Thinset cement.
Each tile was attached individually, glued on with Thinset, a special type of mortar made for attaching ceramic tile. Early in the process, Karen created drawings and a small model of the sculpture. For the flatter areas of each level, she was able to transfer her drawings to the concrete as a guide for placing the tiles. The curved areas were much more challenging and often required cutting tile pieces smaller to make them fit.
You can see four real rocks in between the mosaic “boulder” layers. She got these rocks at Leave Your Mark in Phoenix. They were kind enough to drill holes through the rocks for her. A long steel rod holds the levels together and anchors them to the concrete base.
The levels of Water is Life were assembled on site with the help of Parks Department staff. Karen is very grateful for their help!
Water is Life dedication
A dedication had been planned for early 2018, but it was rained out. Karen laughed as she told me a few people showed up anyway, so there was an informal ceremony in the rain. Except that Karen wasn’t there because she had been told it was cancelled!
Fortunately, later there was a formal dedication on a sunny day in September 2018. It was held the same day as the dedication of the nearby sculpture “Elevation,” by Cheryl Garcia.
Other artwork by Karen Rycheck
“I love public art. I love the idea of art being free to everybody. I know that there are a lot of people who never get to go to museums, so I like that they can live with it in their community.”
Karen makes both private commissions and public artworks. As you can tell from the quote above, she loves to create public art, especially in collaboration with others. See examples below of both public and private pieces she has created.
Talent Bee City U.S.A. mosaic
Karen initiated and designed this stunning 32′ long mosaic for the City of Talent, Oregon. This mosaic flower garden was once a blank cement wall at the base of a stage that is used for music during the Harvest Festival and other gatherings. Karen told me, “People sat there facing the blank wall and I thought it needed to be brightened up.”
She took her idea to the Talent Public Arts Committee, which loved it of course. They presented it to the Talent City Council, where it was approved.
Karen explained the purpose behind this mosaic. “We tried to focus on plants that were host plants for pollinators in the valley, some native, some non-native. We wanted it to be educational, so people could see what kinds of flowers people could plant in their yards to attract pollinators. It’s around the corner from the Pollinator Garden in front of Talent’s City Hall building.”
This is truly “public art,” as over 100 community members worked on the mosaic with her. Following training by Karen, the individual flowers were initially laid out on fiberglass mesh by many different people. Then Karen put them together in the overall design. The mosaic was dedicated on June 22, 2019 after about a year and a half of community creativity.
“Home of the year” in St. louis
In the year 2000, this house won the “Home of the Year” award given by St. Louis Homes + Lifestyles magazine. All it takes is a brief glance to see how stunning it is. Using plaster, Karen crafted the snake that surrounds the kitchen entry. Wow! Those are seashells circling the snake.
Karen, Red Keel and one other woman designed and laid the ceramic tile on the floor, kitchen countertops and backsplash. Following the nature and ocean theme, the floor mosaic is a huge squid.
“mosaic marathon” healthcare mosaic
This mosaic was created during an Ashland conference put on by the Contemporary Mosaic Artists organization in 2015. Karen designed it, but it was put together by attendees of the conference during a “mosaic marathon.”
Tiles for this project were provided by a Los Angeles group called “Piece by Piece.” Karen worked closely with Dawn Mendelson, the Managing Director of the organization. Since 2007, their mission has been to “provide low-income and formerly homeless people free mosaic art workshops using recycled materials to develop marketable skills, self-confidence, earned income and an improved quality of life.” I looked at their website and was very impressed. Here is a link if you’d like to learn more. https://www.piecebypiece.org
This circular mosaic hangs at La Clinica Wellness Center in Medford. When Karen told me that, I immediately thought of Jeremy Criswell and his mentor Lilli Ann Rosenberg. Mosaic artworks by Jeremy and Lilli Ann are also in La Clinica buildings. At the end of this article, you will find a link to the article about Pacific Fisher, Jeremy’s public art sculpture that is also on the Bandersnatch trail.
How to find “Water is Life” on the Bandersnatch trail
Just above Lithia Park, the Bandersnatch trail is one of the easiest Ashland trails to access. It begins near the swimming hole on Ashland Creek. If you are driving or biking, take Granite Street south to the swimming hole, then turn left on Glenview Drive.
After a short distance, you’ll see a parking area on the right that can accommodate about eight cars, followed by a larger parking area on the left. If you are in a car, park here.
Near the smaller parking area is a sign that says, “Waterline Trail” and “To Bandersnatch Trail 820′.”
Keep an eye out for mountain bikers zooming by in this section of the trail because this section is a multi-use trail. When you reach the Bandersnatch trail, it will be only for pedestrians and equestrians.
You’ll know you are heading the right way if you pass this gate and sign.
You will reach the Elevation sculpture about 1/10 of a mile from the parking lot, while you are still on the Waterline trail. Next to Elevation is another sign pointing to the beginning of the Bandersnatch trail.
When you see the Bandersnatch trail sign, head uphill a short distance to see the other two sculptures on this art walk: Pacific Fisher and Water is Life.
Built in 2012 for walkers and equestrians, Bandersnatch trail is 1.7 miles long and intersects multiple trails, so you can hike in a loop or just go straight up and back.
Ashland Public Art series – Links to other articles
The house that moved one block. How can Liberty Street start and end at Siskiyou? Two Little Free Libraries…and ending with humor.
This is a greatly expanded version of my April 2018 Liberty Street article. 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.
You might have wondered why this tiny, triangular park is here. Marjorie O’Harra in her book gave credit to Ashland’s newly formed Woman’s Civic Improvement Club. Formed in April 1908, this large group was described by the Ashland Tidings at the time as promoting “civic improvement agitation.” That agitation led to the creation of Lithia Park, among other accomplishments. But that is another story.
According to O’Harra, here is the Triangle Park story: “When the Temple of Truth Society announced plans to build a structure on Siskiyou Boulevard — on a triangle lot between Beach and Liberty Streets — the ladies believed such a building would ruin the view from the homes on Iowa Street, so they bought the land for $550 and developed it into a park.”
The Temple of Truth Society ended up building its church in 1909 or 1910 on Siskiyou Boulevard, where the expanded Fire Station #1 is now located.
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.
2-story camellia 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, taken in April 2018.
Houses historic and modern
According to the National Register description of historic properties in Ashland, “the Whitaker house [at 285 Liberty Street] is a fine example of the bungalow style, with the shallow pitched roof, broad eaves, large porch, massive posts and brackets and other elements of the style.”
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, at its peak in early April. 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, during the first 15 years I lived in Ashland, the deer did not touch the Hypericum or Star jasmine in my front yard. Now they eat both, and I have even seen them nibble on ivy! 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.)
The City of Ashland has a map of Little Free Libraries in town. It shows the locations of 14. I think there are many more than that. Just in April 2020, I have seen two new Little Free Libraries as I walk around town.
Though this house is not set far back from the street, the dense vegetation gives it a secluded feel. I especially like the entry arbor and vines.
This house moved one block
John and Artemisia Easterling moved from Kentucky to Ashland in 1903. During the next few years, he bought and sold properties and businesses around town, especially in the Railroad District. In 1909, the family bought an orchard with a home on Beach Street. They lived there until 1925, when they sold the property to the school district for construction of Lincoln Elementary School. This was to be a training school for teachers educated at nearby Southern Oregon Normal School (now Southern Oregon University), which reopened in 1926.
The Easterlings then purchased a lot one block over on Liberty Street and decided to move their Beach Street house to the new location. Easterling was known as a wheeler-and-dealer. He decided to upgrade his house when it was moved. He found a college building that was being demolished and purchased the columned porch of the building. You can still see it at the front of this Liberty Street home.
I met homeowner Bill Quassia as I was taking a photo of his historic 1921 house at 390 Liberty Street. It was in bad shape when he got the house, so he had to do major work on parts of the ceilings and floors. In the older part of the house, he was able to keep the original wood floors and original horsehair-infused plaster interior walls. Yes…horsehair. One hundred years ago, hair from the mane and tail of horses was used in making plaster for walls. These long, strong horsehair fibers provided strength and stability to the plaster.
A previous owner of the house, Louise Antz, moved to Ashland from New York. She had been the Chair of the Department of Education at New York University. According to Bill, she realized her dream of “living out West” when she retired from teaching. She is the one who enclosed the old porch. Doing so created a hothouse room for growing orchids and other tropical flowers.
Look closely at the 1972 photo above that I am holding in my hand. Do you see the variegated-color window shades behind the two ladies? Now look at the blinds on the current porch, just above the 1972 photo. If they look similar, that’s because they are the same blinds! As with the photo, Bill found them in the old barn/garage behind the house as he went through boxes of possessions Louise Antz had left behind.
Can you see the tree?
This made my jaw drop, so I want to share it with you. As we were standing out in the front yard, Bill pulled the photo above from the box of old photos Louise Antz had left in the house. He had me look at the tiny tree just behind the man with his shirt off. I thought to myself, “okay, that doesn’t look like much.”
Then Bill said, “Look at that,” as he pointed to a nearby tree. “What!,” I exclaimed as I put two and two together and realized the connection. Take a look at the photo below and see if you make the connection.
I expect you figured it out by now. That is the same tree! It is now 50 years old, very tall and very healthy.
More dramatic trees
Liberty St is home to two other trees that caught my eye. The first, at 391 Liberty Street (the house moved from Beach Street), was 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 was a majestic Blue Atlas Cedar. My photo through the electric wires doesn’t do it justice. I hope you will see it for yourself.
The other tree, toward the top of Liberty, is a very unusual Ponderosa pine. Most Ponderosa pines I see are 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.
More contrasting architecture
Ascending Liberty Street, I took photos of houses with contrasting architectural styles, showing the variety of houses on Liberty.
If you like traditional, here is one of the original farm houses on Liberty Street, built in 1886.
If you prefer modern, you might like to view this one on the 600 block.
“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.
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.
Thank you for reading all the way to the end. If you are not already a subscriber and would like to be notified each time I publish a new article, please write your email address where it says “Subscribe to our Newsletter.” That will be at the top right if you are reading this on a computer screen, or below the article if you are reading this on a mobile phone.
Now follow this trail to a ghost story
There is a connection between 391 Liberty Street and another article I wrote. John Easterling, who moved his house from Beach Street to 391 Liberty Street, also owned the Peerless Rooms on 4th Street from 1904 to 1908. I wrote an article about the ghost of the Peerless: “Mystery of the Peerless Hotel Marbles.” I think you will enjoy it.
Enders, John. Lithia Park Centennial 1916 – 2019: The Heart and Soul of Ashland, Ashland Parks Foundation, 2016. National Register of Historic Places, Siskiyou-Hargadine Historic District, September 14, 2002. O’Harra, Marjorie. Ashland: the first 130 years, Northwest Passages Publishing Inc. 1986.
My wife Kathy and I walked Greenmeadows Way on a cool January afternoon. The sun occasionally peaked out through the clouds and smiled on us, as did some of the neighbors we met during our walk.
Greenmeadows Way is the heart of a late 1970s to early 1980s housing development in South Ashland known as the Mountain Ranch subdivision. There are 74 houses in the neighborhood association.
Walking Greenmeadows, we chanced upon Margaret (Peggy) Evans and her sister Barbara, who were out walking Peggy’s dog “Jack.” If you enjoy organ music, keep an eye out for the name Peggy Evans. She has performed organ recitals throughout the United States, and still occasionally performs organ recitals locally.
If you have attended or worked at Southern Oregon University, you may recognize the name Margaret (Peggy) Evans. She is an SOU Professor of Music Emerita and still teaches organ. She has taught for decades at the SOU Music Department. She now also teaches music in the OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) program. Peggy was the Music Department chair years ago when my wife was office manager for the Music Department, so they had lots of catching up to do as we strolled the street.
Peggy and Barbara explained to us that every house in the neighborhood is connected, along its back yard or side yard, with a comprehensive network of paths.
In addition, there actually is a neighborhood “green meadow.” Like the paths, it is private property of the Mountain Ranch neighborhood association. However, they are flexible with others walking the paths as long as people are quiet and respectful.
What are these?
Let’s start our walk
Greenmeadows Way can be accessed from either Tolman Creek Road or Bellview Avenue. Let’s start our walk at Tolman Creek Road. The pretty house at the corner, 2398 Tolman Creek Road, first looked to me like one of Ashland’s historic houses. It turns out it was built in 1972. The Italianate architectural details lend it a historic look. It brings to my mind several well-preserved Ashland homes from the late 1800s that contain Italianate elements. These include the McCall House on Oak Street and the Coolidge House on North Main Street.
Toward this end of Greenmeadows Way, I saw for the first time a yard sign I have noticed in other yards around town since then. Unlike the most common yard sign in Ashland, which emphasizes “Love Wins,” this one counters with “Truth Wins.” A house across the street hosted a “Love Wins” sign, so here are photos of both.
Heather for January garden color
Because we walked here in January, I could not capture the yards and trees in their flowering glory. However, the heather was glorious. Here it is.
Greenmeadows Way contains examples of sculptural, artistic and whimsical yard art, all of it enjoyable.
Artistic rock work, a surprise, and your answer to the “What is this?” question
I was admiring the rock work at 1090 Greenmeadows Way, when I spotted the owner out front talking with one of his friends. I got brave, introduced myself, and discovered that he is a man of many talents.
Jeff Yockers and his wife created this beautiful yard. On one side of the corner house is a 40-year-old Weeping blue atlas cedar. The trunk, which is hidden by the cascading branches and leaves, is nearly a foot in diameter. I like the rockwork in front of the Weeping cedar, and I like even more the rock “waterfall” on the other side of the cedar.
Jeff also does some lovely wood carving. It began due to nearby forest thinning to reduce wildfire risk. When a Lomakatsi crew was thinning the nearby forest, Jeff asked for and received several twisting madrone branches from them.
He carved the two chili peppers in the yard from these branches. The two in the yard are painted – chili pepper colors, of course. When I told Jeff they are lovely – but – I wish I could see the grain of the wood, he replied “Just a minute.” He popped into his house and emerged with an even more beautifully carved madrone wood chili pepper that has just a light stain to bring out the grain of the wood. This piece has a place of honor in his living room, and rightfully so.
I will end the article with a little history, and a useful tip for Ashland trail walkers.
Greenmeadows Way and the three cross streets were built by Mountain Ranch Development Company, a partnership between developers Vincent Oredson and John D. Todd. As mentioned in the beginning, housing construction here began around 1976 and continued through the mid-1980s.
In 1983, Oredson and Todd donated 10 acres of land adjacent to their subdivision to the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy. The Land Conservancy website says: “The Oredson-Todd Woods was designated to be a natural area for public use. Several years later, SOLC donated the Woods to the City of Ashland, where it was joined with other city-owned land [Siskiyou Mountain Park] to make up these two forested parks, comprised of 300 acres and used by hundreds of outdoor enthusiasts today.”
The Northwest Nature Shop “Best Trails in Ashland” page describes how you can access Oredson-Todd Woods and the trail system from the Greenmeadows Way neighborhood. “There are several places to access these trails. The most straightforward is off Greenmeadows Way. Go south on Siskiyou, turn right on Tolman, then right on Greenmeadows Way. Turn left on Lupine and there is parking area on the right. Park and follow the signs. It is thickly forested with a canyon and small creek running through the canyon.”
If you walk this trail, you might like to refer to an online brochure from Southern Oregon Land Conservancy that shows photos of winter birds you could see along the way. Here is the link.
Thank you for joining me on the Greenmeadows Way walk. In this stressful time, you might enjoy reading my article about the anti-stress (and other) health benefits of walking.
This brochure from Southern Oregon Land Conservancy shows photos of winter birds in Oredson-Todd Woods & Siskiyou Mountain Park. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/565cf1d6e4b0df45d8c1bb69/t/5879737820099e5ef220ad50/1484354429348/Bird+Brochure+Winter2014.pdf
Comprehensive list of birds that can be found in Oredson-Todd Woods & Siskiyou Mountain Park in each season of the year. No photos, just names. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/565cf1d6e4b0df45d8c1bb69/t/57928dd3b8a79bdfd1450f29/1469222355337/OTW_SMP_birds_Web_NewLogo.pdf
The Northwest Nature Shop “Best Trails in Ashland” page: https://www.northwestnatureshop.com/things-to-do/hiking-biking-and-running-trails/the-best-trails-in-ashland-for-hiking-biking-and-running
Who was the first U.S. President to visit Ashland? When did Ashland get its first shopping mall? Which Shakespeare play was first performed by Oregon Shakespeare Festival?
First Church and First Church Building
Beginning in 1864, fourteen Methodist families began to meet in their Ashland homes. They ambitiously began raising money for both a church building and a college.
The original First Methodist Church building first hosted services in 1877, at the corner of North Main Street and Laurel Street. After a windstorm toppled the steeple in 1904, a sturdier church was built on the foundations of the original, and opened its doors in 1908. That is the church you still see today.
Ashland library can be traced to December 1879, when the Ashland Library and Reading Room Association was created – by women of the community of course. They were able to collect donations of 200 books. In 1891, they got “serious” and created the new Library Association with dues of $1 each per year.
By January 1, 1900, the library had 1,200 books and a dedicated room in city hall that was open for reading each Saturday afternoon.
In 1909, thirty years after the first library association was formed, Ashlanders received word that the Andrew Carnegie’s foundation would donate $15,000 toward building an Ashland library. The building was dedicated in 1912. It’s still there at the corner of Siskiyou Blvd. and Gresham Street. The Carnegie Foundation funded 1,687 public libraries in USA, 31 of them in Oregon between 1901 and 1915. Of the 31 in Oregon, only 11 are still operating as libraries. Ashland’s library is one of those 11.
The small 1912 Carnegie library building served Ashland until the 1950s, when an extension was built in the rear and the Gresham room was built in the basement level. A much larger expansion took place in 2003, yielding the library we see today.
First Presidential Visit
On September 28, 1880, as stagecoach full of VIPs rolled into Ashland. Very, very important people…the President of the United States Rutherford B. Hayes, the First Lady, and Civil War hero General Sherman. The Ashland Tidings estimated 2,000 people gathered in the Plaza to greet the President. It is certainly possible that among the crowd were all 854 residents of Ashland, from the youngest to the oldest.
According to O’Harra, four young girls presented the President and First Lady a selection of Ashland’s agricultural bounty: peaches, pears, apples, plums, grapes, blackberries, almonds and figs! [O’Harra 1986]
Rutherford B. Hayes was President of the United States from 1877 to 1881. This photo was taken between 1870 and 1880. (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Lucy Webb Hayes was First Lady, wife of President Hayes. This photo was taken between 1870 and 1880. (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
William Tecumseh Sherman was a famous Union army Civil War General. This photo was taken between 1865 and 1880. (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Henry Beach Carter was a pioneer farmer in Iowa as a young man. Retiring from the farm, he opened a general store in Elkader, and in 1871 established the First National Bank of Elkader, Iowa. When he and his family moved to Ashland in 1884, he duplicated the feat by cofounding the Bank of Ashland.
The Bank of Ashland building at 15 North Main Street on the Plaza is still there, now the home of Tree House Books. Bank of Ashland was the only bank in town until 1909, and finally went out of business in 1939.
As a side note, I live on Beach Street, named after Ashland pioneer Henry Beach Carter. How many people have a street named after their middle name? Not many, I would guess.
First City Park
Ashland’s first park was probably the 7 ½ acre Chautauqua Park. It was located on land that was purchased in June 1893, after the first Chautauqua meeting in Southern Oregon was moved at the last minute from Central Point to Ashland. The national Chautauqua meetings were one to two week summer program of educational lectures, musical performances, sermons and more. This fit in with Ashland citizens’ strong commitment to education.
Talk about “last minute” – the domed structure large enough to seat 1,000 people was built in only one week, and was completed just one day before the 1893 Chautauqua opened! The last summer for the Chautauqua festival in Ashland was probably 1924.
You may have heard that the concrete foundation of the 1917 Chautauqua building was incorporated into Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Allen Elizabethan Theater.
You may be familiar with the Butler-Perozzi Fountain in Lithia Park. It is named partly for Domingo Perozzi, who in 1895 founded the first creamery in Ashland, located where you’ll now find the winter skating rink on Winburn Way. This was also the first creamery in the entire Jackson County. As a result, his Ashland Creamery thrived, and Perozzi donated funds along with Gwin Butler to purchase the fountain for the 1916 grand opening of Lithia Park. Butler and Perozzi bought the fountain, carved from Verona marble by Italian sculptor Antonio Forilli, at the close of the 1915 San Francisco Pan-Pacific Exposition.
First Hospital – is it #1 or #2?
#1: In late 1907, the Fordyce-Roper house on East Main Street was converted into a small hospital. Sadly, it was badly damaged by fire in March 1909, though all patients got out safely.
As the house was being repaired, citizens discussed the need for a larger and more modern hospital. (Side-note: If you want to see the Fordyce-Roper house now, you won’t find it on East Main Street. You will find it if you walk up to the top of 2nd Street, and look to your right at the Winchester Inn. In 1910, the entire house was moved up the steep street by the power of one horse! But that’s a story for another time.)
#2: In 1910, the brand new two-story, eighteen-room Granite City Hospital was built. This was a “real” hospital. Designed by noted Southern Oregon architect Frank Clark, it occupied the current site of SOU’s Stevenson Union.
First “Shopping Mall”
Henry Enders Sr. and family moved to Ashland from Boise, Idaho in 1907. In Idaho, Enders had owned a department store. In Ashland, he built in 1910 what you could call the first shopping mall in Southern Oregon. The Enders Building is located on East Main Street between 1st Street and 2nd Street. The entire group of stores was connected with interior doors, so people could walk from one to another without going outside. Sounds like a shopping mall!
According to Henry Enders Jr.: “Well, we had everything! We had men’s clothing, furnishings, men’s and ladies’ shoes, ladies’ ready-to-wear, ladies’ dry good and piece goods, a fifteen cent store, a music store, a confectionary, hardware and sporting goods and a grocery store.” [page 2, History of Ashland Oregon, 1977, as told to Morgan Cottle]
Enders’ shops were popular with more than just Ashland residents. In the 1910s and 1920s, people from other towns would arrive in Ashland on a morning train, spend the day shopping in the Enders shops and seeing the sights of Ashland, and then go home on an afternoon or evening train. Some even stayed overnight at the Columbia Hotel above Enders’ shops, which is still in business at the same location after 110 years.
First Shakespeare Plays
Angus Bowmer moved to Ashland in 1931 to be an English professor at Southern Oregon Normal School. The expanded 1917 Chautauqua dome had been torn down in 1933, but its concrete foundation walls remained. As described on the Oregon Shakespeare Theater’s website, Bowmer “was struck by the resemblance between the Chautauqua walls and some sketches he had seen of Elizabethan theatres.” And today, “The Chautauqua walls remain standing; covered with ivy, they surround the Allen Elizabethan Theatre….”
Bowmer talked the city into supporting the production of two Shakespeare plays as part of Ashland’s 1935 4th of July holiday celebrations. The city gave him money (“not to exceed $400”) and state funds helped get the stage built. However, the city insisted that afternoon boxing matches be held on the stage as a way to bring in patrons and income.
Bowmer directed and starred in Twelfth Night on July 2 (the first play), Merchant of Venice on July 3, and Twelfth Night again on July 4. To the surprise of non-theater-lovers, income from the many patrons of the evening Shakespeare plays covered losses from the boxing matches.
I hope you have enjoyed this series of brief vignettes of Ashland history “firsts.”
Here is a link to Part 1 of the series:
Here is a link to Part 2 of the series:
As part of his contribution to building community, Peter Finkle is walking every street in Ashland and writing an article with photos about every street. Please subscribe with your email address, and you will be notified each time a new article is published.
Anon. Portrait and Biographical Record of Western Oregon: Containing Original Sketches of many well known Citizens of the Past and Present, Chapman Publishing Company, Chicago, 1904. Ashland Daily Tidings, February 26, 1927. Atwood, Kay. Jackson County Conversations, Jackson County Intermediate Education District, 1975. Atwood, Kay. Mill Creek Journal: Ashland, Oregon 1850 – 1860, self-published 1987. Enders, John. Lithia Park: The Heart & Soul of Ashland, 2016. Green, Giles. A Heritage of Loyalty: The History of the Ashland, Oregon, Public Schools, School District No. 5, 1966. LaLande, Jeff. from The Oregon Enyclopedia, https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/ashland/#.XdYMxi2ZM2I Lewis, Raymond (possibly), “Abel D. Helman, Founder of Ashland,” Table Rock Sentinel, October 1981 (Southern Oregon Historical Society). O’Harra, Marjorie. Ashland: the first 130 years, Northwest Passages Publishing Inc. 1986. Oregon Shakespeare Festival website. https://www.osfashland.org/en/company/our-history.aspx (accessed 1/22/2020) Ott, Katherine. History of the Ashland Public Library, 1938 (8 pages).
On a chilly blue-sky day in February, my wife and I walked Kestrel Parkway in the North Mountain neighborhood with one of the “locals.” Sherri Morgan, who showed us around, lives near Kestrel. I met Sherri when she gave an informative talk about fertilizing plants to the Ashland Garden Club. If you enjoy gardening, think about joining the club. Learn more here.
The ‘front yard’ is Bear Creek
It’s quite a spot. The top photo shows the view from a front yard along Kestrel Parkway. To take the photo just above, my wife and I walked across the lawn shown on the top photo, and found a bench along Bear Creek. Had it been a summer day, I may have lingered there for an hour. With the temperature about 40 degrees, I only managed five minutes or so of lingering.
Kestrel Parkway is only two blocks long right now. It is currently being extended. Towards the end of the article you will see a photo of the road under construction. This North Mountain neighborhood is on the opposite side of North Mountain Avenue from the Mountain Meadows retirement community. Quite new, it has been gradually built up through the past 20 years, with several areas still to be developed.
I enjoy finding creative, lovely or whimsical yard art during my walks around Ashland. This looks like it could be a Quan Yin (or Guanyin) statue, symbolizing the Buddhist goddess of compassion. In the photo below, it looks like angels are visiting the house.
This circular brick work brightens the intersection of Kestrel Parkway and Fair Oaks Avenue. It provides a feel-good moment as you walk or drive through this intersection.
I see many dark green houses as I explore Ashland, but rarely do I see a bright green house. This one really works for me, especially in this setting.
Kestrel Parkway is only two blocks long right now, but it looks like it will be a block or two longer by the end of 2020. Fifteen small “cottages” with solar panels on the roofs are planned to be built in this area.
Taken from the Bear Creek riparian area up Fair Oaks Avenue, this photo gives a sense of the current North Mountain neighborhood.
I will leave you with another look at Bear Creek very near the Kestrel Parkway homes, as the creek flows north towards Talent, Phoenix and Medford.
As part of his contribution to building community, Peter Finkle is walking every street in Ashland and writing an article with photos about every street. Please subscribe with your email address, and you will be notified each time a new article is published.
How did a 3-year-old help start Ashland School District No. 5? Which Presidential candidate did Ashlanders vote for in 1860? What year was the Ashland Tidings newspaper founded? How many name changes has SOU had in its first 148 years?
Part 1 began with a brief introduction to a Native American village where Lithia Park is now located, as described by some of the first Americans who settled in Ashland. Part 1 ended with a description of the first formal schooling in Ashland. Classes began October 3, 1854 with a handful of children in the home of Eber Emery.
To begin Part 2, let’s pick up that story three years later with another surprising school story.
First Ashland School District
Three years after a handful of students began meeting for school in Eber Emery’s house, locals decided to organize a formal school district. This would enable Ashland to receive public funds to help with school expenses. Here’s how Marjorie O’Harra described what happened. “An enrollment of thirteen children was necessary to establish the district…. After a thorough scouring of the community only twelve children could be found. Pioneers being resourceful folks, three-year-old John Helman was pressed into service and School District No. 5 came into being.”
I guess you could say that John Helman was “small but mighty” with his power to bring School District No. 5 into being!
First Post Office
In the first three years of the tiny community, a local resident had to travel to Jacksonville’s post office once a week to get mail for Ashland, and then people picked up their mail in Abel and Martha Helman’s kitchen.
Ashland graduated to an official Post Office in 1855. Mail still came only once a week, but the post “office” moved from Helman’s kitchen to the Ashland Flour Mill office. Abel Helman was Postmaster of Ashland for the first 27 years of the local Post Office.
First School Building
Ashland citizens built the first dedicated school house in 1860. About 18 students attended regularly, not many more than the 13 students enrolled back in 1857. In this photo, the students are with blind music instructor Professor Rutan, in front of the first school building.
First Ashland Presidential Election
“Ashlanders voted for Lincoln in 1860, while the remainder of the region strongly supported the pro-slavery candidate, and the town remained a dependably Republican island in a Democratic sea for decades thereafter.” [quote from LaLande, Oregon Encyclopedia]
First Residential Streets
Ashland’s first known map, drawn in 1860, showed the Plaza and one street, called “Street!” This one street was actually the Jacksonville-to-Yreka stage road.
By the time of B.F. Myer’s 1867 official map, Ashland had grown. Not only was the stage road through town now called “Stage Road,” but also there were nine residential streets shown on the map! The streets radiated out from the Ashland Plaza, and about four blocks west along what is now North Main Street. From East to West, the street names are Oak Street, Water Street, Granite Street, Church Street, Pine Street, Bush Street, Laurel Street, Manzanita Street and Factory Street (now Central Avenue).
Creating a college was a vision of Southern Oregon Methodists, which got a boost in 1869 when a Methodist conference was held in Ashland. Reverend Joseph H. Skidmore made it a reality in 1872. He used his carpentry skills to finish a half-built structure, then opened Ashland Academy for training teachers in the new building. After failing financially and then opening again in 1882, the renamed Ashland College and Normal School had 42 students and 4 teachers. At that time, it was located at what is now the Briscoe School site on North Main Street.
Today, after a total of 10 name changes (!), Southern Oregon University has 6,000 students on a 175 acre campus and is one of the jewels of Ashland.
First Fraternal Organization
Fraternal organizations were an important part of community life in frontier America. In Ashland, the first fraternal organization was formed in 1873 — Ashland Lodge No. 45 of the International Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.).
After the Plaza fire of March 11, 1879, the Odd Fellows built a two-story structure with local bricks. To this day, their brick building anchors the corner of the Plaza, and still proudly identifies itself with “I.O.O.F. 1879” visible at the top of the building.
June 17, 1876 marked the day Ashland residents got their own newspaper, the Ashland Tidings. Before that, they got their news from Jacksonville newspapers. It began as a weekly paper and became a twice-weekly by 1896. Becoming a daily paper in 1912, the name was changed to the Ashland Daily Tidings. And what is the name now? Once again, it is the Ashland Tidings as of 2019. For a small-circulation newspaper in a small town, it is amazing that the Tidings has been able to survive for 144 years!
First City Band
According to the Ashland City Band website, an Ashland Brass Band came into being in 1876. It quotes the April 14, 1877 issue of the Ashland Tidings: “The article, about a musical program given at the Ashland Academy, ends with, ‘We cannot omit to mention the Ashland Brass Band whose valuable services were tendered without charge and enlivened the occasion with many pieces of music.’” Now the Ashland City Band, our community band has had four (and possibly six) names in the past 144 years.
The band became more prominent in town after 1890, when Otis Helman was named the conductor. Helman had attended and graduated from the Chicago School of Music, so he raised the quality of the music. Under Helman, this band was also known as the “Helman Red Suit Band.”
The city band has marched in Ashland parades for more than 100 years. Even today, the Ashland City Band leads the 4th of July parade, immediately after the Color Guard.