Ashland Streetscape and Hills: Senior Project Public Art

How Ashland High senior project became public art!
Downtown on Enders Alley.
Artist: Nicole (Nick) Shulters.
Ashland Public Art series.

“A lot of people have their high school senior project, and it’s like, one and done. You don’t really think about it again. But this is something that will be on the wall for a very long time. It’s pretty cool to have left my mark, so to speak, on the place that raised me.” 

Nicole (Nick) Shulters

What inspired this artwork?

As Nicole (called Nick) and her father Dan walked to the Bloomsbury Coffee Shop from his Dan’s Shoe Repair shop on Second Street back in 2011, they took the shortcut along Enders Alley. She was a senior at Ashland High School, struggling to come up with an idea for her senior project, a 100-hour-plus educational commitment. Her father looked at the “grungy looking wall” on the alley side of his shop and said, “Why don’t you do a painting on here for your senior project?” 

Ashland Streetscape and Hills, public art
Nick was painting blocks of color on June 20, 2012. (photo by Dan Shulters)

Why Nick said “Yes” to her father’s idea

Nick told me that she was motivated and inspired by Ashland High School art teacher Mark Schoenleber. As she put it, “I was really into art at the time, partly because Mr. Schoenleber created a really positive, uplifting environment that made you want to be around, even if you weren’t necessarily ‘artistic.'” So much so that she took nearly a dozen art classes from him during her high school years. She laughed as she explained that art was one of the few classes that students were allowed to repeat at Ashland High and she took advantage of that.

She loved creating art and decided it would make an interesting and enjoyable senior project. Little did she know what she was getting into.

A “nick of time” story about the shop

Dan’s Shoe Repair opened here in 2003, when Dan Shulters moved from Corvallis to Ashland. The shoe repair shop is now run by Jerry Carpenter under the name Ye Olde Cobbler Shoppe. Jerry co-owned a cobbler shop for many years in the Midwest, but had to leave the partnership. Not long after, on a below-freezing spring day, he complained to his sister about the 10-degree temperature and said he wanted to live somewhere warmer. Five minutes later, his sister called him back to say she looked online and found Dan’s Shoe Repair listed to be given for free in a small town in Oregon. Jerry told me he looked up the temperature in Ashland that day and it was 70 degrees! That convinced him to check it out. He flew out to Ashland, clicked with Alise and Dan, and bought the lease and equipment for $50.00 a couple days later (just three days before everything would have been taken to the dump!). It was a WIN-WIN, plus it kept Alise and Dan from losing their reputations and breaking their lease.  Jerry enjoys his new shoe repair business in Ashland. Selling the shop allowed Dan and Alise, who moved to Malawi in May 2018, to return on time. Dan’s story is described in brief at the end of this article.

The original brick building now has a less than perfect stucco exterior. When it was painted a few years ago, Dan decided to leave some of the exposed brick visible. To me, that choice adds to the charm of the exterior.  

Exposed brick at the former Dan’s Shoe Repair shop, now Ye Olde Cobbler Shoppe. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Nick’s learning experience with the Public Arts Commission (PAC)

“A lot of people don’t realize the process you have to go through to get something like this approved.” 

Nicole (Nick) Shulters

As a high school senior ending her 12 years of compulsory schooling, Nick thought she had chosen a relatively easy senior project. She loved art. She knew how to paint. She had a good spot to paint a mural, not too small and not too large, about 230 square feet.

“What ended up being painted on the wall was very different than the original design that I presented to the Arts Commission,” Nick told me. She had been doodling and sketching San Francisco style skylines, probably because she dreamed of going to college there after growing up in the small town of Ashland. She also incorporated bright colors and abstract elements within the initial design ideas, similar to her illustration shown below.

Ashland Streetscape and Hills, public art
This illustration is similar to the early ones Nick created for Ashland Streetscape and Hills. (photo by Dan Shulters)

PAC meeting September 2011

Everything changed when she attended the Public Arts Commission (PAC) meeting on September 16, 2011. She began to learn how different public art is than art created for oneself or for a private client. After she presented her idea to the commission, PAC asked her to prepare all of the following information and come back to their October 2011 meeting. From the minutes:

  1. “Square footage and demarcation of the wall.
  2. Wall texture and condition and how you intend to prepare the wall for paint (wall prep, priming etc.).
  3. How you will physically execute the painting e.g. scaffolding, lift requirements, placement of orange cones, caution signage for vehicles and pedestrians etc. How much space will you need from the wall into the alley? The City will need to know this information to determine if the alley should be closed to vehicles, for safety reasons, during the time you are working.
  4. Paint specifications.
  5. Anti graffiti and UV coating.
  6. Explanation of your vision.
  7. Color sketch of your proposed vision.
  8. Timeframe (how long will this take from start to finish?).”
Ashland Streetscape and Hills, public art
This is how the wall looked in September 2011, before the wall was painted and when the multi-colored striped fabric was still up. (photo by Dan Shulters)

PAC meeting October 2011

It was no longer the “relatively easy senior project” she had envisioned. However, she was committed to doing it right, so she made her next presentation at PAC’s meeting of October 21, 2011. The commissioners liked everything she presented except the design. From the PAC minutes of that meeting: “Generally the commission feels the design of an urban landscape is not appropriate for Ashland….” They asked her mural to reflect an “Ashland, small town” look.  

One commissioner suggested she ask for guidance from a nationally known muralist named Robert Beckmann, who lived in Ashland at the time. It was Beckmann who painted the portrait of Shakespeare on the Bard’s Inn wall. In conclusion, the minutes state: “PAC has delayed approval of the mural until Nicole returns to the November meeting with a revised design.”

PAC meeting November 2011

Nick did have a short meeting with Robert Beckmann. She remembers him as being very kind. For the November 21, 2011 PAC meeting, Nick presented a new design that incorporated Beckmann’s suggestion to add the hills of Ashland behind the buildings. The PAC liked the design changes and approved them.

But her challenges were not over yet.

PAC and City Council meetings January/February 2012

There was still the matter of public comments to consider, which happened at the PAC meeting of January 20, 2012. Letters had been mailed to 53 properties within 300 feet of the mural site. Comments were received both for and against the mural. Here is a comment I found a bit humorous, from the PAC minutes: “The other negative comment was from a neighbor in a private home who did not want to look out her window and see the mural.  Per photos provided by Mr. Shulters [Nick’s father], it does not appear the mural is visible from her home.”

Ashland Streetscape and Hills, public art
Nick is shown speaking to the Public Arts Commission on January 20, 2012. (photo by Dan Shulters)

Finally, Nick’s mural was approved by the PAC on January 20, then by the City Council on February 21 – the culmination of a months-long senior project learning process that was past 100 hours of work before painting even began.

Lessons Learned

During our interview, I acknowledged the challenge of the public art process and expressed the hope that “you will be able to apply all those lessons you learned.” She replied, “So far, the experience has done me well. I had that naiveté that it’s going to be ‘one and two and done,’ which is not the case. That’s a lesson that was happily learned earlier on in my life rather than later.”  

Finally, the painting

Painting happened in June 2012, the week after she graduated from high school. 

The first day required thoroughly cleaning the wall, then applying a coat of off-white primer to the wall. The second day, she outlined the buildings and mountains with black spray paint. 

Ashland Streetscape and Hills, public art
The mural on June 19, 2012 as Nick was spray-painting outlines of the buildings and hills. (photo by Dan Shulters)

As with other murals, the next step was painting blocks of color for the buildings, hills and sky. 

Ashland Streetscape and Hills, public art
The mural on June 20, 2012 with the color blocks painted. (photo by Dan Shulters)

During the fourth day, she added detail, shading and touchup to each section. The final step was a clear sealant over the entire mural. 

Ashland Streetscape and Hills, public art
Artist Nicole (Nick) Shulters stands in front of her completed mural – Ashland Streetscape and Hills – on June 26, 2012. (photo by Dan Shulters)

For the wall, she used exterior grade house paint. She laughed as she told me that her initial small mockups had been done with shoe polish spray paint from her father’s shop!

“It was definitely a fun experience, something I’m glad I did.” 

Nicole (Nick) Shulters

The artist shared two “secrets” with me

A favorite highlight, when I am able to interview a living artist, is learning something brand new about the artwork. Something in plain sight that I just didn’t see. Here are two “secrets” I learned from Nick.

I got my first surprise when she said, “If you’re facing down Second Street [north] looking at the hills from the mural location, it’s supposed to match up with the hills on the painting.” Here are two photos, with a sliding bar between them, so you can decide for yourself if she succeeded.

Ashland Streetscape and Hills, public artAshland Streetscape and Hills, public art
Slide the line so you can see how the hills across the valley from Ashland, as seen from the mural site on Second Street, look very similar in the two photos. (photos by Peter Finkle, 2021)

The second “secret” involved the three dimensional nature of the artwork. Her father suggested that she incorporate the fan unit that sticks out from the concrete wall into her mural design. The strong fan vents fumes out of the shop. The cobbler shop requires good ventilation for the repair work done there, so the fan unit was essential to keep intact.  She made the fan unit into one of the buildings.

Ashland Streetscape and Hills, public art
Detail of Ashland Streetscape and Hills, showing the fan unit that gives the mural a three dimensional touch. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Nick’s childhood art influences

Nick said, “I think the main thing that inspired me was that my mom used to do a lot of water colors. There is one painting my mom still has of dolphins swimming in the ocean. I remember always looking at it and wanting to be able to articulate on paper something that people can easily understand.”  

Dolphin water color
Dolphin water color by Nick’s mother Susan Rugh, March 2000. (photo courtesy of Susan Rugh)

Her parents told her that she traced cereal boxes as a young kid. She graduated to sketch books, where she drew scenery and what was around her to pass the time. She didn’t grow up spending hours on her phone with Instagram and TikTok. She feels fortunate that her parents encouraged her to find creative ways to stay busy, including drawing, painting and learning mechanic skills.

Why Nick’s father left Ashland for Malawi, Africa

I am a sucker for stories of people “finding their purpose.” Dan first visited Malawi in 2015. From the beginning, it felt like home to him. He said in a 2018 Locals Guide interview, “Suddenly all of my skills that I have been learning all of my life had a purpose.”

Here is a brief description of Dan and Alise (his second wife) Shulters’ humanitarian work in Malawi, one of the poorest countries in Africa – and the world. Building on his knowledge of shoe repair, Dan is helping people in the villages near his home there to set up micro-enterprises. During 2020, around 40 Malawian entrepreneurs began to operate their own tiny shoe retail businesses. In a recent Locals Guide interview, Dan and Alise said that “the shoe sales saved several families in their homes with food to eat when their jobs disappeared [due to COVID restrictions].” You can learn more about their work in Malawi at the non-profit group’s website

References:

Schoenleber, Mark. Interview, March 2021.

Shulters, Dan (interviewed by Shields Bialasik), “Dan Shulters is moving to Malawi. Where is that?,” Locals Guide, August 28, 2018.

Shulters, Dan and Alise (interviewed by Shields Bialasik), “Steps4Malawi, end of year update,” Locals Guide, January 1, 2021.

Shulters, Nicole (Nick). Interview and other communications, April 27, 2021 and other dates.

Morse Avenue: 2020 update photo essay

Ashland High School outdoor art.
Cheryl Garcia’s metal art.
The Inspire House classroom.

Morse Avenue street sign on Siskiyou Boulevard. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

I took photos on Morse Avenue, which runs between Siskiyou Boulevard and East Main Street, in April 2018 and again May 2020.  Most of the east side of Morse is taken up by the Ashland High School track and field.

Homes and apartments fill the west side of the street.  Morse Avenue is only a couple blocks long, as are many streets in Ashland, so this will article will be mostly photographs.

Garden Highlight

The garden highlight on Morse Avenue was 33 Morse.  This home used to belong to Southern Oregon artist Cheryl Garcia and her husband Criss. Cheryl specializes in metal art, and you can still see her work around the garden.

Metal art by Cheryl Garcia at 33 Morse Avenue. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2018)

Cheryl Garcia’s website is www.greatmetalwork.com.  I have had the pleasure of knowing Cheryl for the past few years.  She does create great metal art projects, both small and large. You may have seen her huge flowers just inside the main entrance of the Britt Music Festival, at Walker School in Ashland or the bright yellow-orange metal poppies in the vineyard as you drive into Jacksonville on South Stage Road (photo below).

Poppies by Cheryl Garcia near Jacksonville. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2018)

When Cheryl and Criss sold the home on Morse, she told me that she hoped the new owners would honor and keep her artwork in the garden – and they have.  Here are more photos of her art at 33 Morse.

Cheryl Garcia’s metal work at 33 Morse Avenue. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2018)
Garage at 33 Morse Avenue, Cheryl Garcia metal art. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

There is an unusual tree at the corner of the garden where Morse Avenue meets East Main Street.  I think it’s a weeping Blue Atlas Cedar that has been trained to grow in two directions from the sturdy trunk.  It is dramatic!

Blue Atlas Cedar, corner of Morse Avenue and East Main Street. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2018)
You can see how the Weeping Cedar has been trained to grow over the archway garden entrance. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Ashland High School track

During my 2018 walk, the deer of Ashland were represented on Morse.  I was admiring the new AHS track recently installed after a huge community fundraising campaign.  Then I noticed that three deer were also admiring the track, perhaps discussing how fast they could run a 100 yard dash.

Some “spectators” at the new Ashland High School track. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2018)

The track was declared unfit for use in May of 2017, so a huge community fundraising campaign began. $360,000 of private funds was raised to replace the understructure of the track and lay down a state of the art surface layer.  It looks great to me.  I hope the high school athletes love it.

New Ashland High School track. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
This is one of a newly-planted line of Ginkgo trees along the Morse Avenue side of the Ashland High School track. Ginkgo trees put on a beautiful show of golden colored leaves in autumn. Ginkgo trees are slow growing, but they can live for longer than 1,000 years.

AHS Inspire House

The Ashland High School Inspire House on Morse Avenue serves a small number of students. I found this explanation at the school website: “The AHS INSPIRE Program serves students who have special needs, with an emphasis on hands-on activities that directly transfer into independent life skills.”

Rebecca Bjornson is the teacher for Inspire House students. I didn’t know about Inspire House when I first wrote about Morse Avenue in April 2018. Since then, I had the pleasure of leading Rebecca and the Inspire House student group on an Ashland History Walk through the Railroad District.

60 Morse Avenue is the site of the Inspire House program. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Inspire House front door. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
This unusual bench is located in front of the student garden next to Inspire House. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

AHS Morse Avenue artwork

I enjoyed seeing this mosaic at the high school as I walked the sidewalk on Morse Avenue.  If someone knows the story behind the mosaic, please share it in the comments.

Ashland High School mosaic, along Morse Avenue. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Detail of the mosaic at Ashland High School, along Morse Avenue (photo by Peter Finkle, 2018)
The mosaic wall partially encloses this Ashland High School student garden. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
This Ashland High School parking lot at the corner of Morse Avenue and Siskiyou Boulevard was once the site of the “Sweet Shop.” If anyone would like to share a personal story of the Sweet Shop in the comments, I would love to read them.

Ashland History ‘Firsts’ – Part 2

How did a 3-year-old help start Ashland School District No. 5?
Which Presidential candidate did Ashlanders vote for in 1860?
What year was the Ashland Tidings newspaper founded?
How many name changes has SOU had in its first 148 years?

Part 1 began with a brief introduction to a Native American village where Lithia Park is now located, as described by some of the first Americans who settled in Ashland. Part 1 ended with a description of the first formal schooling in Ashland. Classes began October 3, 1854 with a handful of children in the home of Eber Emery.

To begin Part 2, let’s pick up that story three years later with another surprising school story.

First Ashland School District

Three years after a handful of students began meeting for school in Eber Emery’s house, locals decided to organize a formal school district. This would enable Ashland to receive public funds to help with school expenses. Here’s how Marjorie O’Harra described what happened. “An enrollment of thirteen children was necessary to establish the district….  After a thorough scouring of the community only twelve children could be found. Pioneers being resourceful folks, three-year-old John Helman was pressed into service and School District No. 5 came into being.”

I guess you could say that John Helman was “small but mighty” with his power to bring School District No. 5 into being!

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

First Post Office

In the first three years of the tiny community, a local resident had to travel to Jacksonville’s post office once a week to get mail for Ashland, and then people picked up their mail in Abel and Martha Helman’s kitchen. 

Ashland graduated to an official Post Office in 1855. Mail still came only once a week, but the post “office” moved from Helman’s kitchen to the Ashland Flour Mill office. Abel Helman was Postmaster of Ashland for the first 27 years of the local Post Office. 

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

First School Building

Ashland citizens built the first dedicated school house in 1860. About 18 students attended regularly, not many more than the 13 students enrolled back in 1857. In this photo, the students are with blind music instructor Professor Rutan, in front of the first school building.

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

First Ashland Presidential Election

“Ashlanders voted for Lincoln in 1860, while the remainder of the region strongly supported the pro-slavery candidate, and the town remained a dependably Republican island in a Democratic sea for decades thereafter.” [quote from LaLande, Oregon Encyclopedia]

First Residential Streets

Ashland’s first known map, drawn in 1860, showed the Plaza and one street, called “Street!” This one street was actually the Jacksonville-to-Yreka stage road.

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

By the time of B.F. Myer’s 1867 official map, Ashland had grown. Not only was the stage road through town now called “Stage Road,” but also there were nine residential streets shown on the map! The streets radiated out from the Ashland Plaza, and about four blocks west along what is now North Main Street. From East to West, the street names are Oak Street, Water Street, Granite Street, Church Street, Pine Street, Bush Street, Laurel Street, Manzanita Street and Factory Street (now Central Avenue).

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

First College

Creating a college was a vision of Southern Oregon Methodists, which got a boost in 1869 when a Methodist conference was held in Ashland. Reverend Joseph H. Skidmore made it a reality in 1872. He used his carpentry skills to finish a half-built structure, then opened Ashland Academy for training teachers in the new building. After failing financially and then opening again in 1882, the renamed Ashland College and Normal School had 42 students and 4 teachers. At that time, it was located at what is now the Briscoe School site on North Main Street. 

Today, after a total of 10 name changes (!), Southern Oregon University has 6,000 students on a 175 acre campus and is one of the jewels of Ashland.

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

First Fraternal Organization

Fraternal organizations were an important part of community life in frontier America. In Ashland, the first fraternal organization was formed in 1873 — Ashland Lodge No. 45 of the International Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.). 

After the Plaza fire of March 11, 1879, the Odd Fellows built a two-story structure with local bricks. To this day, their brick building anchors the corner of the Plaza, and still proudly identifies itself with “I.O.O.F. 1879” visible at the top of the building.

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

First Newspaper

June 17, 1876 marked the day Ashland residents got their own newspaper, the Ashland Tidings. Before that, they got their news from Jacksonville newspapers. It began as a weekly paper and became a twice-weekly by 1896. Becoming a daily paper in 1912, the name was changed to the Ashland Daily Tidings. And what is the name now? Once again, it is the Ashland Tidings as of 2019. For a small-circulation newspaper in a small town, it is amazing that the Tidings has been able to survive for 144 years!

First City Band

According to the Ashland City Band website, an Ashland Brass Band came into being in 1876. It quotes the April 14, 1877 issue of the Ashland Tidings: “The article, about a musical program given at the Ashland Academy, ends with, ‘We cannot omit to mention the Ashland Brass Band whose valuable services were tendered without charge and enlivened the occasion with many pieces of music.’” Now the Ashland City Band, our community band has had four (and possibly six) names in the past 144 years.

The band became more prominent in town after 1890, when Otis Helman was named the conductor. Helman had attended and graduated from the Chicago School of Music, so he raised the quality of the music. Under Helman, this band was also known as the “Helman Red Suit Band.”

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

The city band has marched in Ashland parades for more than 100 years. Even today, the Ashland City Band leads the 4th of July parade, immediately after the Color Guard.

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

I hope you are enjoying this series of brief vignettes of Ashland history “firsts.” 

Here is a link to Part 1 of the series: 

Part 3 will introduce you to the first United States President to visit Ashland, the first “shopping mall” in town, the first play performed by Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and more.

As his contribution to building community, Peter Finkle is walking every street in Ashland and writing an article with photos about every street.  Please subscribe with your email address, and you will be notified each time a new article is published.

References:

Anon. Portrait and Biographical Record of Western Oregon: Containing Original Sketches of many well known Citizens of the Past and Present, Chapman Publishing Company, Chicago, 1904.
Ashland Daily Tidings, February 26, 1927.
Atwood, Kay.  Jackson County Conversations, Jackson County Intermediate Education District, 1975.
Atwood, Kay. Mill Creek Journal: Ashland, Oregon 1850 – 1860, self-published 1987.
Enders, John. Lithia Park: The Heart & Soul of Ashland, 2016.
Green, Giles. A Heritage of Loyalty: The History of the Ashland, Oregon, Public Schools, School District No. 5, 1966.
LaLande, Jeff. from The Oregon Enyclopedia, https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/ashland/#.XdYMxi2ZM2I
Lewis, Raymond (possibly), “Abel D. Helman, Founder of Ashland,” Table Rock Sentinel, October 1981 (Southern Oregon Historical Society).
O’Harra, Marjorie. Ashland: the first 130 years, Northwest Passages Publishing Inc. 1986.

Ashland History “Firsts” — Part 1

Before the city of Ashland existed

In the centuries before European and American settlers began arriving in the Rogue Valley of Southern Oregon, the Shasta and Takelma people lived in this valley. In the summer, small family groups spread out at higher elevations and in river valleys to hunt deer, fish for salmon and gather acorns and other wild plants. 

Archeology digs and pioneer writings suggest that during the winter they lived in villages of semi-permanent plank or bark-covered structures. Captain Thomas Smith and James Cardwell both arrived in the winter of 1851-1852. Both described an Indian village of perhaps 100 people along Ashland Creek, located in the area that is now Lithia Park and the Plaza.

Between 1852 and 1856, there were a series of battles in Southern Oregon between settlers and the Native Americans who were defending their ancestral land. Suffering from diseases, hunger and deaths from the fighting, in 1856 the remaining Shasta and Takelma were forcibly marched to the Siletz Indian Reservation, 150 miles north along the Oregon coast.

This illustration is titled “Winter lodge of the Umpqua Indians,” from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, April 24, 1858. The Shasta Indian winter lodges in Ashland may have been similar to this one. (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

First known Euro-Americans in the Rogue Valley

In February 1827, Hudson’s Bay Company fur trapper Peter Skene Ogden led a party of 28 men and 100 horses northward over the Siskiyou Pass into the now-Ashland area. Ogden documented the area with the help of the local Shasta tribe. His group trapped as many as 500 beavers and other fur-bearing mammals along Bear Creek before continuing north to the Rogue River and beyond.

Photo of Peter Skene Ogden, taken approximately 1854. 
(photo from Wikimedia Commons)

First American settlers in Ashland

On January 6, 1852, Robert Hargadine and Sylvester Pease made a donation land claim for 160 acres in what is now the Railroad District. Two days later, Abel Helman came over the Siskiyou Pass from Yreka and made his donation land claim for 160 acres along the creek. His land claim now includes the entrance to Lithia Park, the Plaza area and land to the south. On January 11th, Helman was joined by Eber Emery, Jacob Emery and James Cardwell, who planned to develop the land and build a saw mill with him. Cardwell reported that the four of them made small payments to the local Indians and reached an agreement that the group could build on this land.

Photo of James Cardwell, taken by Peter Britt in the mid-1800s.
(This photograph is part of the Peter Britt Photograph Collection at Southern Oregon University and made available courtesy of Southern Oregon University Hannon Library Special Collections.)

First house in Ashland

When Abel Helman entered the valley on January 8, 1852, he saw Hargadine and Pease cutting timber to build a cabin. Theirs was the first house built, before there was even a town. (For those of you who are Ashland history experts, I acknowledge Hugh Barron had built a cabin nearby in 1851, but his land and his “Mountain House” stage coach stop were located four miles south of Ashland.) 

First commercial building in Ashland

Within a month after arriving in the valley, Abel Helman, Eber Emery, Jacob Emery and James Cardwell started to build a sawmill. After multiple failures at gold mining in Northern California, they were ready for a change. All skilled carpenters, they realized they could make a lot of money providing wood to miners and local settlers, since gold had been discovered in Southern Oregon in January 1852. The mill was completed on June 16, 1852.

Cardwell wrote, “We finished our work on the mill as fast as we could. The mines in Jacksonville began to attract considerable attention. A great many miners came in…we had our mill in operation…and the demand for lumber was good. We could sell all we could make at $80 per thousand.” [Atwood 1987, page 22]

Note: $80 per thousand board feet in 1852 is equivalent to about $2,580 per thousand board feet today. Today’s Ashland price for good quality building lumber (standard no. 2 and better Douglas Fir) is about $750 per thousand board feet. That means the Ashland saw mill, with little competition in 1852, was able to charge about three times what a mill could charge today. [My thanks to Dale Shostrom for helping me with the lumber calculations.]

First town name — Ashland Mills

This story about the naming of Ashland was told by Abel Helman’s granddaughter, Almeda Helman Coder. “This doesn’t appear in any of the history books, but this is the story that is in my family, the Helman family.  There were these men that came over from the mines down in California.  The seven of them that came together, and some of them, as I said, went on, and the two Emerys that came from Ashland, Ohio Territory, and my grandfather, and a man by the name of Cardwell stayed for a while.  They began to wonder what they would call the little settlement. It wasn’t much of a settlement, so to settle the argument, they drew straws.  They wanted to call it after Ashland, Kentucky.  Well, Mr. Cardwell did.  Grandfather and Mr. Emery wanted to call it after Ashland, Ohio.  So, they drew these straws.  Grandfather held the straws, and Mr. Emery drew the long straw, which was to be Ashland, Ohio.”  [Atwood 1975]

The town was first named Ashland Mills because of the 1852 lumber mill and the 1854 flour mill, both built along Mill Creek (now Ashland Creek). When the town was formally incorporated with the State of Oregon October 13, 1874, the name was shortened to Ashland. 

I am not aware of any photos or drawings of the 1852 saw mill, but here is a photo of the Ashland Flour Mill after renovation in 1878. The photo also shows part of the Plaza. Photo taken in 1895. 
(This image is part of the Stories of Southern Oregon Collection in the Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library digital archives and made available by Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library.)

First American child born in Ashland

On January 7, 1854, Abel and Martha Helman’s son John Kanagy Helman was born. Abel and Martha’s other children were named Almeda Lizette, Mary Elizabeth, Martha Jane, Abe Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Ulysses Grant and Otis Orange. You can tell that Abel and Martha were strong supporters of the Union during the Civil War.

Abel Helman in 1887 with his son Grant and two of Grant’s children, in front of Abel Helman’s house at 101 Orange Street 
(This image is part of the Stories of Southern Oregon Collection in the Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library digital archives and made available by Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library.)

First hotel/lodging house in Ashland

In 1854 Abel Helman and Eber Emery saw a new opportunity. The busy Jacksonville-to-Yreka road ran through the tiny settlement, right in front of the flour mill. Helman persuaded Emery to build a lodging house on his land, about 100 yards north of the Ashland Flour Mill. Called Ashland House, it opened for business in early 1855. Only a year later, Emery sold the lodging house to Morris Howell, but Howell was not happy being an innkeeper. 

On August 22, 1856, Dr. David Sisson and his young wife Celeste arrived in Ashland after crossing the Siskiyou Mountains from California. They lodged at the Ashland House and left their pack animals at the livery. When there are only a few dozen residents, news travels fast. The very next morning, Abel Helman walked across the Plaza from his flour mill to the boarding house and greeted Dr. Sisson. He told Sisson there was no doctor within many miles, and implored him to consider staying in Ashland Mills. Surprisingly, just nine days later, David and Celeste Sisson purchased the Ashland House from Morris Howell and made it their new home! They ran the lodging business, and it was also where Dr. Sisson saw patients.

Sadly, Dr. Sisson was murdered in 1858 and the Ashland House burned to the ground in 1859. During the fire, renters in the second-floor rooms threw their possessions out the windows and then got out safely. Due to the blaze, Ashland lost not only the lodging house, but also the town post office on the ground floor and local records that were kept there. 

Two weeks after the fire, Eber Emery started construction of a new Ashland House at the same site. 

This is the rebuilt Ashland House in 1875 
(This image is part of the Stories of Southern Oregon Collection in the Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library digital archives and made available by Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library.)

First school class in Ashland

October 3, 1854, formal schooling in Ashland began with a handful of children in the home of Eber Emery. The teacher was Miss Lizzie Anderson. As a side note, in 1876 Lizzie became the wife of Captain John McCall, who built the McCall House on Oak Street in 1883. 

Two weeks later, there were millions at the school! How was this possible? It happened when Bennett and Armilda Million bought a land claim and moved to Ashland Mills with their five school-age children.

This story of early Ashland “firsts” will be continued with Part 2.

References:

Ashland Daily Tidings, February 26, 1927.
Atwood, Kay.  Jackson County Conversations, Jackson County Intermediate Education District, 1975.
Atwood, Kay. Mill Creek Journal: Ashland, Oregon 1850 – 1860, self-published 1987.
Green, Giles. A Heritage of Loyalty: The History of the Ashland, Oregon, Public Schools, School District No. 5, 1966.
LaLande, Jeff. The Ashland Plaza: Report on Findings 2012-2013 Sub-Surface Archeological Survey of the Ashland Plaza Project Area Jackson County, Oregon, 2013. 
Lewis, Raymond (possibly), “Abel D. Helman, Founder of Ashland,” Table Rock Sentinel, October 1981 (Southern Oregon Historical Society).
O’Harra, Marjorie. Ashland: the first 130 years, Northwest Passages Publishing Inc. 1986.
Olmo, Rich and Hannon, Nan. “Archeology in the Park,” Table Rock Sentinel, January 1988 (Southern Oregon Historical Society).