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. According to one account, in 1853 the village leader called Tipsoe led his people away from the Ashland area to live near the Applegate River.

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).