Pracht Street: A Legacy of Premium Peaches

Pracht Street:
A Legacy of Premium Peaches

“The ‘Ashland peach’ was known all over the Pacific Coast and marketed in the Eastern states and in Canada.  (The Max Pracht orchards on Ashland Street took World’s Fair premiums in Chicago.) From a few hundred boxes of peaches shipped prior to 1890, the industry grew until the 1899 output was 75,000 boxes, more than 60 railroad boxcar loads.”  (O’Hara page 64)

Ashland, peaches, Max Pracht, Pracht Street

Max Pracht peach box label, likely late 1800s

“Pear Paradise” or “Peach Paradise?”

Today we know the Rogue Valley as a “pear paradise.”  I had no idea peaches were such a huge part of Ashland’s economy in the late 1800’s until I started researching Pracht Street for this article.

“60 railroad boxcar loads” of peaches shipped out in 1899 alone!  That is amazing.

Max Pracht owned the premium peach orchard in Ashland.  Indeed, you could say his was the premium peach orchard in the country!

Take a look at this excerpt from an 1897 essay extolling Oregon fruit:  “In this connection the fact may be noted that the largest apple, the largest pear and the largest cherries, exhibited at the Columbian Exposition [1893 Chicago World’s Fair] were grown in Oregon, and that a special gold medal was awarded to Max Pracht of Ashland for the largest and best flavored peaches.” (The Overland Monthly, June 1987) (emphasis added)

Max Pracht’s House in 1900

Here is what his home and surrounding orchard looked like during the pruning season in 1900.

Max Pracht’s house and orchard in 1900 (photo courtesy of Terry Skibby)

It stands to reason that Pracht Street, where his home and orchard were located, was named after Max Pracht.

According to a July 25, 2013 Facebook post by the Ashland Historic Railroad Museum:

“Do you know that if you live around Pracht Street you are probably living on the old Peachblow Fantasy Orchard land? It was 120 acres of peaches right here in central Ashland. The largest peach orchard in the entire state of Oregon. The peaches were enormous. 20 ounce peaches were common with some as large as 26 ounces.”

Walking Pracht Street

Pracht Street is only two blocks long, with its two ends at Liberty Street and Euclid Avenue.  If you like alleys, you can find one that heads south to Ashland Street and another that goes north to Pennsylvania Avenue.

There is a small one story apartment complex at 800 Pracht Street, and from there to Euclid it’s all single family homes.

Ashland, walkApartments at 800 Pracht Street

As I walked from Liberty uphill to Euclid Avenue, I searched to see if Max Pracht’s house was still standing.  First, let me tell you about the yard art, chickens and skunk that I spotted along the way.

Chickens and Skunk

Ashland allows backyard chickens, and these are among the first I have seen in my walks around town. Then I spotted an unusual afternoon visitor…a young skunk.

First, I was surprised to see it just three feet from the chickens.  Is that normal?  Second, I was surprised to see it out and about in the mid-afternoon.  Pet skunk?  That seems unlikely, considering their potent aroma.  Maybe it was just excited about exploring the trash area.

Beauty on Pracht Street

I enjoy finding yard art and other man-made beauty, as well as nature’s beauty.  As I walked the two blocks of Pracht Street, I found both.

Artistic door at 710 Pracht Street

Yard art next to 715 Pracht Street

Ashland, walk

Lovely, rhododendron filled garden at 640 Pracht Street.  I’d like to come back here in April or May when the flowers are in bloom.

Ashland, walk, tree

My favorite tree on Pracht Street (at the corner of Pracht and Morton)

Max Pracht’s house?

I will finish the article with more about Max Pracht, who was an amazing man and a great booster of early Ashland.  I think I found his house toward the top of Pracht at 660 Pracht Street.  Take a look at the two photos below.  The large yellow house at 660 Pracht is much larger than the Pracht house shown in the 1900 photo, but it is not unusual for houses to be expanded over the years.

To me, these two clues give it away:

  • The shape of the two windows facing the street on the third floor attic is identical in the current house to the shape of the same windows in the 1900 photo.
  • The triangular wall section between the two attic windows and the roof is identical in the current house with the shape in the 1900 photo.

What do you think?  Am I right or is this just coincidence?

Ashland, walk, Pracht Street

660 Pracht Street…formerly Max Pracht’s house?

Max Pracht’s house and orchard in 1900 (photo courtesy of Terry Skibby)

Max Pracht’s Life

Max Pracht was “a Republican of irrepressible enthusiasm,” back when the Republican party was the party of Lincoln, the party that had the courage to hold our country together and outlaw slavery.

He was born in Palatinate, Germany in 1846.  There was unrest and revolution in Germany in 1848, which caused his father to immigrate to America with the family, including two-year-old Max.

According to the Republican League Register of Oregon: “He served in the navy during the Rebellion, and is a comrade of Burnside Post No. 23, G. A. R.”

In other words, he was in the Union Navy during the Civil War.  Then, as a veteran, he joined the Ashland (Burnside) post of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union Civil War veterans group.

Max moved with his wife and three children from San Francisco to Ashland in 1887, purchased land, planted an orchard, and harvested his first crop of peaches in 1891. As of 1896, he was still waiting to receive the Gold Medal he won as first prize for his peaches at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

In addition to being a grower and marketer of premium peaches, he also developed some of his land for housing after the opening of the railroad led to a population increase in Ashland starting in 1888.  On top of that, this busy businessman owned the huge Hotel Oregon downtown in 1891-1892, and his son Alexander went on to own the Ashland Depot Hotel [see Ashland Depot Hotel article here] after 1901.

Pracht Marketing “Secrets”

The Jacksonville newspaper wrote a detailed article in 1893 explaining in part why Pracht orchard peaches sold for 25% more than the market price for peaches, and why they were shipped all over the country.  In addition to growing large, flavorful peaches, Mr. Pracht also took the extra step of communicating their premium nature to customers on each individual peach wrapper.  In the process, he was a huge booster for Ashland and Southern Oregon.

“People who are fortunate enough to obtain peaches from the ‘Peachblow Paradise Orchards’ of Max Pracht this year will be fully apprised of the celestial character of the fruit, no matter in how distant a clime it may be unpacked and eaten. Mr. Pracht has just had nearly 100,000 peach wrappers printed, each bearing in blue ink on white paper his orchard trademark designed by himself. It advertises the climate of southern Oregon, the city of Ashland, the orchard business of Mr. Pracht, and there will be no danger of retail dealers in Oregon, Washington, Montana or elsewhere selling his peaches as ‘California fruit.’ Neither will there be any likelihood of any scrubby peaches being shipped in those wrappers. Mr. Pracht’s method of paying the strictest attention to the details of selection, packing and marketing, proves its value from the fact that he is able to ask and receive for his peaches 25 percent above the market price.
(Democratic Times, page 3)

 
  • References Quoted:
  • Democratic Times, Jacksonville, Oregon, August 18, 1893, page 3
  • Fulton, R.L. article “The Yamhill Country,” pages 498-503 in The Overland Monthly, January – June 1897, Overland Monthly Publishing Company, San Francisco, California.
  • O’Hara, Marjorie. Ashland: the first 130 years, Northwest Passages Publishing, 1986.
  • 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.
  • Republican League Register of Oregon, The Register Publishing Company, 1896, page 260.

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COLLABORATORS AND FRIENDS

My thanks to Terry Skibby for the historic photograph.

The Southern Oregon Historical Society is a great resource.  (1) If you like history, SOHS can always use volunteers to help with research, digitizing and transcribing. Learn about SOHS here.  (2) Second, I encourage you to join SOHS as a member to support their work.  The JOIN link is here.

Morse Avenue – Ashland High School and Yard Art

I walked Morse Avenue, between Siskiyou Boulevard and East Main Street, late afternoon on a pleasant day in April 2018.  Most of the East side of Morse is taken up by the Ashland High School track and field, as well as a high school staff parking lot.

Homes and apartments fill the West side of the street.  I didn’t meet any Morse Avenue residents on my walk, but I saw some lovely sights. Morse is only a couple blocks long, as are many streets in Ashland, so this will be a short article – 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.

Her 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).

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 is one more photo of her art at 33 Morse.

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!

Animals

During my 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.

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.

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.

Beach Street walk — Meet the “Beach Street bear”

Beach Street walk

by Peter Finkle

In addition to highlights of my Beach Street walk, you will read stories here about my up-close and personal encounter with the “Beach Street bear” and about the humans of Beach Street whom I encountered during my walk. Here is a sight that I believe is unique to Beach Street.

Beach Street Unique

Beach Street has imposing trees, interesting people, a former elementary school with a large open space, and proximity to many of the pleasures of Ashland.

This is my first “Walk Ashland” blog post, and it is about Beach Street.  Why?  Because I have lived on Beach Street for 27 years.

Walking Beach Street on Saturday April 7, 2018, here is what I saw and heard, people I met, plus garden, nature, animal, historical and architectural highlights.

Beach Street starts at Siskiyou Blvd and ends uphill at the foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains. You’ll find a mix of modest homes, large homes, apartments and condos as you walk Beach Street.  The street has open space at Lincoln School, plus many large Ponderosa pines, firs and oaks.

The “Beach Street Bear”

I saw five deer on my walk, but more interesting than deer is the “Beach Street bear,” which even had its photo in the Ashland Daily Tidings in 2006.  I have two “Beach Street bear” stories to tell you here.

The sad story involves a black bear and a beautiful large orange koi fish (see photo below taken by our neighbor in May 2015).  The bear was doing what bears love to do…go fishing, in this case in my backyard pond.

“Beach Street bear” with a koi

A Warm Summer Evening Bear Encounter

My other bear story was dramatic in a different way.  On a warm summer evening in 2006 shortly after the Daily Tidings article, I was stretched out in a lounge chair in my back yard reading the newspaper.  Our cuddly, chunky female cat GG was stretched out half-asleep next to me.  Ah, a nice relaxing Ashland summer evening.

Suddenly I saw a 5′ tall, 200 pound or so black bear climb over the low side-yard fence 35 feet away from me – way too close – and it was no longer a relaxing summer evening.  I stood up, holding the newspaper.  Then the bear saw me.  It stood up. GG-cat took off running back to the house cat door faster than she had ever run in her entire life.  My wife happened to be at the screen door nearest the bear when it appeared, so she started yelling at the bear. Meanwhile, I backed away slowly, newspaper in hand.

Fortunately, the bear was as afraid of us as we were of it, so it shot up the nearest tree.  After looking around from its perch ten feet up, it decided to leave, and lumbered off through two neighbors’ yards to Liberty Street and presumably uphill to the forest.

My Neighbor Brad’s Bear Story

Speaking of bears, during my walk I met my neighbor Brad as he was “playing with rocks,” – as he put it – building a no-mortar rock retaining wall.  We were discussing how all of upper Beach Street a century ago was likely a farm and orchard.  He told me about his old cherry and apple trees, and then declared his frustration with a bear that keeps crushing his chain-link fence in order to get in and enjoy the cherries each summer.

Nina’s Angels

Changing the subject from bears to angels, I met Nina as I was admiring her front yard full of angel sculptures.

Nina told me a “small world” story.  Decades ago, she worked as an intern for six months at Presidio Hill School in San Francisco.  When her new neighbor moved in recently, they found something in common.  The new neighbor had followed Nina as an intern at Presidio Hill School, but then stayed on the staff for 40 years…before retiring to Ashland, right next door to Nina!

Nina lives near Lincoln School, which was built in 1926.  The elementary school was originally used for the teacher training program at Southern Oregon State Normal School (now SOU) one block away. Due to declining elementary school enrollment, Lincoln was closed in 2006, but is still owned by the school district.

Lincoln School

On the edge of the Lincoln School grounds, I saw two young men with a slack line tied between two trees. I stopped to talk, and found out that Bryant was teaching his friend David how to walk a slack line.

Bryant teaching Dave how to walk the slack line

Do You Recognize the “Fortmiller” Name?

Up the street a bit, I met someone with a name that Ashland “old-timer” readers will recognize: Fortmiller.  I met Lisa Beach (formerly Lisa Fortmiller), the owner of A Midsummer’s Dream Bed & Breakfast at 496 Beach Street.  Her parents owned Fortmillers Department Store in downtown Ashland, at the current location of Earthly Goods.  She remembers being able to pick her favorite clothes off the racks as a child.

A Midsummer’s Dream B&B on Beach Street

Lisa left Ashland for 35 years, then moved back to run the beautiful B&B.  The five bedrooms are all charming.  Each comes with a marble fireplace, a relaxing spa tub and an elegant glass block shower.  The B&B was created in 2001 by restoring a 1901 Victorian farm house where the family that owned the old Beach Street farm/orchard had lived.

Some things change…like the old farm house becoming a new B&B.

Some things don’t change…like Lisa (Fortmiller) Beach still having the same reserved seats at Ashland High School football games that have been in her family for 50 years.

Garden Highlight

Here is my favorite garden highlight of the walk, beautiful daffodils, which the deer have left alone for us to enjoy.

I hope you have enjoyed this story.  Please sign up to receive an email each time I post a new story as I walk every street in Ashland.

I will close with a poem I wrote about Beach Street.

Beach Street

Beach Street is not by the sand
or even near the beach.

Named after Ashland pioneer
Henry Beach Carter, it is near
Southern Oregon University,
where thousands of students – and
their teacher/mentors – share
with Beach Street residents and the community
inspiring music, art, sports and learning.

To the north, Beach Street ends at
Siskiyou Boulevard and
Ashland High School,
where young actors, athletes and adults
are shaped and forged.

To the south, Beach Street ends at the
Siskiyou Mountain range,
where mountain hikers and mountain bikers
find a paradise to explore.

Actors, doctors, students, families, business people
and more all share Beach Street with
deer, bears, raccoons and
massive trees full of squirrels and jays.

Peter Finkle   April 7, 2018