ashland.news
June 14, 2024

New historic markers installed in Railroad District

A busy day at the Ashland Depot, circa 1915. Terry Skibby collection photo
May 17, 2024

History told through art; ceremony, tour set for Saturday

By Peter Finkle

The next time you lament a traffic jam, compare it to riding a horse from Ashland to Jacksonville to do your banking, or hitching up your wagon for a long trip to San Francisco on muddy or rutted dirt trails over the Siskiyou Mountains. The coming of the railroad to Ashland in the 1880s changed daily life dramatically – and created the Railroad District of town.

The Railroad District grew and thrived at the coming of the railroad, then it struggled and suffered with the loss of the railroad. Some of that history is still visible, but much has been lost. “Marking Ashland Places” is a heritage tourism project that aims to make more of our rich history visible for both visitors and residents.

Here is the “old way” people traveled over the Siskiyou Mountains before the railroad was completed. Terry Skibby collection photo
What is heritage tourism?

Most of us love to visit historic sites during our travels, whether it is ancient Rome, Revolutionary War Boston or the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. According to the Travel Southern Oregon website, “It’s about more than just attracting visitors; it’s about telling the stories that shape our communities and enriching the experience of locals and tourists.” These visitors boost the local economy, but people have to know about the history in order to experience it.

How about historic Ashland?
Golden Connections sculpture in Railroad Park. Peter Finkle photo

Ashland has a wealth of historic stories and sites, but the stories need telling and the sites need marking. With encouragement from the City Council, an organized process called Marking Ashland Places (MAP) began a few years ago. City supported and volunteer run, MAP is a collaborative project of the Public Arts Advisory Committee and the Historic Preservation Advisory Committee.

The ultimate goal is to create a sense of place and pride by establishing distinctive and artistic markers within the city’s four Nationally Registered Historic Districts, which will promote heritage tourism to the City. Our four Historic Districts are the Railroad District, Plaza-Downtown, Siskiyou-Hargadine (southeast of downtown), and Skidmore-Academy (west of downtown).

Thanks to years-long work by volunteers from the Historic Preservation and Public Arts committees, we now have a large sculpture in Railroad Park along with five historic markers in the Railroad District. Here’s where you will find the five historic markers:

• 1: Railroad Park, near the location of the 1888 Ashland Train Station and maintenance Roundhouse

• 2: The original 1888 Railroad Depot Hotel kitchen building, now at the corner of A Street and Fifth Street

“Ashland Train Station and Roundhouse” historic bronze medallion at A Street and Seventh Street. Peter Finkle photo

• 3: The original 1908 Fire Station at 264 Fourth Street (now Revive Home Décor)

• 4: The site of Mr. Wong’s house and Ashland’s Chinatown, at the corner of A Street and Second Street (Mr. Wong was known in Ashland as Wah Chung)

• 5: The site of the 1909 Natatorium and 1931 Twin Plunges swimming pools at the corner of A Street and First Street (now Ashland Food Coop)

A brief introduction to the six historic elements
Golden Connections sculpture, Railroad Park

Dec. 17, 1887, was a landmark day for the entire West Coast, and especially Ashland. A “golden spike” ceremony at 5:04 p.m. on that cold winter day marked the completion of train service between San Francisco and Portland, and beyond to the entire United States.

Sculptors Jennifer Corio and Dave Frei created the Golden Connections artwork at their studio in Vancouver, Washington. This is the large public art focal point of the Railroad District historic markers project. It had a formal dedication on April 23, 2022.

“Ashland’s Chinatown” historic bronze medallion at A Street and Second Street. Peter Finkle photo

One side of the tall golden spike recognizes the railroad’s economic benefits for Ashland. The other, deeply emotional, side honors 3,000 to 5,000 forgotten Chinese railroad workers who took almost five years to build the tracks from Redding to Ashland. Corio wrote: “The giant spike on our latest sculpture for Ashland, Oregon includes a long overdue expression of gratitude for the Chinese men who helped build our railroads despite discrimination and without recognition.”

The other five historic markers are 24-inch diameter bronze medallions placed in the sidewalk at historic sites.

No. 1, “Ashland Train Station & Roundhouse,” is near Golden Connections at A Street and Seventh Street

Up to five trains a day — each way — stopped in Ashland from 1888 to 1927 on the busy rail service linking San Francisco and Portland. Trains brought tourists, business people, future residents and goods. Train cars left Ashland full of orchard fruit, vegetables, woolen mill products, dairy products and more. In addition, Ashland was a major maintenance yard for Southern Pacific railroad crew, with a roundhouse that held up to 10 engines. I bet you can guess where many railroad workers and their families lived – yes, in the Railroad District.

Celebrate the five historic markers during 2024 Historic Preservation Week.
The Historic Preservation and Public Arts committees invite you to community events celebrating the five new historic markers and the Golden Connections sculpture.
Saturday, May 18 at Railroad Park Gazebo (10:30 to 11:45 a.m.), Historic Preservation awards and Public Art recognitions; remarks by the mayor; followed by a walking tour to see the five new historic sidewalk medallions.
Sunday, May 19 at Ashland Library (5 to 6:30 p.m.), Learn about Ashland’s Chinese community from the 1880s to the 1920s and the discrimination faced by the Chinese people in Oregon.

No. 2, “Ashland Depot Hotel Kitchen,” is near the corner of A Street and Fifth Street

This historic building was moved here in 1990 from its original location on the other side of A Street, in order to save it from demolition. It was the kitchen for the spacious Ashland Depot Hotel dining room, where 150 to 200 train passengers could eat all at once during a 30-minute stop. At the train station, Ashland children sold backyard fruit to passengers to make spending money.

No. 3, “Fourth Street Fire Station,” is in front of the 1908 Fire Station at 264 Fourth St.

This 1908 building was the second fire station in Ashland, built to serve the bustling new Railroad District. For the first five years, each time there was a fire, the firemen had to borrow horses from the stable next door to pull the fire wagon. The building also held a jail space, and you can still see the original jail cell window on the alley side of the building.

No. 4, “Ashland’s Chinatown,” is at the corner of A Street and Second Street

Ashland had a small Chinatown, centered here, from the early 1880s to the late 1920s. Only the Wah Chung family (Mr. and Mrs. Wong, children Jennie and Sammy) fully participated in the wider Ashland community. Mr. Wong’s family had their home and Chinese grocery store here at this corner. In addition to his primary job as Southern Pacific railroad’s local labor contractor for 42 years, Mr. Wong owned rental property, a restaurant, and a laundry.

No. 5, “The Natatorium and Twin Plunges,” is at the corner of A Street and First Street

The Natatorium, opened in 1909, was a massive swimming and recreation center for the people of Ashland. The huge 100- by 200-foot building contained two pools fed by mineral hot springs at the site, one for men and one for women. After the Natatorium building was removed, Twin Plunges provided two outdoor pools for generations of Ashlanders from 1931 to 1977.

Peter Finkle gives Ashland history and art walking tours. See WalkAshland.com for walking tour information, or to request a private tour for your group or family.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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