New sculpture commemorates Ashland’s railway connection

Ashland Parks & Recreation Commission employees Hanns Niedermeyer (with shovel) and Fernando Rendon working on electrical connections for lighting for the newly installed Golden Connections sculpture in Railroad Park. Drew Fleming photo
April 9, 2022

Dedication ceremony planned April 23 for ‘Golden Connections’ in Railroad Park

By Lee Juillerat for

A dedication ceremony for Ashland Railroad Park’s newest public art installation, Golden Connections, is planned for noon Saturday, April 23, at the park.

Golden Connections, which represents the transformative period in Ashland’s history when the city was chosen by the Southern Pacific Railroad as the main stop between San Francisco and Portland, was created by artists Jennifer Corio and David Frei of Cobalt Designworks of the Portland area. Their design was selected in March 2021 by a special, seven-member selection panel from among three finalists, which in turn were selected from seven designs submitted in response to a request for proposals issued in December 2020.

The sculpture features a large golden spike driven into an 11-foot diameter circle of iron, symbolizing the final connection for Southern Pacific’s complete rail circuit around the nation in Ashland on Dec. 17, 1887. Historians say the connection fostered growth, prosperity and cultural connections in Ashland that had significant, ongoing impact.

The top portion of the circle of iron is in the form of a twisting section of railroad track, signifying the topsy-turvy journey over the Siskiyou Mountains between Oregon and California.

Golden Connections is also intended as “an offering of gratitude and a plea for forgiveness to the Chinese workers who faced discrimination and very difficult conditions while building these tracks,” according to a presentation to the City Council in April 2021 about the project, which previously passed through the city Historic and Public Arts commissions.

According to city records, the sculpture’s placement in Ashland’s Railroad District “serves as a historic marker and wayfinding point to provide a connection from Ashland’s history to its landscape today.” In addition to Golden Connections, five bronze medallions will soon be installed throughout the Railroad District commemorating historic sites, completing a “hub-and-spoke” historical marker project in the district.

Golden Connections comes after years of planning the “Marking Ashland Places” project for Ashland’s Railroad District. For several years, members of the Public Arts and Historic commissions have worked cooperatively on the project to provide a connection to the history of Ashland by using site markers and artwork to honor specific locations, events, and people throughout the city’s four Historic Districts: Railroad, Downtown, Siskiyou-Hargadine, and Skidmore-Academy.

Railroad Park covers about one and three-quarter acres and is located on A Street between 6th and 8th streets. The park features a picnic shelter, restrooms, playground, half-court basketball court and a small wetlands area. The park’s design features the historic look of the old railroad era and is adjacent to the Central Bike Path. The park, which is dog friendly (dogs must remain on a 6-foot leash), is open from dawn until dusk.

  • One side of the spike carries words honoring and thanking the Chinese workers who laid the track over the Siskiyous. Drew Fleming photo

Ashland was final link in nationwide loop

Historically, when the railroad arrived from the north in early 1884 and three years later connected with the California line, Ashland became a major port of entry into Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. When it was known that Ashland was destined to be the connecting city, a major wave of building followed. The section of land used for the SP Railroad depot was sold to the Oregon and California Railroad Company in 1873. The area that grew around the depot doubled Ashland’s size and quickly developed into a distinct region within the city largely governed by “train time.”

Ashland’s Railroad District provided housing and traveler-based commercial services that were almost entirely related to the railroad. Lots were created in random patterns. Beginning in 1884, residences and commercial buildings were constructed.

The Ashland Depot Hotel was built in 1888 and, according to historians, by 1890, lodging houses, saloons, restaurants, stores and warehouses formed a separate commercial district on A Street where residents could purchase goods and services.

By 1893, however, the national depression slowed building in the district. But when railroad business increased in 1898, a second major period of growth began. As railroad workers and tradespeople moved into the area after 1900, one or one-and-one-half story vernacular frame houses were being constructed that provided affordable housing for the brakemen, firemen, and conductors, as well as carpenters, barbers, plumbers and painters.

Ashland’s population nearly doubled from 1900 to 1910, rising above 5,000. The growth of this section of Ashland was affected by the when, in 1927, Southern Pacific began using the Natron Cut-off, a then-new route the went through Klamath Falls instead of over the Siskiyous to connect California and Portland.

After Southern Pacific shifted its main route to the east, the Ashland Railroad Addition Historic District became a quiet backwater within the larger city because it was away from the downtown area’s automobile-related development.

During and after World War II, the old Railroad Addition became the site of affordable residential and modest industrial uses, but it still mostly retained its historic character and eventually was designated as a historic district.

It retains a strong visual connection to its early days while having added a number of art galleries and other cultural attractions. Many of Ashland’s historic buildings, sites, and homes are within the district.

According to the March 2021 presentation to the City Council, the project total cost, before landscaping and lighting, was $29,500, with $25,000 of that going to Cobalt Designworks, and all the funding coming from the Public Arts Commission’s Transient Occupancy Tax funding.

Email freelance writer Lee Juillerat at

April 10 update: Corrected to indicate the Natron Cut-off eliminated crossing the Siskiyous, not the Cascades.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Email him at
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