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[graphics] rotating images of Ashland
[graphic] Ashland Downtown Historic District
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Aerial view of Ashland, and street view of the "Plaza"
Photographs by Terry Skibby

When European settlers arrived in 1852, they established Ashland's commercial district as the town's physical and economic center. Initially focused on thearea known as the "Plaza," the district gradually expanded east along Main Street to Third Street, with most major buildings completed by 1929. From its founding at the point where the Southern Oregon Emigrant Route (the Applegate Trail) bisected Ashland Creek--through the evolution of the route from stage to rail to automobile transportation--a lineal pattern has remained. The earliest surviving map of Ashland, drawn in 1860, indicates a three-block arrangement of lots clustered in front of a flour mill. On these blocks stood the wood frame Ashland Boarding House, a livery, blacksmith shop, and Robert Hargadine's Store and residence. In 1867, after intense competition with Jacksonville, promoters built the Ashland Woolen Mills on the banks of Ashland Creek near the present intersection of B and Water streets. Although the woolen mill, a nursery, and a Methodist college contributed to the town's growth, Ashland's economy remained farm-based for the first 30 years of its existence. Wheat and oats, corn and hogs, sheep, hay, apples, peaches and pears made farming profitable and encouraged settlers to stay. Ashland's commercial district expanded gradually around the clearing in front of the flour mill and residential neighborhoods developed nearby on Granite and Church streets, as well as on Main, Pine (Helman) and Oak streets.

[rotating photos] Historic images of downtown Ashland, from the early 1900s to the 1930s
From the National Register collection

Faced with a pressing need for public services, Ashland applied for incorporation and on October 13, 1874, the Oregon State Legislature granted the town a charter. A fire swept through the commercial district on March 11, 1879, destroying all the buildings on the west side of the open area that had become known as the Plaza. By the summer of 1879 brick buildings had replaced some of these buildings. When the railroad came to Ashland, the change was dramatic. The rapidly increasing population required the establishment of law enforcement, water systems, street improvements and fire protection. In 1884 and 1886 several brick commercial buildings, new sidewalks and street crossings were completed on the Plaza to accommodate the rapidly growing community. By 1885 demand for increased government representation led to a new charter and Ashland's incorporation as a city.

With few exceptions, Ashland's downtown buildings have been remodeled or reconfigured to meet changing business needs; today the city has instituted "Downtown Design Standards" to help keep its distinct characteristics. Changing transportation patterns, closely linked with the town's interest in tourism, also had a major impact on the town's development. The early mills that gave Ashland its first commercial prosperity were located along Ashland Creek, which remains the hub for the theaters, shopping, and dining experiences that characterize the town today. Surrounded by early residential uses and set against a visual backdrop of Ashland Canyon and the foothills to the south, with views of the rural hillsides across the valley to the north, Ashland's downtown is a dense commercial core. It is characterized by vertical masonry buildings and traditional architecture, set within a small valley that still maintains an overall rural character. The Ashland Downtown Historic District possesses many historic homes, churches, commercial and civic buildings, including the IOOF Building, the Whittle Garage Building, the First National Bank, Vaupel Store and Oregon Hotel Buildings, the Mark Antony Motor Hotel (Ashland Springs Hotel), the Citizen's Banking & Trust Co. Building, the Enders Building, the Fordyce Roper House-Southern Oregon Hospital, the First Baptist Church and the Trinity Episcopal Church.

The Ashland Downtown Historic District is roughly bounded by Lithia Way and C St., Church, Lithia Park and Hargadine & Gresham sts. Tours of the district are offered by the city every May during National Preservation Week. Old Ashland Walking Tours are offered from June 15-September 15, Monday-Saturday at 10:00 am, beginning at the Plaza Information Booth. There is a fee, call 541-552-9159 for further information.


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