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.
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.
Historic images of downtown Ashland,
from the early 1900s to the 1930s
From the National Register collection
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.