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[photo] W. H. Atkinson and Isaac Woolen Houses, two of Ashland's more opulent homes that reflect the prosperity brought by the railroad
Photograph by Terry Skibby
While Ashland's 20th-century revival can be attributed to the cultural renaissance brought by the highways that contributed to the death of the railroad, the importance of the railroad in Ashland's history cannot be overemphasized. Ashland's late 19th-century prosperity depended upon its rail connections. At first the town was connected to Portland in 1884, but travel to the south over the precipitous Siskiyou Pass still had to be done by stage coach. Then came the driving of the Golden Spike on December 17, 1887, in Ashland. This event was important to the entire nation, as it completed the railroad circle around the United States. The railroad was responsible for the success of the local orchard and livestock industries, as well as milling and manufacturing. Its prosperity was reflected in the number of stylish and opulent homes being built by those associated with agricultural, industrial, financial, and civic affairs such as the John McCall House, the Fordyce-Roper House, the John and Charlotte Pelton House and the G. M. and Kate Grainger House.

Historic view of the Ashland Depot Hotel with Exhibit Building in foreground, c.1910
National Register collection

Ashland's early settlement was centered around Ashland Creek because of its water power, but the railroad rapidly became a secondary hub of the town. The station had a roundhouse, a freight house, loading platforms and a depot. The trains' arrival attracted wagons racing down the streets to meet the train and large crowds of locals coming to see the passengers get off and purchase items from local vendors. In 1888 a 40-room hotel was built (the remaining building is the South Wing of the Ashland Depot Hotel) and the impact on the local economy was significant.

It was common for passengers to stop in Ashland for a day of shopping at the new mercantile establishments that were built on East Main Street like those housed in the Citizens Bank & Trust Co. Building and the Enders Building. Not only did the passengers and freight provide a stimulus to the economy but also, because Ashland was the end of a mountain division that employed more men than a comparable valley division, many workers relocated to Ashland and brought their families with them. They built modest homes in the area and it became a distinct neighborhood. The Nils Ahlstrom House is an example of this type of construction.

Enders Building, Citizens Bank & Trust Co. Builiding and Mark Antony Motor Hotel (Ashland Springs Hotel), c.1928
Courtesy of The Terry Skibby Collection
The railroad also provided impetus for a major event in Ashland's long involvement with formalized arts and cultural events beginning in 1892 when a proposal was made to bring traveling Chautauqua-program lecturers to Ashland. A national program presenting lectures, seminars, and edifying entertainment, Chautauqua brought the first mass culture to the area on a site now part of Litha Park--the first park in southern Oregon. (The outer walls of the original Chautauqua Dome--all that remains from the heyday of its popularity--now surround today's Elizabethan Theatre.) Nearby Central Point was proposed as a Chautauqua site during a Methodist camp meeting in 1892, but lost this opportunity to its neighbor because of Ashland's train access, small college, the attractive wooded Chautauqua site on a hill above the Plaza, and established hotels and restaurants. Although no original hotel or restaurant buildings survive, The Ganiard Building (Peerless Rooms Building) gives today's visitor a glimpse into the heyday of those times.

Chappell-Swedenburg House, representing Ashland's historical commitment to education
Photograph by Terry Skibby

Ashland's history has a thread of continuity that distinguishes it from many other small western towns. That thread is a pervasive interest in education and the arts--predating the arrival of the railroad in 1884--and dominating the town today. The Chappell-Swedenburg House on the campus of Southern Oregon University is a jewel in the crown of today's university and may be said to represent Ashland's long-standing commitment to education. From the time Minister J. H. Skidmore opened his academy in 1872, through its development as the Ashland College and Normal School, to Southern Oregon State College, Ashland has always supported higher education. In turn, the presence of a college campus has been an inducement to economic and cultural growth. Southern Oregon University is the cornerstone of arts and education in Ashland. It offers outstanding programs in theater arts and the visual arts (including the Schneider Museum of Art and the new Visual Arts Center).

An educated citizenry was an asset also in developing early theater. Oscar and Lucinda Ganiard arrived with the railroad in 1884 and became major builders. The Ganiard Opera House that they constructed in 1890 on the corner of East Main and Pioneer seated 800 persons who viewed everything from debates and high school graduation ceremonies to musical performances and traveling theatrical productions. When a new high school was built in 1911, space was allocated for a little theater, where Sheridan's The Rivals was presented the following year. After a disastrous fire in 1912, the Opera House became the site of retail stores--replaced as a venue for theatrical presentations, debates, and other entertainments by the National Guard Armory ("Old Armory"). Used by different National Guard units until the modern armory was built, the Old Armory continually has provided Ashland with a public hall--a place where dances, plays, shows, weddings, gymnastics, and fairs have been held. Thus it has been an integral part of Ashland's cultural community for nearly 90 years.

[photo] The newly renovated Mark Antony Motor Hotel (Ashland Springs Hotel)
Photograph by Terry Skibby
Before the Depression, Ashland--like the rest of the country--was experiencing a booming economy despite the decline in railroading when Ashland was bypassed in favor of a faster route through Klamath Falls in 1927. Improved highways and the love affair with the automobile, together with the vision of turning Ashland into a "spa" resort on the model of Baden Baden (where tourists would come to sip the healing, slightly sulfuric Lithia waters) were behind the development of a modern luxury hotel downtown: The Mark Antony Motor Hotel (Ashland Springs Hotel). The Depression changed all that, but miracles still occur, and thanks in large part to the Certified Rehabilitation Program of the National Park Service, Ashland visitors today can step into what was once the "tallest building between Portland and San Francisco"--again a landmark part of our thriving downtown.

[graphic] link to Applegate Trail Settlement essay
 [graphic] Link to Applegate Trail Settlement essay
[graphic] footer [graphic] Link to All the World's a Stage essay
 [graphic] link to Ashland's Golden Spike essay

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