What's the story behind the historic water tower at Cascade Nursery?

This nearly 100-year-old water tower still stands at the Cascade Florist and Nursery on Blackwell Road in Central Point. 3/2/07 Denise Baratta

The year was 1912 and brothers John and Ralph Elden had set off from their home state of Illinois for points west. John had just sold his feed and hardware store and was looking for a place to retire.

The brothers started their search in San Diego, working their way up the West Coast until they set their sights on a plot of land on the north end of Rogue Valley's Central Point.

John Elden brought his wife and 8-month-old son, Harry, via train to their new home the following spring. Soon thereafter, Elden commissioned famed local architect Frank Clark to design two homes, one for his family and one for his brother's.

Along with the homes, each with Craftsman design features, a tank house was built over a hand-dug well, all at what is now Cascade Nursery, 6389 Blackwell Road, near the Interstate 5 Seven Oaks interchange.

A 3,000-gallon wooden tank in the top floor of the tower held enough water for each home's upstairs and downstairs bathrooms as well as for a washing machine and irrigation, said Harry Elden during a 1991 interview printed in "Domestic Tank Houses in the Rogue Valley: Technology in Paradise," by Katie Whittier Thorsheim.

An electric generating system on the tower's ground floor near the well powered a notoriously noisy gasoline pump that delivered the water and provided battery power to both families simultaneously.

In 1937, young Harry Elden built a house on nearby property when he got married.

"By then, his uncle Ralph had been running a feed store in Central Point for many years," recounts Carol Harbison Samuelson, library manager and photo archivist at Southern Oregon Historical Society. The big house, which John had lived in, burned in 1979, and, for many years, the property was managed as a motor lodge with individual cottages.

Thirty years ago, Allen and Lois Payne purchased the two-acre property, moving into the remaining, smaller house. They removed the Oak Manor Motel buildings in 1990 when they opened Cascade Nursery — a business specializing in landscape trees, shrubs and bedding plants — on the grounds.

"The water tower was empty when we got here," says Lois Payne, who did find some old signs nearby that indicated the area might once have been used as a feed store. "Right now we just store things in it and because it's over the well, we keep the pump in it to keep the pump protected."

Water from the well is still used for all the property's residential and business needs, including feeding a rare redwood tree that was planted in 1945.

"I like the historical aspect and we do love our property," says Payne. "We plan on being here forever."

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