Lay before land was Oregon

Maps on display Saturday offer glimpse of the Valley's early topography, celebrate the state's sesquicentennial
Roger Roberts, left, and Chuck Eccleston look over a topographical map created by Eccleston that depicts the Rogue Valley as it would have looked to settlers in 1859, when Oregon became a state.Jim Craven

Running through the middle of the topographic map is Stewart Creek, flowing past numerous homesteads before emptying into the Gold River.

One of the spreads is owned by Samuel Colver, the pioneer who laid out the town of Gasburg in 1854. Wagon roads and pack trails lead out of the valley to distant places like Yreka.


Jackson County's museums and historical societies will hold open houses Saturday to commemorate Oregon's 150th birthday.

Visitors also can participate in a month-long raffle beginning Saturday for a large basket containing some $200 in donated items related to Oregon history. Free raffle tickets will be given out at each of the free open houses.

A drawing for the basket will be held March 12 during the Jackson County Heritage Association meeting at the Rogue Valley Genealogical Society building in Phoenix. Participants don't need to be present to win.

The following museums and organizations participating in the open houses include:

  • Southern Oregon Historical Society's Jacksonville and Children's museums and Beekman House in Jacksonville; and Hanley Farm, 1053 Hanley Road, Central Point, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Draft horse teams will be plowing at Hanley Farm.
  • Rogue Valley Genealogical Society, open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., 95 Houston Road, Phoenix; free personal research and use of online subscription sites, refreshments.
  • Woodville Museum, corner of First and Oak streets in Rogue River, open regular hours.
  • McKee covered bridge, Upper Applegate Road, open in the afternoon.
  • Eagle Point Museum, opens at noon, 202 N. Royal Ave., Eagle Point; crafters, Old Time Fiddlers, refreshments.
  • Big Butte Historical Society, 432 Pine St., Butte Falls, open house in the Bill Edmondson Memorial Museum and the Medco Caboose.
  • Upper Rogue Historical Society and Museum, 144 Old Highway 62, Trail, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., refreshments and old-time stamp cancellations.
  • Talent Historical Society, 1 to 5 p.m., 105 N. Market St., Talent; refreshments.
  • Lake Creek Historical Society, noon to 5:30 p.m., 1739 S. Fork Little Butte Creek Road, Lake Creek; traditional farming activities, traditional food preparation, pioneer herbal remedies, refreshments.
  • Southern Oregon Chapter National Railroad Historical Society, Medford Railroad Park, regular hours.
  • Gold Hill Historical Society, noon to 2 p.m., 504 First Ave., Gold Hill; refreshments and door prizes.
  • Phoenix Historical Society, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., 607 N. Church St., Phoenix; refreshments.

"This is how the valley was settled when statehood was declared on Feb. 14, 1859," explained map creator Chuck Eccleston, a retired surveyor and civil engineer who volunteers at the Rogue Valley Genealogical Society office in Phoenix.

"Back then, what we know as the Rogue River was Gold River and Bear Creek was Stewart Creek," he said, adding that Phoenix was known as Gasburg back in the day.

The topographic map is a replica of the world settlers would have known just before statehood, he said. It depicts wagon roads and pack trails as well as cabin locations from Ashland to Jacksonville and out to Eagle Point.

"What is shown in green here are the cultivated lands that were required in order to prove up on the donation land claims," Eccleston explained.

A companion map created by fellow society volunteer Roger Roberts, a retired Jackson County surveyor, shows the specific boundaries of the donation land claims and the names of the claimants.

The maps will be on display from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the society's library at 95 Houston Road, Phoenix. The open house is in celebration of the Oregon sesquicentennial — the state's 150th birthday.

Although the maps are works in progress, they already capture the pioneer character of the valley.

"There is a lot of potential to bring history alive," Eccleston said.

Today's surveyors depend on those surveys done back in the 1850s, Roberts observed.

"We are always retracing the footsteps of those surveyors," he said. "The lines and corners established in these original surveys are still used today."

The early-day surveyors also took copious notes that were used by Uncle Sam to better understand the lay of the land, he added.

"The government back east didn't have any idea what was back here so it gave the surveyor general instruction to pass along to the surveyors in their contracts to take notes as to what (lay) out here," he said.

As a result, they made a note when they crossed a wagon road, a plowed field, a stream or saw a cabin, he said.

"When these maps were drawn up and sent back to Washington, (D.C.) they had detailed information of what was out here," he said.

With the maps, viewers can check out places like the nearly 480-acre claim owned by Jessie Walker just shy of two miles north of Jacksonville. A little black square on the topographic map represents the cabin of the settler who arrived in Oregon in 1845. He settled his claim in 1853 and died there on Aug. 18, 1855.

The map shows the location of the Army's Fort Lane overlooking Gold River.

"Today, when you are on Hanley Road, you are on the Fort Lane Road," Eccleston said.

"The Fort Lane military reserve was established to protect the Indians from the local militia," he continued. "John Ross, a well known colonel in the militia, his claim was right here."

He pointed to a spot on what is now Ross Lane in Medford.

"Rossanley (Drive) is a corruption of Ross and Hanley," he said, noting settlers Ross and John Hanley, of Hanley Farm, settled near each other.

What was known as the road to the Umpqua Valley is now known as the Old State Road, he added.

There was a ferry crossing on the Gold River where Dodge Bridge is today near Eagle Point.

Stewart Creek, also spelled "Stuart" in some historic accounts, was named after an Army captain before it became known as Bear Creek.

"During an Indian battle, the captain rode his horse up to a wounded Indian to dispatch him and the Indian was able to shoot him in the abdomen with an arrow," Eccleston said. "The captain died from that arrow."

Computer-scanning equipment donated last week to the society will eventually enable it to reproduce the maps up to three feet wide, he said.

"What we visualize is that, once this exists in the electronic database, it can be overlaid over the existing road system and people can drive to these historic properties," Eccleston said.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at

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