With each step, Ben Truwe traveled back in time as he climbed the maple stairwell in the two-story brick building in the 200 block of East Main Street in downtown Medford.

With each step, Ben Truwe traveled back in time as he climbed the maple stairwell in the two-story brick building in the 200 block of East Main Street in downtown Medford.

Upon reaching the landing where the skylight bathed the yellow hardwood in natural light, he stopped and took a deep breath.

"Recognize that smell? It's the smell of history," he said. "In just about every other building in downtown Medford, the upstairs smells like decay or paint. This smells like 100 years of occupation.

"When we were kids, this is what old stores smelled like," added the retired printer. "You just don't smell this anymore."

That comforting smell, reminiscent of old leather and polished wood, has had ample time to permeate the upstairs of the circa-1909 Tayler-Phipps building.

The structure reflects the building boom that began that year, explained Truwe, an avid historian and Medford city councilman.

"The year 1909 kind of tipped Medford over the precipice and things really started snowballing," said Truwe, who leads downtown history tours on the third Saturday of each month.

Indeed, the handsome brick structure was just the tip of the building iceberg in the town whose population had more than doubled to 7,500 people since 1907, he said.

In addition to the Tayler-Phipps building, the Sparta building went up on Main Street and Riverside Avenue and a three-story high school with a bell tower opened in 1909 at Bartlett and Fifth streets.

Planning also was under way for more structures, including the Carnegie library at Main Street and Oakdale Avenue, the Woolworth building at Central Avenue and Sixth Street and the four-story Liberty brick building at Main and Grape streets.

When the latter was completed in 1910, it was the tallest building in Oregon outside of Portland, Truwe said.

"They called it Medford's first skyscraper," he said.

It was designed by architect Frank Clark, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. Clark kept busy designing commercial buildings and homes throughout Medford in 1909.

Orchards were taking root in the fields outside of town, including the Modoc Orchard near Table Rock that year.

The Tayler-Phipps building is a rarity in Medford in that it has been in continual use since it was built, Truwe said. He wryly describes history as a combination of two things that fascinate people when they are children: digging for buried treasure and playing detective.

It doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to spot the three Sasquatch-size bare brass feet embedded in the sidewalk pointing to Norris Shoes, a fixture on the first floor of the Tayler-Phipps building for much of the past century.

"No one seems to know the story on those feet, if they date from 1909," Truwe said. "But every time they change the sidewalk, they take them out, clean them up and put them back down. Presumably they were cast by the Medford foundry or the Ashland foundry."

English immigrant A.C. Tayler originally operated a shoe store at the site, then sold the new building in 1910. V.A. "Aubrey" Norris started working in the shoe store in 1924, eventually becoming owner of the business. It stayed in the Norris family until 2006.

The Phipps in the equation was Ira Dell Phipps, a dental surgeon who practiced in Medford for 55 years before dying in 1959 at age 80. Most of his professional time was spent pulling and drilling teeth in the upstairs office where a sign in one frosted door window still reads, "Dr. Phipps X Ray Lab."

You could pick up a well-made pair of men's Florsheim dress shoes for as low as $3.50, according to a 1909 advertisement in the fledgling Medford Mail Tribune newspaper, created 100 years ago today.

A newfangled electric toaster sold for $4.50. A five-room house on 3 acres on the edge of Medford was being offered for $2,200. A "low colonist rate" train ticket from Chicago to Medford was $33.

A year's subscription to the new Medford Mail Tribune was $5 by mail. The monthly rate was 50 cents.

"This was a time when there were all these new things — telephone, telegraph, movies, automobiles, faster trains," Truwe said of the changing times.

And city leaders, local real estate agents and other businesses wanted to make sure the world beyond the Bear Creek Valley knew the growing city was keeping up with the times, he said, noting they ran ads boosting Medford in nationwide magazines.

"These wealthy people would come here, buy vast tracts of land, build a house and push up the real estate values," he said. "After sitting in the house for a while, they would realize there was nothing for them to do. They then moved into town and started groups like the University Club," which turned 100 on Oct. 28.

Many of Medford's nouveau riche turned to horseless buggies to travel between town and their country spreads. Dr. Phipps had an orchard about five miles out of Medford that he frequently visited.

The result was that Medford led the world in the number of automobiles per capita in 1909, reports an article in the Medford Mail Tribune on Nov. 28. Medford had one automobile for every 30 people at a time when there was one automobile for every 500 people nationally, it noted.

"The automobile is not a luxury in the valley. It has become a necessity," according to the 1909 article. "The orchard owners reside in the city, and when the rush times come on they must need visit their orchards several times a day. ... In the city the auto is needed for running errands, for short pleasure trips and the like. A level valley adds incentive until today Medford leads in the number of automobiles."

By 1910, the building boom attracted more people than there were sleeping quarters, Truwe said.

"They had to establish a tent city where the courthouse is now because the story was that they couldn't build houses fast enough for the newcomers," he said. "But the real story was there was more money in real estate speculation than in building houses.

"There were stories of men sleeping on the street while their wives and children slept in hotel lobbies," he added.

Fellow historian George Kramer of Ashland agreed that 1909 was a pivotal year.

"There were massive changes that started that year," Kramer said. "It was the start of the orchard boom. Much of downtown was built beginning in 1909."

In fact, between the census of 1900 and 1910, Medford grew about 325 percent, making it the fastest growing incorporated city in the country, he said.

"And that growth was largely inspired by the orchard boom," he said.

In 1909, Main Street was paved, he observed.

"Medford was boasting that it was the best paved city in the West," he said. "We were totally on a trajectory to grow."

When a railroad official from back East visited Medford, he decided the town was growing so fast that the depot built in 1900 had to be replaced, Kramer said. The new depot, now the home of Porters, was built with a larger city in mind, he said.

"The expectation was that Medford would be a city of 50,000 by 1920," Kramer said. "But when the orchard boom went bust, the bottom fell out of the real estate market and the population actually declined for a while."

Medford's building bubble popped in 1912, Truwe said.

"What triggered the pop was the collapse of the London apple market," he said, noting that England had been a big customer of locally grown apples. "The bottom fell out of the apple market, and there was a big switch to pears."

Following the economic downturn, the city lost a third of its population by the next census in 1920, he said.

"But the boom did a lot of great things for the city," he added. "They built a water system, spending $350,000 to bring the water down from Fish Lake. They started paving streets.

"The year 1909 was the one that changed Medford," he reiterated.

For more in-depth information on Medford history, check out Truwe's Web site at www.medfordhistory.com.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

Correction: The building on the left in the photo with this story was incorrectly identified in the original story. This version has been corrected.