They're digging again at Alba Park, spiffing it up and making everything pretty. Nothing new there. Somebody's always been pushing a shovel into the dirt of Medford's first public square.
It started almost 125 years ago with a dedicated committee from the City Council, sent out to bend the ears of railroad executives and secure a free block in the town for a city park.
Much of what happened in the park throughout the 1900s was a credit to the women of the Greater Medford Club, who set off on a crusade to beautify Medford.
"They have been indefatigable in their efforts toward making a park for Medford," said the Medford Mail newspaper.
They began as members of the Lewis and Clark Club, improving the look of Medford to impress tourists who would ride through town on the train to attend the Lewis & Clark Exposition in Portland.
In 1904, four granite walkways, in the shape of a gigantic "X," were carved into the park. To support an 11-foot-high bronze fountain that was ordered from the East, water and sewer connections were installed where the "X" crossed. Then the first lawn was planted.
The next summer, a dozen iron benches arrived along with the fountain, and in 1908 the switch was thrown on electric lights.
The beauty continues to endure, thanks to those periodic spiffings. Today, workers are even putting back pathways in the shape of that original gigantic "X."
When the railroad had created Medford on a map, barely four years earlier, the company had kept ownership of every other block in town and sold the rest to anyone who had the money. Now, the Oregon and Transcontinental Co., financial backers of the railroad, were facing a few money and legal problems, and were selling the railroad to Southern Pacific.
The town smelled opportunity, and with hats in hand, they moved in.
On Jan. 12, 1888, with a few conditions, O&TC agreed to donate the block between West Main and West Eighth streets, bounded by Holly and Ivy streets.
Medford first had to improve the park for use as a public square by planting "a sufficient number of shade and ornamental trees and shrubbery" and by "making and planting suitable flower beds, thereon, to adorn and beautify said ground." Beautification was due in less than six months.
The town was required to "perpetually keep" the park in a "reasonable condition of improvement and adornment ... for the use and benefit of the citizens of the town," and no other use was permitted.
If the stated conditions were ever breached, said the legal document, O&TC had the legal right to reclaim the property.
While the first committee had been wrestling with O&TC over that piece of the park, another committee was knocking on Cornelius Beekman's door in Jacksonville. Beekman owned the Medford block immediately to the west of the O&TC block, between Ivy Street and Oakdale Avenue. It's where the Carnegie Library stands today.
Beekman was adamant. He wasn't interested in selling, and so the disappointed committee disbanded just before Christmas 1887. But a few weeks later, with the announcement of the O&TC acquisition, the Medford City Council summoned Beekman to its meeting for one last try. It worked. For $275, Beekman said OK.
With both pieces of the park now in place, local nurseryman J.H. Settlemeier sold the city 50 shade trees and donated 30 more. To satisfy O&TC's demands, the trees, along with some shrubs and flowers, were planted as quickly as holes could be dug, but with an inadequate water supply, just about all of them soon died.
Because the park had virtually become a dusty desert by 1893, the City Council ordered nearly 100 new trees planted. But in less than a year, even though new pipes were laid to the city's water tower and more faucets attached, fewer than 35 of those trees survived.
Six years later, O&TC officials had reached their limit. Fix the park, they ordered, or we're taking it back. The plows went to work right away and city workers were told to keep a close eye on the park.
Step by step over the next few years, the city's park gradually became the beautiful place it was always supposed to be. Indeed, it had become Medford's perpetual town square.
Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.