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MailTribune.com
  • Tracking Medford's history to the source

  • Emma Foster, 9, and her kid brother Jackson, 7, aren't aware of it yet, but the youngsters have Oregon history in their DNA.
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  • Emma Foster, 9, and her kid brother Jackson, 7, aren't aware of it yet, but the youngsters have Oregon history in their DNA.
    They are the great, great, great, great grandchildren of I.J. Phipps, one of the four founding fathers of Medford.
    "Iradell Judson Phipps was a farmer, a simple farmer," observes the children's father, Dan Foster, the great-great-great grandson of the man who helped found the city.
    "The Phipps were the first family to live and have a structure in what is now Medford," he adds. "Their home was right there on Bear Creek. We have some old letters they received. We never found an address. The letters were just addressed to I.J. Phipps on Bear Creek."
    That would be the same Phipps who, along with Cornelius Beekman, C.W. Broback and Conrad Mingus, collectively donated 260 acres to the railroad late in October 1883 to create the new town to be called Medford. Some 20 acres of that land was to be used to house a central depot and a rail yard.
    Upon reading the MT's series last month on the campaign to bring the railroad to the Rogue Valley, Dan Foster sent an email regarding his famous ancestor, noting his family has letters and pictures of the patriarch passed down over the generations.
    Turns out Dan Foster, 36, hails from Medford, where he graduated from North Medford High School in 1994.
    He would later earn a bachelor's degree in biblical studies with a minor in business at George Fox University, followed by a master's degree in business.
    He now works for a Portland firm as a coach for business executives. He and his wife, Sarah, and their children live in Newberg.
    Like many of us as we grow longer of tooth, he finds himself becoming more interested in his family roots.
    "My mother was really into family history," he says, noting she descended from the Phipps. "I took it up the last couple of years."
    In addition to the old pictures and letters are the ancient family Bibles filled with historical notes, he says.
    "Iradell Judson Phipps came from Indiana in the 1860s," he says. "He came over on the Oregon Trail on the Adams train. Most of that train was massacred by Indians. He escaped that massacre and joined up with another wagon train."
    He and his wife, Calista Downing Phipps, would start a farm and family along Bear Creek, raising four children.
    Maps from 1888 indicate there were two wells adjacent to their homesite near the corner of Fifth Street and Riverside Avenue.
    Fast forward to the summer of 2011. While the Medford Urban Renewal Agency and Lithia Motors joined forces to build The Commons, archaeologists found one of the abandoned wells believed to have been used by the Phippses.
    The well was located behind the 1909 Medford High School, which was on Bartlett Street.
    In the rubble removed from the well were artifacts largely linked to the long-gone school, including ink bottles, test tubes, beakers and chalk.
    Chances are the children of I.J. and Calista attended that school, including a son also named Iradell J. Phipps who would become a dentist with offices in Jacksonville and Ashland. Another son was David Edward Phipps, Dan Foster's great, great grandfather.
    "David and his brother Iradell were among the first to plant apples in the Rogue Valley," Foster says. "They had 400 or 500 acres in orchards in Medford at one time."
    In addition to starting a packing company, the brothers also started a family. David would have a son named Dolph Phipps, who would be Foster's great grandfather.
    "I remember visiting him in Medford when I was little," he says, noting he was born in Arizona but moved to Medford with his parents when he was 7. "His wife, Mary, my great grandmother, was in the women's suffrage movement."
    Foster periodically comes to Medford to visit the Southern Oregon Historical Society to research his family tree, which has as many branches as the apple trees the Phippses once grew in the area.
    "My mom and her sister are the last two who grew up knowing their grandfather and their great grandfather," he says. "I'm trying to glean as much as I can from them to learn all I can about our family's history."
    After all, he knows that Emma and Jackson will one day be gleaning that information from him.
    Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or pfattig@mailtribune.com.
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