When looking for the architects of Medford's first substantial buildings, the record will never be clear.
Remnants of city newspapers in those early days are so fragmented they could easily be called nonexistent. Until the early 1890s, what little we know about building construction in the city comes mostly from brief "Medford" columns in Ashland and Jacksonville newspapers.
In 1884, when the town was growing from a couple of saloons, a livery stable and the pounding together of some wooden storefronts, perhaps an architect wasn't necessary. Skilled tradesmen could fashion a basic building with the briefest of sketches, or plans purchased from a catalog, or maybe they didn't need a sketch at all.
The earliest reference to an actual architect in the city we find was George W. Williams, designated as "the enterprising Medford architect and builder" by Jacksonville's Democratic Times newspaper in May 1885.
Williams advertised himself as a builder and contractor with "plans and specifications of work"; however, there is no evidence he had formal training. But, training or not, Williams gets full credit for constructing the two-story brick Hamlin Building on Main Street in 1886. Because of subsequent renovations, many Medford residents still know it as the "Bathmat Building" (126-128 E. Main St.).
Williams' grandest achievement was probably overall responsibility and perhaps design of the city's first two three-story brick buildings — the Angle-Plymale and the Adkins-Webb that once stood where Vogel Park is now situated. Older residents will remember them combined into the Fluhrer Building that was destroyed by fire in February 1969.
There were many "uncredited" Medford brick buildings being built through the 1880s, with most of the brick work contracted to Spencer Childers. One of his earliest projects is the 1885 building we now know as Tuxedo Junction, on the southwest corner of East Main Street and South Central Avenue. William Roberts and Peter O'Neil had let the contract, but neither they, Childers nor anyone else was given credit for its design.
Arthur Weeks may have been the town's first professional architect. Although born in Canada, Weeks, by 1880, was an established architect in Portland. In 1882, when the codling moth had destroyed most of the fruit trees in the Willamette Valley, Weeks saw an opportunity in Southern Oregon, where trees hadn't been affected. He bought land and established a large orchard that became the basis for the Bear Creek Orchards.
Before he returned to his profession in 1892 and moved to Berkeley, Calif., he likely designed the Weeks brothers' earliest furniture stores, and perhaps others. The Jacksonville Democratic Times reported Weeks designed Medford's public school building in 1891.
Weeks would return many times to the valley, most notably to design the Joseph Stewart mansion and the Medford Bank building, still standing on the northwest corner of East Main and Bartlett streets.
Although architect William Bennett spent only a year and a half in Medford, beginning in late 1894, he managed an impressive number of business and home designs, including the town's first brick livery stable, the Presbyterian Church, and the Wilkenson-Swem building, the structure on the north side of Main Street with a bay window sticking out over the sidewalk (217 E. Main St.). He also designed Medford's original Washington School, a brick and stone building that replaced Weeks' school after an arsonist burned it down in 1895.
Building a town takes more than one pair of hands, one style, one drawing — and as long as the results are good, why should we care who first put pen to paper?
Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.