Building the 'Barneburg Hilton'

In the 1950s, the Rev. Ross Knotts searched for a senior facility that would care for his retired father, but the Methodist minister couldn't find a place that gave him the confidence that his father would be well cared for.

Out of Knotts' frustration came the idea to build a senior complex on Barneburg Hill in southeast Medford.

"On the highest hill in Medford, people of faith built the tallest building in Medford," recalls Don Hildebrand, a 66-year-old Medford resident who was a chaplain at Rogue Valley Manor for 16 years.

Knotts, along with other local religious leaders and the Rev. Meredith Grove, gained momentum for the idea, which culminated in the 1961 opening of the distinctive turquoise building on the hill.

Paul Harvey, a famous radio commentator, was on hand, broadcasting his show from the local KMED station about the "Barneburg Hilton."

Barneburg Hill was named after an early pioneer family that had a house on the location where the Manor now stands.

The first administrator of the Manor was Walt Higgins, who oversaw planning and construction of the building. Nita Birdseye and Wanda Snow served on the first board of directors. Dr. Warren Bishop was the first doctor in the health center. Medford Mayor Jerry Lausmann was one of the first residents. John Dellenback was the Manor's first attorney, and Sid Ainsworth became the first secretary of the board.

Birdseye, Bishop and Dellenback all became Manor residents.

The Manor now is run by the nonprofit Pacific Retirement Services, which owns or manages retirement centers throughout the country, including the Ross Knotts Retirement Center on Creekside Circle in Medford.

Known for his lively and witty manner, Knotts was a progressive and open-minded minister, standing up for minorities, gays, lesbians and the poor.

"He had a deep desire for the betterment of people of all ages," Hildebrand said. "He just had an open heart."

Knotts was married to Marge Knotts for 67 years, and they had a son and daughter. His wife still lives at the Manor.

Hildebrand remembers Knotts as someone who was always ready to tackle any project that came his way.

Once, while giving a sermon, Hildebrand noticed that Knotts appeared to be dozing in his chair.

"As soon as we started singing the hymns, he got up and joined right in," Hildebrand said. "And I thought he was dozing."

Knotts was born on March 20, 1912, in Junction City. He graduated from Willamette University in Salem and was formerly pastor of the First United Methodist Church on West Main Street in Medford.

In the 1950s, Ashland and Medford were so-called "sundown towns" where African-Americans were required to leave town by nightfall.

When Knotts heard that an Ashland police officer threatened a black man, he marched down to the station and protested to the police chief.

An avid outdoorsman, Knotts explored the backwoods and even tracked down lost hikers. He climbed many local mountains, and at age 88 he slid over the falls near Camp Latgawa in Eagle Point, a camp he founded in the 1950s.

Knotts ministered to prisoners at Jackson County Jail and created a medical clinic in Josephine County.

While he was pastor at the Ashland Methodist Church, he began work on what would become the Manor.

Knotts died on April 26, 2010, at the age of 98.

"He had a nice wit about him," Hildebrand remembers, "and a twinkle in his eye."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or

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