On June 22, we answered a reader's query about how Barnett Road got its name, but we ran out of leads. We'll admit that it was a non-answer answer, and we ought to have checked with local historian Ben Truwe first. He pored over a jaw-dropping amount of documents to tell us the untold story of Ora La Follette Adkins Barnett, who gave the property for the road to the county for $10 on April 5, 1928.
She was born Nov. 22, 1871, to Dr. Benjamin Franklin Adkins and the former Matilda J. La Follette in Doth, Ind. Dr. Adkins had retired from medicine by the time he arrived in Medford in the mid 1880s with 13-year-old Ora and 3-year-old Ada. Two older brothers remained in Indiana.
Truwe said Dr. Adkins worked as what was then known as a "capitalist," and partnered with local businessman B.S. Webb to build a hardware business on Main and Central, and in 1888 built Medford's first three-story building. It held professional offices and Medford's first opera house on the site. Among other contributions to the business community, he was an incorporator of Medford Business College in 1892 and vice president of Jackson County Bank for 20 years. He died in 1919 in Medford.
Ora attended Medford public schools and performed near the top of her class, according to Truwe. She attended the University of Oregon but never completed her studies after a life-threatening case of pneumonia. She also attended Stanford for a term a few years later.
She primarily spent her time managing her family's and her own real-estate investments. It was possibly through real estate that Ora met her husband, salesman Austin Furney Barnett.
Mr. Barnett was a bit of a scoundrel.
"Ora was Austin Barnett's fourth wife, though she was probably unaware of that fact — on at least one document Austin claimed Ora was his first," Truwe emailed.
Ora's marriage didn't last, either. They married Dec. 24, 1914, in Tacoma, Wash., but Truwe said they don't appear in the same residence in 1915. He also found that the 1915 Portland directory shows her listed as "Mrs. Ora L. Adkins." They remarried two years later on Aug. 31, 1916, in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, but by 1918, Austin Barnett was living with a Clara Grassen and their new daughter. Austin signed away his power of attorney to Ora in 1919, and married Clara in 1924.
Ora may not have known about the marriage, Truwe states. When she deeded the Barnett Road property, she referred to Mr. Barnett as her "husband," but she signed Austin's name with her power of attorney.
She moved to Los Angeles in the late 1930s and died Dec. 22, 1953. Truwe notes that her death passed unnoticed in Rogue Valley newspapers.
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