Ever wonder what Medford used to be like before it became the urban center and retail hub of the Rogue Valley?

Ever wonder what Medford used to be like before it became the urban center and retail hub of the Rogue Valley?

A new history section on the city's website allows you to peruse a slew of historic photos, stories and links to other resources at www.ci.medford.or.us/. Click on the "Medford History" icon on the left.

Called Medford Oregon History, the new website "makes Medford history accessible at a click of the mouse or screen," says local historian and author Dawna Curler, who spearheaded the effort.

The website invites visitors to click on a picture of the old Carnegie Library building to take off on a tour of Medford's history, or click on the 1911 Sparta Building to learn more about the Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission and how to do improvements on historic properties without running afoul of city codes.

The history thread takes you to an old postcard of Medford, which started in 1883 as a muddy railroad town. The orchard boom early in the 20th century brought financial and population growth, establishing Medford as an urban center. In 1927, it became the county seat. The creation of Camp White, a World War II infantry training site in White City, and the growth of the timber industry helped Medford thrive, eventually becoming the regional retail and medical services hub it is today.

Links will take visitors to former City Councilman and historian Ben Truwe's website, "Southern Oregon History Revised," where they can read pioneer reminiscences describing the new street car line, blizzards and floods, the first Christmas and efforts to keep Main and Central dry with gravel and boards. Another link gets visitors to Truwe's "Medford, Year by Year," pieced together by the old newspapers of the day, including the Medford Mail Tribune.

Curler created "This Spot on Earth," which chronicles Medford's changes through time through historic and present-day photos of specific sites.

For The Commons area, visitors will see photos of the Phipps family farmhouse with windmill, the first high school at Bartlett and Fifth streets, the Natatorium and Merrick's Auto Parts circa 1910, the Dahack garage in 1915, then Gates Ford, the Greyhound Bus Depot, Littrell Auto Parts, the Sam Jennings store and, today, the Red Lion Hotel and Lithia Motors headquarters.

As a central, interactive archive of Medford's past, the website will be useful for the Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission as it reviews changes in buildings in the city's historic overlay areas, says Curler. It's also helpful to residents who might otherwise find historical information difficult to access.

"It's interactive and gets people engaged in history," Curler says. "We'll be acting as a clearinghouse for doing original historic research and we have a lot of links, including Ben Truwe's (www.medfordhistory.com), which has been a great resource."

The website was funded by a Certified Local Government matching grant from the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office and the National Parks Service. Curler and Scott Henselman, both members of the Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission, created the site, which was put together by Project A with help from Barbara Madruga of the city's IT department.

The CLG grant funded a historic survey of the Summit-Fairmount neighborhood and will be used for the areas of Front and Main and Central and Main, she says.

The website carries an address list of historic buildings, an inventory of structures by noted architect Frank Clark, a list of buildings on the National Register of Historic Places and many other resources.

Many images came from the Southern Oregon Historical Society and the Medford Urban Renewal Agency. More then-and-now slide shows are planned — and the keepers of the pages are always seeking new photos, videos or oral histories, says Curler. Donors may call Kathy Helmer in the city Planning Department at 541-774-2380.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.