The Future of the Past
The Oregon and California Railroad was coming to Southern Oregon in 1883, and Jacksonville lost out to Medford when it failed to come up with enough give-aways to lure the railroad barons. Everybody knows that, don't they?
"That's the myth," says Ben Truwe. "But the railroad was never going to go through downtown Jacksonville. It was too expensive. Their mission was to go from north to south."
You can follow that story in detail in contemporary accounts collected in the "Medford News 1883" section of the "Medford's Lost Years," division of "Southern Oregon History, Revised." It's all part of regional history buff Truwe's Medford history pages at www.medfordhistory.com.
The site is a bodacious collection of Medfordianna.
"It's as much a tool for me as it is for other people," Truwe says. "There's so much stuff I can't organize it in my head."
Take the founding of Medford. Even if Jacksonville was never in the running for a terminal, there was still much weeping and gnashing of teeth around the town in the wake of Medford's founding. But the Oregon Sentinel, a Jacksonville newspaper, took a contrarian position.
"It is now a certainty that the railroad will miss this town [by] nearly five miles," the paper declared on May 19. "Well, suppose it does. Does anybody imagine that Jacksonville is to be ruined on that account? Some people ... seem to be impressed with the idea that the first train that comes in on the new road will have a ready-made town aboard which will be unloaded opposite Jacksonville, and straightaway this town will be deserted."
A lot of people had exactly that idea, and they were pretty much on the money. The new town was platted in December. It wasn't ready-made, but it already had three blacksmiths and a saloon. They called it Medford.
Medfordhistory.com dates from 2007, when Truwe, long a researcher in local history, started it as a way to organize all the material he was discovering about Medford. All by himself, he has done the job of getting the site up and running and updated.
"I found some templates online," he says. "It's not hard to do."
The site features an extensive Medford timeline with ongoing revisions, an index of articles about Medford in various publications, newspaper articles and ads for businesses through the years, links to sources for local history and much, much more.
"I use it all the time," says Medford history writer Dawna Curler. "It's a wonderful gift to the community to be able to access that right there, in your home or office. There's a lot to discover.
Curler says she's using the site in working with the city to develop some historic panels or markers that residents could be seeing as early as next summer.
"A few years ago the only way to get all this was to go to the library and read the old newspapers."
The site is searchable, so there's a good chance that if you remember just a snippet of something you'll be able to find it. Most of the content is from the original sources that Truwe has found and posted, not from Truwe himself.
He takes pride in the site's accuracy.
"Everything that's up is, as far as I know, correct," he says. "If there's an error in a document I'll correct it in brackets. I'm correcting stuff daily."
Like a 1932 Medford history attributed by the Mail Tribune to Daughters of the American Revolution members and Jane Snedicor, a Medford artist and designer and newsapaperwoman.
"It was the first and only attempt to compile Medford's history," Truwe says. "She still had the old-timers to talk to, but some of their memories weren't too good."
Most people back in the day farmed. They lived not only in Jacksonville, Ashland and Medford, but in tiny communities such as Applegate, Asbestos, Beagle, Big Butte, Buncom, Chimney Rock, Eden, Flounce Rock, Foots Creek, Gasburg, Manzanita, Meadows, Mount Pitt, Murphy, Pleasant Creek, Steamboat, Sterlingville, Table Rock, Uniontown, Watkins, Willow Springs and Woodville.
More than a century before women's lib, Oregon passed a law intended to protect married women's property rights in 1859. That led to the Register of Married Women's Separate Property, which enabled women to record just what its title suggests.
The register provides a detailed view not just into women's lives but into farming and household practices generally. It often lists product brands and farm crops and even describes individual animals and the ranges they were thought to be grazing. Wagons, tools, pianos, stoves, sewing machines, furniture and household items are listed in minute detail (the original lives on at the Jackson County Clerk's office).
And that's just one little thread in a very large fabric. Look for roads, poetry, newspapers, water, government, architecture, pears, mining, the misbehavior of early settlers, seances and the paranormal, hunting tales, wild life and loose women, early baseball, Charles Dickens' take on early Oregon and California, Pinto Colvig, booms and busts, practical jokes and more.
"He picks up the interesting little tidbits of human nature," Curler says.
Sometimes, those old-timers look much like us.
Meanwhile, back in 1883, The Jacksonville Sentinel — let it never be accused of shirking its commitment to boosterism — went on record with a prognostication for the newcomer town. Medford, it confidently opined, would "evaporate entirely, or sink into the insignificance of a second-class saloon and a railroad lunch house."
But by that time Jacksonville was beginning a long downward arc, and Medford would grow into the most important town in the region, even with all those lunch houses and saloons.
By its very nature, the Web site seems destined to grow.
"The more stuff you put on it, the more people are going to find it," Truwe says. "There was a woman from Wales who had ancestors in the valley. Every couple months somebody from somewhere in the country will contact me with a lost story."
Bill Varble recently retired after 25 years as a reporter with the Mail Tribune.