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Gold Hill will sell old fire station

GOLD HILL — The last remnant of the days in which Gold Hill fires were fought by an all-volunteer force, half of whom had to be roused from the bar down the street, will soon leave city ownership.

City Council members voted unanimously last week to sell the old fire station at 601 Fourth Ave.

No longer in use, and listed for $125,000 with Gold Hill real estate agent Janice Byers-Sears, the building sold for $95,000.

City officials said they planned to use the money to benefit residents and hoped the new owner would keep the building in use, possibly available to the community.

Scant information is available on the fire hall's early history, but property records with Jackson County show a deed card created in 1947, the year most residents seem to agree the station was built.

It has served as everything from residential quarters and a food bank to an art gallery in recent years.

Though the station hasn't held fire trucks or turnout gear for about 16 years — the city annexed into Jackson County Fire District No. 3 in early 1995 — the old white and red structure still holds plenty of memories for longtime residents.

Ray's employee Rene Webb was married to Jim Webb in 1990, the year he served as interim chief. The couple married on the city beach, with volunteer firefighters serving as ushers.

The newlyweds rode to their reception in the town's first fire truck, a 1952 Ford LaFrance now on display at the Gold Hill museum.

"We rode on the tailboard to the reception," remembered Webb.

In notes he wrote for the museum, Jim Webb, who now works for the Rogue River Fire District, recalled driving the '52 Ford out of the large bay doors and turning down Fourth Avenue to pick firefighters up from the bar at the historic Gold Hill Hotel.

"That was the test to be a firefighter in Gold Hill. You had to be able to jump on the truck as it drove by," recalled Rene Webb.

"It was a poor department in those days. They had two shovels and a wooden ax on the truck. Getting a drunk out of the bar to help fight the fire was your best option."

Councilwoman Donna Silva, whose father served as an early fire chief, worked in recent years to have the city's first fire truck sold for $1 to the Gold Hill museum.

Silva also used the station in years past as storage for a local food bank.

Councilwoman and longtime resident Margaret Dials remembers the town's fire department, too.

"Before we had a good electrical system in the downtown, whenever the alarm went off, the lights in our houses would all flicker," Dials recalled.

"And when it happened you would hope there were some men at home to go over and respond to the fire. That was the sign. The lights would flicker and we would hear the alarm."

Dials said she hoped the building's eventual use would be something that enhances the community.

"I certainly hope whoever buys it develops it somehow in an interesting way for Gold Hill," she said.

"At this point it sat for so long that it had become a liability for the city, so it really needed to go to a private citizen who has the means to renovate it."

Byers-Sears declined to name the new owner until escrow closes, and said details on his or her plans had not been made public yet.

"One thing I've learned is that you don't have a deal until you've handed the key over," she said.

"But it would be wonderful to see it turned into something for the community to enjoy. It's a neat, friendly old building."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.