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Ashland railroad building was old, but not very historic

An old railroad building found last year inside a tumble-down barn on Tolman Creek Road turned out to be not very historic and was torn down, with its lot leveled for building by the adjacent Ashland Zen Center.

Local historians at first thought it was the town’s original depot, built in 1884 and later shifted to use as a freight storage depot at the station on A Street. The “golden spike” was driven in Ashland in 1887, opening up West Coast rail traffic.

A thorough study by Ashland railroad historian Larry Mullaly, however, concluded it was the south end of a freight house built in 1901 at the depot and moved to Tolman Creek Road in the 1960s for use as a house for three generations of one family.

Mullaly wrote that the 51-foot-long Tolman building still had many brackets, doors, corbels and the entire front exterior wall of the freight house, but the “physical integrity has been sadly compromised,” and the building didn’t have the old roof or floor. Items salvaged from the structure were sold at an auction and garage sale last year, with some going to railroad museums, said Victoria Law, former executive director of the Ashland Railroad Museum.

“It was cut in half with a chainsaw in the 1960s, and they built this barn around it,” says Law, “so that it would appear unimproved, and they wouldn’t have to pay property taxes or fire insurance.”

Although it was run down and probably would have been an expensive project, the building could have been preserved, said Law, adding, “I was surprised there wasn’t more interest in preserving it, even some pieces of it for the Railroad Park.”

Much of the old building was painted “Southern Pacific colonial yellow,” the company's standard hue, and many windows and doors exactly matched the lines of depots preserved up and down the West Coast. The corbels, which held up the eaves, were the style of the O&C Railroad, which built the line from Portland to Ashland, finishing in 1884, notes Mullaly. With the line completed south to California, it was sold to Southern Pacific.

Ashland at the end of the 19th century was the hub of regional freight movement and needed more storage than its original building offered, so Southern Pacific doubled its size in 1901, combining elements of old and new buildings, says Mullaly, quoting from archived stories in the Ashland Daily Tidings. The south end, built in 1901, is what was cut off and taken by a house mover to the Tolman site, he adds.

When the building was razed last year, says Law, many rats and rodents scurried out from under it and were reported to have fanned out into the neighborhood.

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