The Black Sheep: The Dance of Life
The aerobics class led by Jody Martinez had just finished and a jazz class led by Tom and Clydine Scales began to assemble on the maple hardwood floors of the Plaza Dance Studio, within the current location of The Black Sheep, on the second level of the Odd Fellows Building on the Plaza. As the dancers threw their heads back while spinning they saw the royal blue ceiling decorated with gold stars.
The Plaza Dance Studio acted as the main meeting hall for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, which had built the brick structure in 1879 after their previous wooden hall was reduced to ashes during the Great Plaza Fire. Under the ownership and organization of Annette Pugh, a free-spirited dancer, such accomplished teachers as Priscilla Quinby, Dianne Gaumond, Jim Giancarlo, Suzanne Seiber, Roz Schrodt, Poppie Beveridge, Chandor and Christi Gault gave instruction during the &
80s to a generation of dancers.
In 17th-century England, it was odd to find people organized for the purpose of giving aid to those in need and of pursuing projects for the benefit of all mankind. Those who belonged to such an organization were called &
Odd Fellows are also known as &
The Three Link Fraternity&
which stands for Friendship, Love and Truth.
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows was founded on the North American continent in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 26, 1819, when Thomas Wildey and four members of the Order from England instituted Washington Lodge No. 1. This lodge received its charter from Manchester Unity of Odd Fellows in England. The Ashland lodge received its charter from nearby Jacksonville.
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Susan Chester sits at the bar in the Black Sheep, — which she opened in 1992.
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While sitting on a couch one day in Chicago, Susan Chester, a petite swirl of boundless energy who is the owner of The Black Sheep, experienced an epiphany, which told her to go West. She went to Seattle for four months, then down Interstate 5 to Ashland for a look about. While having lunch at Greenleaf she went upstairs to find the bathroom. There were two doors marked &
She came back down stairs and announced to her table: &
This is the place for the Public House.&
It was to be a place to meet, laugh, talk, eat and drink: a social portal into the balance of the day.
On the first of November 1992 The Black Sheep opened up to a press of patrons, all eager to marvel at the décor, down a pint and sample the fish and chips. This tradition persists to this day. The tables were crafted by John Seligman, who worked years ago during breakfasts within Lithia Grocery. Denny DeBey&
s omnipresent blacksmithing is found in the sconces, curtain rods, andirons and fireplace screen, all of which continuously draw compliments.
The back bar, which was built in Grants Pass, has three rounded arches, this to mimic the window treatment on the front façade. It&
s a place where many different types of people gather without passing judgment on appearance, clothing or lifestyle. On Sunday afternoons from 2 to 5 p.m., a Celtic band gathers and fills the room, were it not otherwise packed with patrons, with a medley of acoustical treats. The house special that night is English Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding. At 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays, a dart tournament is held for those in need of a little sharp competition, and on Monday it is Spotted Dick Day, where you get that famous English dessert free with dinner. I simply can&
t believe what some of you did with that dessert in your minds. I should take your passports away and seat you facing a corner.
Susan came up with 90 percent of the menu, first perfected at home. The balance was either modifications of her dishes or gently lifted from traditional English pubs. Fish and chips, bangers and mash and shepherd&
s pie fly out of the kitchen. Every evening there are specials &
From the Carvery,&
From the Hunt,&
From the Fish Monger&
From the Market Garden.&
Translated, this means roast, game, seafood and vegetarian. Soups are made daily of the freshest ingredients, and the salads are spectacular. Only local herbs, produce and other ingredients are used, cooking with the freshest that the season has to offer.
My favorite soup is called &
Love Apple Soup.&
Tomatoes were brought back by the Conquistadors from Mexico. A yellow variety arrived in Italy, where they instantly added pepper, salt and olive oil and called it pomi d&
oro (golden apples). The French got with the program in a big way, calling tomatoes &
(Love Apples), believing them to be an aphrodisiac. The British, however thought them poisonous and avoided them like the plague. In one of the earliest recorded publicity stunts, in 1820, a grower named Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson announced he would eat a whole bushel of tomatoes in public to prove they were safe to eat. A crowd of thousands turned up to watch Colonel Johnson perform this feat on the steps on the Boston courthouse and were apparently shocked and not a little disappointed when he didn&
t drop down dead.
As for lists of employees, it might be difficult to only list a few ... many have been with Susan the better part of a decade, those including Gabino &
Remegio, Ben Hudson, Kari Miller, Eric Schehen and Samuel Maggi. The list of those who have used The Black Sheep as a springboard to other ventures and careers is very long indeed.
No mention of The Black Sheep would be complete without including the vaporous tale of Donald the Ghost. A tall, broad shouldered man, dressed in a yellow double-breasted suit and hat circa 1880. A dozen people, mostly employees, reportedly have spotted him late at night. His favorite haunts are the men&
s bathroom and the red phone booth. Trouble is, when he is approached by the intrepid, he vanishes. Rumor has it that he lives in the water pipes and only engages in a little mischief now and again. If I ever see him, I&
ll buy him a pint and find out what the deal is.
Enjoying a pint the other day at the Sheep I leaned my head back a little to drain the glass. On the navy blue ceiling that 12 years ago was upgraded to Sheetrock, I noticed a constellation of gold stars. An English Pub inside an English Lodge, run by a woman supernova who is also a dancer (especially salsa!) &
m beginning to see stars everywhere.
Future columns will focus on many businesses and key individuals that have helped make Ashland unique: Frederica Lawrence and Morning Glory, as well as key individuals and events will lead the charge from times past to lend perspective to the revival of the Ashland. Send your favorite remembrances to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Drop by my blog and help me figure things out: http:essentiallyashland.blogspot.com