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The railroad was king in Ashland

Exhibit shows trains&


At the beginning of the 20th century, the Southern Pacific Railroad brought waves of vagrants to Ashland along with celebrated speakers who satisfied the cultural cravings of early residents.

Trains still come through Ashland&

s Historic Railroad District in the A Street neighborhood, but they are no longer the predominant means for transporting people and freight. The elegant train depot, with its hotel and dining area, is long gone, and hundreds of Ashland families no longer depend upon the railroad for their livelihood.

An exhibit of historic railroad district photographs from the Southern Oregon Historical Society collection will recall the railroad&

s heyday in Ashland from 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday in the upstairs Community Gallery of the A Street Arts Building, 258 A St. Transportation historian Larry Mullaly will present a slide show from 6:30 to 7 p.m. entitled &

Railroading in Ashland: The Glory Years: 1900-1910.&

Additionally, Due Madri Quilt Gallery will show vintage quilts and local musicians Nancy Spencer and Cyd Smith will perform railroad songs during the exhibit.

Even though trains have little impact on Ashland&

s economy today, Mullaly said the business district along the tracks was as vital as the downtown.


It was almost like there were two downtowns in Ashland,&

he said.

In 1887, an assembled crowd watched as the final spike was driven in to connect the rail line from the north to the rail line coming up from the south. The link not only connected the West Coast, but completed a route around the entire nation, according to Mullaly.

The isolated community of Ashland gained access to the rest of the country, and the rest of the country could come to Ashland.

From the 1890s through about 1920, there was tremendous unemployment, causing vast numbers of people to move along railway lines by catching rides on freight cars, Mullaly said.


There was all manner of humanity moving up that line. Little Victorian towns were not used to the riffraff moving through,&

he said.

But the railroad also may have been a key factor in the eventual development of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Ashland&

s current role as a premier tourist destination, according to Mullaly.

The Chautauqua movement was sweeping America, bringing cultural opportunities to rural communities through a series of lectures and performances. With other forms of long-distance transportation still difficult and dangerous, speakers and performers were able to reach Ashland with relative ease via train. People from around the region also could travel the rails to attend.

Townspeople built the first domed Chautauqua building in 1893. After the popularity of Chautauqua waned, the Shakespeare Festival&

s Elizabethan Theatre was built in 1935 using the walls of the by-then domeless building.

Today, the railroad district continues to feed the arts &

although it now acts as the home for a host of art galleries and studios.

Victoria Walker, owner and manager of the A Street Arts Building, said a group of local artists, gallery owners and history lovers has joined together to keep the history of the railroad district alive.

She worked with the Southern Oregon Historical Society to print large-scale copies of railroad district photographs for Friday&

s display.

Walker said much has been forgotten about the railroad&

s history, including its importance in transporting Rogue Valley fruit &

including the once-famous Ashland peach &

and spurring the growth of the local orchard industry.

The importance of the railroad to Ashland was destroyed virtually overnight with the 1927 completion of an alternate rail line from Weed, Calif., through Klamath Falls to Eugene. The new route bypassed the treacherous Siskiyou Summit, according to Mullaly.

Walker said the newly organized group of art and history-lovers will present more about the history of the railroad district at their next exhibit, &

Ashland: Then and Now,&

on Oct. 7 at Gallery DeForrest.