Marjorie Lutz O&
Harra, long retired from her work in journalism, sits back in her Phoenix home, and takes a moment to reflect upon her decades of research on the community in which she&
s lived all her life. A former writer for both the Ashland Daily Tidings and the Medford Mail Tribune, she&
s documented &
with an unparalleled passion &
s maturation as a community. It&
s a passion that has remained despite her absence from the work to which she dedicated herself for the latter half of the 20th century.
Ask any local resident who&
s lived in the area for a considerable amount of time and they&
ll tell you that Ashland is a community quite unlike any other. From its founding as a market town in the mid-19th century to its current role as a nationally acclaimed tourist attraction, O&
s documentation of the town&
s growth is singular.
Ashland was not far from where gold was discovered in Jacksonville,&
Harra recalls, &
so there was a lot of travel between the gold miners coming up from California after the strike of 1849. The Donation Land Claim Act in 1850 made it possible for people to get free land, so the settlers started to come in and they needed a market and supply town, and Ashland was born.&
Linked by her fascination with Ashland&
s rise as a community was O&
s rise as a journalist.
The reason I got interested in history is because I was looking for feature stories and in Ashland there&
s a feature story under every rock. ... When I was in high school, I began to work after school at the Tidings writing local stories for the back page. I would go into the morgue and read the old papers, and I began to find things that intrigued me. All the stories were there in the old papers, and I thought people living here now don&
t know these stories, and they should.&
More than any other factor, she credits Ashland&
s early successes for her own. the time O&
Harra began her career as a journalist, Ashland had evolved from a fledgling community to a bustling town with a population in the thousands.
— — — —
The biggest spurt of growth in Ashland came when the railroad came through in 1887. It was built south from Portland and north from Sacramento and the two lines met in Ashland. And so when those lines met in Ashland, it was an event that was recognized all around the United States because this completed the circle of railroads around the United States. It was a big event that brought a lot of attention to Ashland and caused it to grow rapidly.&
As vital as the railroad was industrially, the inaugural Shakespearean Festival in 1935 was equally significant culturally, and both had tremendous impacts on Ashland&
s blossoming economy. The festival was an instant hit, and in 1959 the Elizabethan Stage was built. that time, O&
Harra was the leading voice in the Rogue Valley, chronicling the region&
s history as it unfolded before our eyes.
In the midst all of this, surprisingly, no one had undertaken the task of writing a book about Ashland. O&
Harra sought to change that.
My first book was more of a pamphlet, but since there was nothing written on Ashland, I wrote a little book called &
145;The Ashland Story&
and it was printed and distributed.&
She followed up &
The Ashland Story&
Ashland: The First 130 Years,&
Southern Oregon: Short Trips into History,&
Ashland in Transition.&
Despite receiving varying literary acclaim from each of her books, O&
Harra looks back fondly upon all of her work.
The very first one (&
145;The Ashland Story&
) was the best received, whereas the last one (&
145;Ashland in Transition&
) ... I realized while writing it that the book was not going to be as popular now. I wrote it hoping that 50 years from now, people will look back and take something from it, because with everything that goes on, no one&
s going to have the opportunity that I had to sit down and thumb through those old newspapers. It was wonderful fun.&
Earlier this year, O&
Harra was given the 2005 Southern Oregon Heritage Award by the Southern Oregon Historical Society for her lifelong commitment to the preservation of the region&
While honored by the award, she views it with a sense of perspective.
I was very pleased in winning the award. There are a lot of people who study history, but what I did as a journalist rather than a historian was more public and for the Historical Society to recognize me was an honor. Those people, though, who more so than myself have dedicated their lives to history also deserve recognition, and to be held in their regard is greater an honor even than the award.&
Harra has reached a point in her life where it&
s common to sit back and dwell upon one&
s achievements. Rather than looking back, however, she prefers to look forward to what the future has in store for Ashland.
Since retiring, my husband and I have done a lot of traveling in the United States. We find other places we like, but when you consider altogether the things that make livability &
s all here.&
s not difficult to foresee prosperity in Ashland&
s future; what is difficult is envision a journalist to document it with the same passion of Marjorie O&