Old Jackson County fairgrounds The site was where the South Gateway Center stands today
It never fails. Tell how the Jackson County Fairgrounds used to be south of Medford in today's South Gateway Center and people are amazed.
"I never knew that," they say.
It's the best part of retelling history, finding something people never knew that puts a smile on their faces.
That's what happened following the recent story on how the fairgrounds have been moving around the county for the past 150 years.
People wanted to know more about those fairgrounds "where Walmart wants to build a store and those motels keep popping up."
The south fairgrounds opened in 1922, just off of Highway 99, with a grand auto entrance gate and five exhibit buildings.
The gate was near where the Medford Armory is today and the fragrant stock pavilion understandably was placed far away, about where Hometown Buffet is today. The other four buildings were all south of the entrance gate.
Over the years, other pavilions and buildings would fill the area to the north, but most of those came after the fair shut down for lack of money in the early 1930s.
A wooden grandstand with a seating capacity of 1,000 was built across the highway from today's Hays Oil facility.
It overlooked a crude baseball diamond that one day would become the site of Miles Field and a one-and-one-eighth-mile racetrack designed for automobile and motorcycle races. Inside that track was a one-half-mile horse-racing track.
The northern end of the auto track nearly touched a private fairgrounds maintenance road that today we call East Stewart Avenue and the west side of the racetrack crossed over the location of today's Harry & David outlet store. The southern end didn't quite reach today's Rogue Federal Credit Union building on Garfield Street.
Before Center Drive was realigned with the new Exit 27 construction, part of it followed the eastern path of the large track.
We could also talk about Barber Field, Medford's first airport and, at the time, the only air-mail depot in Oregon. Its dirt runways were in the middle of the racetrack, but that definitely is a story for another time.
The Southern Oregon Historical Society has a collection of aerial photos looking down on the old fairgrounds during their heyday.
The federal government took over most of the area in the early 1930s and many of the exhibit buildings became government facilities. Jackson County's road department headquarters even located to the old grounds.
By the time the land was returned to Medford and Jackson County after World War II, the southern parts of the old fairgrounds were virtually a memory and the northern portion was primarily used for 4-H and other exhibits and shows.
In 1951, the old grandstand, still overlooking the baseball diamond, burned down, but thanks to Claude "Shorty" Miles, it was soon replaced and Medford finally had a first-class ballpark. The field was named for Miles after his death in 1968.
Next time you're doing some shopping at the South Gateway Center, take a look around. The smell of cotton candy is gone, but the memories linger on.
Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at email@example.com.