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Ashland history 'firsts' part 2

What year was the Ashland Tidings newspaper founded?

How did a 3-year-old help start Ashland School District No. 5?

Which Presidential candidate did Ashlanders vote for in 1860?

How many name changes has Southern Oregon University had in its first 148 years?

Part 1 began with a brief introduction to a Native American village where Lithia Park is now located, as described by some of the first Americans who settled in Ashland. Part 1 ended with a description of the first formal schooling in Ashland — classes began Oct. 3, 1854, with a handful of children in the home of Eber Emery. To begin Part 2, let’s pick up that story three years later with a surprising school story.

First Ashland School District

Three years after a handful of students began meeting for school in Eber Emery’s house, locals decided to organize a formal school district. This would enable Ashland to receive public funds to help with school expenses.

Here’s how Marjorie O’Harra described what happened. “An enrollment of 13 children was necessary to establish the district. ... After a thorough scouring of the community, only 12 children could be found. Pioneers being resourceful folks, 3-year-old John Helman was pressed into service and School District No. 5 came into being.”

I guess you could say that John Helman was “small but mighty” with his power to bring School District No. 5 into being!

First Post Office

In the first three years of the tiny community, a local resident had to travel to Jacksonville’s post office once a week to get mail for Ashland, and then people picked up their mail in Abel and Martha Helman’s kitchen. Ashland graduated to an official Post Office in 1855. Mail still came only once a week, but the post “office” moved from Helman’s kitchen to the Ashland Flour Mill office. Abel Helman was Postmaster of Ashland for the first 27 years of the local Post Office.

First School Building

Ashland residents built the first dedicated school house in 1860. About 18 students attended regularly, not many more than the 13 students enrolled back in 1857.

First Ashland Presidential Election

“Ashlanders voted for Lincoln in 1860, while the remainder of the region strongly supported the pro-slavery candidate, and the town remained a dependably Republican island in a Democratic sea for decades thereafter.” [quote from LaLande, Oregon Encyclopedia]

First Residential Streets

Ashland’s first known map, drawn in 1860, showed the Plaza and one street, called “Street.” This one street was actually the Jacksonville-to-Yreka stage road.

By the time of B.F. Myer’s 1867 official map, Ashland had grown. Not only was the stage road through town now called “Stage Road,” but there were also nine residential streets on the map. The streets radiated out from the Ashland Plaza, and about four blocks west along what is now North Main Street. From East to West, the street names are Oak Street, Water Street, Granite Street, Church Street, Pine Street, Bush Street, Laurel Street, Manzanita Street and Factory Street (now Central Avenue).

First College

Creating a college was a vision of Southern Oregon Methodists, which got a boost in 1869 when a Methodist conference was held in Ashland. The Rev. Joseph H. Skidmore made it a reality in 1872.

He used his carpentry skills to finish a half-built structure, then opened Ashland Academy for training teachers. After failing financially and then opening again in 1882, the renamed Ashland College and Normal School had 42 students and four teachers. At that time, it was located at the Briscoe School site on North Main Street.

Today, after a total of 10 name changes (!), Southern Oregon University has 6,000 students on a 175 acre campus and is one of the jewels of Ashland.

First Fraternal Organization

Fraternal organizations were an important part of community life in frontier America. In Ashland, the first fraternal organization was formed in 1873 — Ashland Lodge No. 45 of the International Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.). After the Plaza fire of March 11, 1879, the Odd Fellows built a two-story structure with local bricks. To this day, their brick building anchors the corner of the Plaza and still proudly identifies itself with “I.O.O.F. 1879” visible at the top of the building.

Founded in the United States in 1819, by the 1890s the Odd Fellows were the largest fraternal organization in America. The I.O.O.F. still thrives today, with over half a million members around the world. There are at least five Odd Fellows lodges today in Oregon, though none in Ashland.

First Newspaper

June 17, 1876, marked the day Ashland residents got their own newspaper, the Ashland Tidings. Before that, they got their news from Jacksonville newspapers. It began as a weekly paper and became a twice-weekly by 1896. Becoming a daily paper in 1912, the name was changed to the Ashland Daily Tidings.

And what is the name now?

Once again, it is the Ashland Tidings as of 2019. For a small-circulation newspaper in a small town, it is amazing that the Tidings has been able to survive for 144 years!

First City Band

According to the Ashland City Band website, an Ashland Brass Band came into being in 1876. It quotes the April 14, 1877, issue of the Ashland Tidings: “The article, about a musical program given at the Ashland Academy, ends with, ‘We cannot omit to mention the Ashland Brass Band whose valuable services were tendered without charge and enlivened the occasion with many pieces of music.’”

Now the Ashland City Band, our community band has had four (and possibly six) names in the past 144 years.

The band became more prominent in town after 1890, when Otis Helman was named the conductor. Helman had attended and graduated from the Chicago School of Music, so he raised the quality of the music. Under Helman, this band was also known as the “Helman Red Suit Band.”

The city band has marched in Ashland parades for more than 100 years. Even today, the Ashland City Band leads the Fourth of July parade, immediately after the Color Guard.

Part 3 (coming soon) will introduce you to the first United States President to visit Ashland, the first “shopping mall” in town, the first play performed by Oregon Shakespeare Festival and more.

As his contribution to building community, Peter Finkle is walking every street in Ashland and writing an article with photos about every street. Visit WalkAshland.com to see and read about local people, history, yard art, architecture, gardens and more.

courtesy photoThis was the Ashland Academy building in 1900. The Academy, founded in 1872, was the precursor to Southern Oregon Normal School and eventually Southern Oregon University.