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Histories & Mysteries: More Ashland history

Who was the first U.S. president to visit Ashland? When did Ashland get its first shopping center? Which Shakespeare play was first performed by Oregon Shakespeare Festival? Let’s look at these and other firsts.

First church and first church building

Beginning in 1864, 14 Methodist families began to meet in their Ashland homes and started raising money for a church building and a college.

The original First Methodist Church first hosted services in 1877 at the corner of North Main and Laurel streets. After a windstorm toppled the steeple in 1904, a sturdier church was built on the foundations of the original and opened in 1908. That is the church we see today. The stained-glass windows were crafted in 1908 by the Povey Brothers company in Portland.

First library

The Ashland Library & Reading Room Association was created in December 1879 with 200 donated books. In 1891, the new Library Association was created with dues of $1 each per year, and within a year it had 97 members. The library, a room at E.K. Anderson’s house, was open every Saturday from 2 to 6 p.m.

By 1900, the library had 1,200 books and a dedicated room in city hall, still open each Saturday afternoon.

In 1909, Ashlanders received word that Andrew Carnegie’s foundation would donate $15,000 toward building an Ashland library. The Carnegie library was dedicated in 1912. Still standing, the building is now the children’s library. The Carnegie Foundation funded 1,687 public libraries in U.S., 31 in Oregon between 1901 and 1915. Ashland’s library is one of 11 still standing.

The library served Ashland until the 1950s, when an extension was built to the rear and the Gresham Room was added in the basement level. A much larger expansion took place in 2003, yielding the library we see today.

First presidential visit

On Sept. 28, 1880, a stagecoach full of VIPs rolled into Ashland: President Rutherford B. Hayes, the first lady, and Civil War hero General Sherman. The Ashland Tidings estimated 2,000 people gathered in the Plaza to greet them.

First bank

Henry Beach Carter was a pioneer farmer in Iowa. When he retired from the farm, he opened a general store in Elkader, Iowa. In 1871 he established the First National Bank of Elkader. When he and his family moved to Ashland in 1884, he duplicated the feat by co-founding the Bank of Ashland.

The building, at 15 N. Main St., is still there, now the home of Tree House Books. It was the only bank in town until 1909, and it went out of business in 1939.

Beach Street was named after Carter.

First city park

Ashland’s first park was called Chautauqua Park. It was located on 7 1/2 acres purchased in June 1893, after the first Chautauqua meeting in Southern Oregon was moved at the last minute from Central Point to Ashland.

The domed structure, large enough to seat 1,000 people, was built in one week, and was completed just one day before the 1893 Chautauqua opened. The concrete foundation of the 1917 Chautauqua building was incorporated into Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Allen Elizabethan Theater.

First creamery

The Butler-Perozzi Fountain in Lithia Park was named partly for Domingo Perozzi, who in 1895 founded the first creamery in Ashland, located where you now find the skating rink on Winburn Way. This was also the first creamery in Jackson County. As a result, his Ashland Creamery thrived, and Perozzi donated funds along with Gwin Butler to purchase the fountain for the 1916 grand opening of Lithia Park. Butler and Perozzi bought the fountain, carved from Verona marble by Italian sculptor Antonio Forilli, at the close of the 1915 San Francisco Pan-Pacific Exposition.

First hospital: is it No. 1 or No. 2?

No. 1: In late 1907, the Fordyce-Roper house on East Main Street was converted into a small hospital. It was damaged by fire in March 1909, though all patients got out safely.

As the house was being repaired, citizens discussed the need for a larger and more modern hospital.

No. 2: In 1910, the two-story, 18-room Granite City Hospital was built. This was a “real” hospital. Designed by noted Southern Oregon architect Frank Clark, it occupied the current site of SOU’s Stevenson Union.

First “shopping mall”

Henry Enders Sr. and family moved to Ashland from Boise in 1907. In Idaho, Enders had owned a department store. In Ashland, he built in 1910 what you could call the first shopping mall in Southern Oregon. The Enders Building, on East Main Street between First and Second streets, was an entire block of stores connected with interior doors, so people could walk from one to another without going outside.

The shops had men’s clothing, furnishings, men’s and ladies’ shoes, ladies’ ready-to-wear, ladies’ dry good and piece goods, a 15-cent store, a music store, a confectionary, hardware and sporting goods and a grocery store.

Enders’ shops were popular with more than just Ashland residents. In the 1910s and 1920s, people from other towns would arrive in Ashland on a morning train, spend the day shopping in the Enders shops, see the sights of Ashland, then go home on an afternoon or evening train. Some even stayed overnight at the Columbia Hotel above Enders’ shops, which is still in business at the same location after 110 years.

First Shakespeare plays

Angus Bowmer moved to Ashland in 1931 to be an English professor at Southern Oregon Normal School. The expanded 1917 Chautauqua dome had been torn down in 1933, but its concrete foundation remained. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s website says Bowmer “was struck by the resemblance between the Chautauqua walls and some sketches he had seen of Elizabethan theaters.”

Bowmer talked the city into supporting the production of two Shakespeare plays as part of Ashland’s 1935 4th of July celebrations. The city gave him money — “not to exceed $400” — and state funds helped get the stage built. The city insisted that afternoon boxing matches be held on the stage as a way to bring in patrons and income.

Bowmer directed and starred in “Twelfth Night” July 2, the first play, “Merchant of Venice” July 3, and “Twelfth Night” again July 4. Income from the evening Shakespeare plays covered losses from the boxing matches.

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.

A 1909 fire damaged the small hospital on East Main Street. Photo courtesy of Ben Truwe