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Ashland saves Albert Johnson

From the front porch of his house in the hills west of Ashland, Albert Johnson could see the city center, with Mount Ashland to his right, and far to the east the tip of Mount McLoughlin peeking through the clouds.

Sixty-five-year-old Albert arrived in Ashland in 1907, a broken man in search of a healthy home for himself and his ailing wife.

“When a man gets to be 60 years old or more,” he said, “and sees failure staring him in the face, it is a pretty tragic thing.”

He met and married his wife, Mary, in Illinois on Christmas Day 1862 and, by 1870, moved his family to Kansas.

“I was a grocery man all my life,” he said, “and was the owner of a grocery store in Kansas City. By 1904, my health had been very bad for a year or two. My wife’s health also was poor, and it seemed that everything we could make in the grocery business we had to spend on doctors.”

Adding to his problems were the long hours confined in his store, necessary because of the fierce competition from others.

“Unless you have been a grocery man you have no idea of the worry one has in that business,” he said.

Unwittingly, he was in competition with traveling swindlers who would purchase a few pounds of his best coffee and use it as a sample to tempt his customers. The swindlers would offer the coffee for 25 to 30 cents a pound, cutting Albert’s cost by at least 15 cents.

“Naturally, they secured orders,” Albert said. “They would go to another store and buy some of the cheapest grade of coffee for 15 cents a pound and fill their orders. By the time my customers woke up to the fact they had been defrauded, it was too late.”

Finally, the work, his worry and his poor health forced him to sell his home and business.

“The doctor told me I would have to go to a health resort or I would not live long. I saw nothing ahead of me but failure and defeat.”

While traveling west, someone told him Ashland was an ideal health resort. When he arrived, he used all of his money, $1,400, as a down payment on four acres of fertile land. The land included a house, some chickens, a couple of cows and farm tools.

Albert went to work.

“It was hard work, but it never seemed like work,” he said. “I felt stronger than I had in 20 years.”

He bought more property. His orchards bloomed with apples, peaches, pears, strawberries, grapes and persimmons. His fruit exhibits at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition won him two gold medals for strawberries and cherries, a silver medal for peaches and a bronze medal for pears.

“Since I have been here I have had the best of health ever, and my wife too,” Albert said. “There has never been a time when I do not look forward with pleasure to the next day’s work. I have at last found a work that I love.”

Albert’s success continued until he died at age 84 in 1928. Two years earlier his wife had died, just before celebrating their 63rd anniversary.

“I have never been happier in any other period of my life,” he said. “I certainly am glad that I heard the call of the west and came to Oregon.”

Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.