Next stop: Gasburg?
Who was Tine the mayor?
What town was first known as Table Rock City?
When do we arrive in Gasburg?
Where was Fort Wagner?
Why did Susan B. Anthony, William Jennings Bryan and John Philip Sousa pass through Ashland?
How did Thomas Chavner get so rich?
Which town once led the world in number of automobiles per capita?
The answers can be mined in this short tour through some of Jackson County’s towns during the “golden” era.
Jacksonville, the Rogue Valley’s oldest town, was an accident waiting to happen.
Two mule packers — James R. Poole and James Clugage — were hauling supplies between the Willamette Valley and Yreka, Calif., in winter 1851-52 and set up camp in the foothills south of Jacksonville. The next morning, the story goes, they found Indians had stolen some of their mules. After hunting for the mules into the afternoon, the two men stopped for a drink of water from a creek and spied a glittering nugget of gold. Poole and Clugage wasted no time filing a claim on the land, what we now know today as Rich Gulch. They also filed claims along Jackson Creek, where large quantities of coarse placer gold were found.
The pair’s discovery of the rich gold deposits roused gold fever, and by winter 1852-53, the mining camp known as Table Rock City grew to more than 900 people, complete with a bank, shops, saloons and gambling halls. When the town became the seat of the newly created Jackson County in 1853, it was christened Jacksonville.
Jacksonville, incorporated in 1860, was once the largest town in Oregon Territory, and then the second largest in the state — a distinction lost when the railroad bypassed the town in 1884.
Ashland began in 1852 after founders Abel Helman and Eber Emery discovered that all that glitters is not necessarily gold. Their fortunes started humbly with a water-powered sawmill, and in 1854, their business ventures included a flour mill and woolen mills on the banks of Ashland Creek, near today’s Lithia Park. One year later, Helman donated 12 building sites to create a central business district, complete with blacksmith, livery, meat market and cabinet shop encircling a plaza much like the one there today. When the post office opened in 1855, the town fathers dubbed it Ashland Mills, paying homage to their hometowns in Ashland County, Ohio, and Ashland, Ky.
Ashland proved that location, location, location really does sell.
The town was a layover for weary travelers on the main wagon road to Jacksonville and the Oregon-California stagecoach line over the Siskiyou Mountains. In the mid-1880s, Ashland became district headquarters for the Oregon & California Railroad, and with its hosting of Southern Oregon’s annual Chautauqua festival in the 1890s, it became a whistle stop for well-known personalities such as Susan B. Anthony, William Jennings Bryan and John Philip Sousa.
Incorporated in 1874, Ashland grew faster than any city south of Portland, and by 1900, with 2,634 residents, it was the largest town in Jackson County — and its cultural center.
Medford, located smack dab in the middle of the Rogue Valley, became Southern Oregon’s hub for agriculture and commerce after Jacksonville banker C.C. Beekman conveyed land to the Oregon & California Railroad Co. in 1883.
Named after railroad engineer David Loring’s hometown of Medford, Mass., Southern Oregon’s Medford grew from a typical Wild West settlement with muddy streets and a great many saloons into a booming railroad town.
After Medford was incorporated in 1885, one of its first city ordinances addressed the problem of “hogs running wild.”
The proximity of the railroad allowed the area’s orchard industry to flourish. Thousands of apple and pear trees were planted in the early 1900s, and the Rogue Valley’s major export was fruit. The Medford Commercial Club (aka the Chamber of Commerce) promoted the region as an agricultural Mecca, and soon entrepreneurial real estate agents were meeting scores of out-of-towners looking for prosperity in paradise.
Because newcomers coveted the new “horseless buggies” for their excursions from their country estates to the city, Medford soon had another claim to fame. In 1909, the Medford Mail Tribune reported that the city led the world in the number of automobiles per capita. It had one automobile for every 30 people; nationally, there was only one car for every 500 people.
Central Point’s geographical location at the intersection of two pioneer wagon trails inspired early settler Isaac Constant in 1852 to name it just that: Central Point. It lay at the hub of roads leading north to the Willamette Valley, and east and west to Butte Falls, Sams Valley and Jacksonville.
It was also located in the center of Bear Creek Valley.
But, did you know there were two Central Points?
Old Central Point was founded in 1868 on land owned by brothers Constantine and Theophilua (known as Tine and Toss) Magruder. A successful shopkeeper, Constantine became the city’s first mayor when the town was incorporated in 1889. When they got wind that California & Oregon Railroad would bypass Central Point, the crafty landowners made an offer the railroad couldn’t refuse. They agreed to give a right-of-way to the railroad through their land, and in exchange, the property owners would relocate Central Point. With this wise move, the station depot was located in the heart of Main Street.
In 1934, Rogue Valley farmers invested $10 each to form a cooperative, and more than 80 years later, the Grange Co-op is a multimillion-dollar business serving the entire valley, and its grain elevator a landmark.
Gold Hill is another aptly named town, thanks to the good fortune of an Irish immigrant named Thomas Chavner.
Chavner has one of the more interesting resumes of the early town fathers. He came to the United States as 6-year-old, served as a cabin boy on riverboats, worked traps with Kit Carson, was a Comanche interpreter, and fought in the war with Mexico, 1846-47.
After he arrived in Southern Oregon in 1856, he bought land on both sides of the Rogue River near present-day Gold Hill.
One day, two of Chavner’s ranch hands were wandering the hills looking for stray horses when they stumbled upon a large boulder. Brilliant and white, the rock — hound’s-tooth quartz — was heavily laced with gold.
Chavner and others quickly staked claim to the “Gold-Hill Pocket.” Although the pocket was emptied in eight months, $700,000 (or nearly $40 million at today’s value) worth of gold was extracted. Chavner, who had bought out his partners, used his proceeds to acquire more real estate.
By 1880, Chavner owned more than 2,000 acres along a three-mile stretch of the Rogue River. In addition to several other enterprises, he also owned the toll bridges in and out of Gold Hill.
When the Oregon & California Railroad needed land in 1883, Chavner sold 17 acres to the company, and in 1884, he recorded a plat map encompassing the 80 acres that surrounded the railroad’s core. The intended streets and alleys were bequeathed to the public and individual home sites sold.
Chavner died in 1888, seven years before Gold Hill was incorporated, but the town, even today, is essentially the same one he mapped out.
Talent played a role in the dramatic Rogue River Indian Wars of 1853 and 1855.
Jacob Wagner’s 160-acre donation claim along the creek that now bears his name was the site of a log stockade known as “Fort Wagner.” An acre in size, the 2-feet thick, 12-foot high walls protected Wagner’s family and other pioneers. Once the battles ended, however, Ashland and Jacksonville stole the limelight.
Wagner sold most of his town site to Horace Root for $3,500 and moved to Ashland, where he started bottling Lithia Spring waters.
A Tennessee woodworker named Aaron P. (A.P.) Talent moved to the area in 1875, and purchased most of the original Wagner claim and surrounding 106 acres. His property became the site of a new post office in 1883, and Talent was named the postmaster. When residents set out for their mail, they would say they were headed to “Talent’s” and the name stuck.
Talent, incorporated in 1910, was a beneficiary of the 1900s orchard boom, but went bust when a fire destroyed the town in 1911 and the Great Depression deflated the fruit market.
Phoenix’s handle is owed to Phoenix Insurance agent Sylvester M. Wait, who simply decided to nail his company’s nameplate to the wall of his grist mill that also served as the town’s post office.
But the town was known by a much more colorful name for more than 50 years.
Settled by Sam Colver, a former Texas Ranger who served with Gen. Sam Houston, Phoenix also served as a fort during the Rogue Indian Wars of 1853 and 1855. Colver was appointed Indian agent and U.S. marshall, and signed the Table Rock Treaty in September 1853.
Colver laid out the town in 1854; a stop on the Oregon & California Railroad, it became known as “Gasburg.”
In the 1850s, when single men far outnumbered eligible women, a young cook named Kate Clayton caught the attention of the men who worked at the Wait flour mill.
“Miss Kate” was known for her witty fast-talking ways as much as she was for her cooking. The men dubbed her “Gassy Kate,” and when the topic of the town’s name came up for discussion, the decision was to call it “Gasburg” for her chatty ways.
Phoenix, incorporated in 1910, also experienced the boom and bust of the orchard market, and weathered the storms of the Great Depression, World War II, and the timber wars.
Like others, Eagle Point’s founding fathers decided that their fortunes were not to be made in the Gold Rush, but by off those struck by gold fever.
The first was James J. Fryer, an Englishman, who settled along Little Butte Creek in 1852. Considered the “father of Eagle Point,” Fryer is credited with creating an agricultural hub for those traveling to and from Sams Valley, the Medford-Talent area and Ashland.
But it was John Mathews who named the town Eagle Point in 1877, in honor of the eagles that soared above the surrounding buttes.
The Snowy Butte Mill (the predecessor of the Butte Creek Mill), which began operations in 1872, put Eagle Point on the map. Situated along the banks of Little Butte Creek, it drew farmers who traveled for miles on rutted, dusty wagon roads to have their grain ground to flour.
The town didn’t incorporate until 1911, after the Pacific & Eastern Railroad came to town. Dependent on logging, the town ebbed and flowed with the timber industry, as the railroad spur served the Medford mills.
Eagle Point prospered during World War II, but floundered again when nearby Camp White was dismantled.
— Sources: Southern Oregon Historical Society, Mail Tribune stories by Bill Miller, Dennis Power’s “Past & Present: What You Might Not Know (But Want to) About Southern Oregon History,” Ben Truwe’s “Southern Oregon History Revised,” and historical preservation consultant George Kramer’s essay on the city of Talent’s history.