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From giant peaches to Bigfoot

Ashland was growing peaches as big as cantaloupes in the 1800s before train tracks arrived. That’s just one of the historical details that Wayne Chipman of Central Point has acquired at the monthly Windows in Time lecture series held in Medford and Ashland.

The series begins its 10th year of monthly talks in January sponsored by Jackson County Library Services and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. The talks have been presented by both well-known and lesser-known historians of the area. Collections at SOHS, Southern Oregon University’s Hannon Library and the Jackson County Genealogy Library have helped lecturers cover topics from pre-pioneer days to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory in Ashland.

“We try to find those nuggets of intersecting subjects that bridge the past to the present, are fresh and original, and delivered by engaging speakers,” said Dennis Powers, a member of the series committee.

Chipman and his wife, Mary, have been attending regularly in either Medford or Ashland for six years. She’s kept all the programs from the talks. Chipman was born in Ashland and also has lived in Medford.

The giant peaches were hauled to Medford where trains sped them to Portland and then around the rest of the country, Chipman learned at the talk. Some of the large, older houses in Ashland were built by orchardists, but the boom ended when disease and pests devastated the fruit trees.

Chipman also liked the tale told by retried TV newsman Ron Brown about seeing some old guys out in a field where they had put up a white fence along Highway 140 as he was returning from Klamath Falls. Brown stopped and learned that the men sought out old cemeteries and got permission from landowners to restore them. The men often looked for a solitary oak in a field, a traditional cemetery marker in older days.

“They found (tales of) a crotchety old guy and a family that was really mean to everyone,” said Chipman. “They buried him in the family plot and the oak tree died.”

Former Mail Tribune reporter Paul Fattig once related a story about a man who announced he was going to survive in the woods all alone at a press conference in Cave Junction, Chipman said. The guy took off his clothes at the press conference and walked off ready to provide for himself. But Fattig reported he actually had an accomplice with whom he would share dinners.

“We were interested in how things got going here,” said Ashland’s Clayton Gordon, 95, who attends the sessions regularly with his wife, Betty, 85. They make an event of it, going to lunch afterwards.

“They talked about Bigfoot and the trap they built,” Gordon said of one presentation. “People seem to see this creature every once in a while.”

Gordon also recalled the story of a family that lived locally in the latter 18th century. The men were all over 6 feet tall and drank too much. They were gold miners, and the more gold they got, the more they drank, Gordon recalled.

“That was some use for their gold,” said Gordon.

Events take place at noon the first Wednesday of each month at the Medford library and the second Wednesday at Ashland’s library. The talks last for an hour.

Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Larry Smith, director of the Jacksonville Woodlands Association, stands next to a sluice box that Eagle Scouts constructed in 2011. Smith will lead a talk about Jacksonville gold and the trail systems for the Windows in Time lecture series. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]