Ashland's pioneers come to life

In 1851, straight from Iowa fields, John Tolman came rolling into a little valley where he would soon help build a city — named Ashland.

Tolman, for which Tolman Creek is named, was buried in the Ashland Cemetery at East Main and Morton streets in 1902. But this weekend he will come to life again, as part of a Meet the Ashland Pioneers event an Ashland church will hold at the cemetery.

"He was really one of the first to bring permanent settlers here to this valley," said Robert Hight, who portrays Tolman during the cemetery tours.

Hight is one of 17 actors who dress in period costumes and portray pioneers who developed Ashland in the 1800s during a walking tour through the cemetery, located next to Safeway.

The Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship is organizing the tour, which also ran last weekend.

The one-hour tours will run from 4 to 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and will depart from the cemetery entrance every 15 minutes. The last tour will depart at 6 p.m. The tours are accessible for people with disabilities, organizers said.

Tickets cost $10 for adults, $5 for children, or $25 for families of two adults and as many as three children, and can be purchased at Paddington Station or at the cemetery. Half of the proceeds will go to Art in the Schools programs in the Rogue Valley.

Last weekend about 100 people took the tour, said director Delores Nims.

She hopes locals will take the tour to learn more about how the town became the way it is today, she said.

"Many of the things that we enjoy in Ashland today — the scenic beauty of Lithia Park, the high level of culture and education — is actually a consequence of the decisions and values of those pioneers from the 1800s," she said.

"Nothing just happens — it's always an idea in someone's head."

Meanwhile, Hight, a Rogue Valley resident for about 64 years, sees the tour as a way to not only to remember Ashland's past but to preserve its future.

"I think when you understand the history, you have a more of an understanding and an investment in your area," he said. "And the cemetery's got a lot of history."

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or

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