Ashland's Spur: The Whiskey Local (1911-1915)

In 1900, the Ashland Woolen Mill was destroyed by fire. Two years later, the Ashland Manufacturing Company occupied the property. The city granted the company "the right to lay, maintain and keep in repair a railroad track or spur." Yet no construction occurred.

However, in 1904, E.K. Anderson sold 1.12 acres to the Ashland Ice and Storage Co. within a year the new owners of the property, north of Main and between Helman and Water streets, were buying up land. They wanted ownership of the land for a spur from Helman and Mechanic (now Van Ness) streets to their site in today's Blue Bird Park.

Construction for the 1,150-foot spur started immediately. Twenty men were employed to lay a straight track to Factory Street (now Central Street) before veering it in a southwesterly direction along the west side of Ashland Creek. A southern Oregon Historical Society photograph shows a late 1940s portion of the track.


When the Woolen Mill burned in 1900 Ashland's population had increased sixty-seven percent (1,784 to 2,634) from the previous decade. The rate of growth continued and the presence of the railroad vastly improved the flow of products and passenger service into and out of the community. The railroad also provided Ashland with its largest payroll. Its depot on A Street became a center of activity. Amid this growth, plans were developed to enhance passenger service by establishing a ticket office in downtown Ashland. The railroad made surveys and drew plate designing the route. The endeavor was completed on July 23, 1910. It was submitted to the common council and unanimously approved in August for motor car passenger service.

Uptown passenger depot

On July 28, 1910 the Ashland Tidings informed the 5,020 people of the city that the Southern Pacific Railroad intended to build an "up town passenger depot." the end of the year the S.P.R.R. had purchased five pieces of property in a south easterly direction from the ice plant, a 20-foot wide strip from Helman to Central Street at a cost of $3,900. The Ashland Manufacturing Co. sold their SW Water and Central Street plots for $2,000. From Ashland Creek to the present Plaza purchases were made from C.C. Hicks, Butler-Thompson, and H. S. Evans for $3,750., $8,500. and $6,500. respectively.

With these purchases the Ashland newspaper reported that a number of shops and barns on the east side of Water Street would have to be removed. Some of these structures were regarded as community landmarks, particularly the livery stable, as was the earlier flour mill. The December 5, 1910 news article stated "It was built forty two years ago expressly for livery stable purposes, and as such fulfilled a prominent mission in the locality for over four decades."

The new spur was attached to the 1905 Ice Plant spur a few feet in back of the newly constructed building at 85 Central Street (impassable at that time) over the Ice Plant's tail race. The second trestle crossed Ashland Creek a few feet upstream from the present bridge. The distance between the trestles was on hundred and sixty feet.

The rails of the spur diagonally crossed Water Street for one hundred and forty feet before entering its East side eighty feet South of B Street into what is a parking lot today. The last three hundred and forty feet went under the East end of today's overpass ending on a turntable sixty feet in diameter. The center of the turntable in 1910 was 80 feet from Water Street and 95 feet from Main Street. Motor car passenger service was now possible from downtown Ashland to Grants Pass.

The Ashland Tidings always referred to these rail vehicles as motor cars, but they were also known as "McKeens" after their designer William R. McKeen. They were first built in 1905. The S.P.R.R. purchased 39 of the 153 manufactured. Three were deployed to the Ashland-Grants run. Their numbers were 9, 55 and 63; passenger seating was 71,75, and 62 respectively with lengths of 55, 70, and 55 feet in the same order. Their hard maple floors and mahogany walls gave them a touch of class. A smoking and non-smoking sections were separated by a wall and each car had two 'phone booth' size bathrooms; each 'booth' door had the admonition : "Do not flush the closet while the train is standing in the station."

As the rails were being laid, construction of the depot was underway. On Feb. 8, 1891 the S.P.R.R. unloaded a crew of carpenters. Their assignment was to renovate Hiram Evans' paint store into a temporary waiting room, His 44- by 16-foot structure was on the North side of the original Ashland Hotel.

'Unbeautiful edifice'

On the North side of the waiting room another building was soon to be used as the ticket office. It was referred to as an "unbeautiful edifice." A Terry Skibby photograph of the edifice (with the turntable in the foreground) shows the appropriateness of the term.

The September 15, 1920 Ashland Weekly Tidings provides a brief historical sketch of the 40-by-18-foot edifice: "much ancient history is connected with the old building at present belonging to the Southern Pacific Co. which stands beside the Ashland Hotel site. This building was formerly one of the first school houses ever erected in Jackson County. It was known as the Myer school house and stood on the Myer Hill at what is now known as the Valley View district. Along about 1879 the building was moved over to its present site and was first used as a bakery for many years. It has since been occupied by various businesses. Some of the older residents of Ashland received their early education in the old school house."

Adjoining the ticket office was a 18-by-14-foot shelter shed. Two years later, in 1913, the shelter was located 180 feet Northerly between the rails and Water Street. Their addresses were 58, 62 and 66 North Main St. respectively.

In the first six weeks of 1911 the track had been laid to the turntable. The turntable proved itself to pivot "without a hitch". A new motor car arrived &

unique, in that it had a high and low gear.

On February 16 the first motor car traveled the new 960 foot spur to downtown Ashland. It arrived at 9:20 a.m. with passengers from Grants Pass. Forty minutes later it started its return trip. It appears only one motor car used the downtown depot arriving twice a day from its Grants Pass terminal.

The Whisky Local

Within two months of the motor car's presence, the volume of passengers so increased that the S.P.R.R. added a locomotive to provide local service. It operated out of the main depot on A Street. The motor car's schedule was adjusted so as to leave Grants Pass at 10 a.m. and return at — p.m. The motor car's second daily trip delighted Ashlanders. It would leave Grants Pass in the late afternoon and discharge passengers in Medford at 6:30 p.m. It would lay over in Ashland until 10:30 p.m. then return to Medford picking up passengers "who had attended the theatre" then completed its return. This schedule continued for a year and a half. During this time the motor picked up the nickname, "The Whiskey Local."

The term never appeared in any of the Ashland news articles. In 1976, however, this term is used in a local book entitled "The History of Ashland, Oregon." Marjorie Lininger, Ashland Junior High teacher, assigned her class to converse and record their talks with Ashland "old timer" Karen Edwards, and interviewed 91-year-old Merle Dunlap who had lived in Ashland 63 years. He said the following: "They used to have a railroad run up there, and they had a depot there on Main Street"&

166; to the right of the Plaza"&

166; I know they had one local that they ran in there all the time. They called it the Whiskey Local. We used to ride that down the Rogue River for picnics. They let you off most any place."

Bert and Margie Webber's book Railroading in Southern Oregon states "In those days, Grants Pass was a 'dry' town and Ashland was wet! Fellows could take a Friday evening train car from Grants Pass and from stops along the way into Ashland for a weekend fling then return sometime Sunday." On November 20, 1912 schedules changed and no longer provided a late evening schedule for "after the theatre" passengers.

Schedules were changed again in October 1913. Half of the North or South bound trains were eliminated; the motor car, however continued. The change in its schedule prevented it form being a viable option for high school students outside of Medford or Ashland.

The following month an anonymous letter was received by the Ashland newspaper concerning the motor depot. It noted a violation of the state statues. Often the waiting room had no fire for warmth, no water was available and only one rather than two toilets were provided.

Service cut

On the Southern Pacific discontinued motor car service between the two cities. The following reason was given: "This action is due to the auto service which has been established since the completion of the paved highway between Ashland and central Point, and which, on account of lower fares, has secured the largest part of the interurban travel, thus rendering further motor service unprofitable." It may be noted that the term motor bus began to appear. The Ashland-Medford auto Line announced its schedule Dec. 7, 1914. Seven round trips Monday to Saturday, price 60 cents; one-way 35 cents. The "up-town" depot apparently fell into disuse. The W.C.T.U. [Women's Christian Temperance Union] opened it so as to receive good for patriotic work in December 1918.

In April of 1920 an Ashland Tidings article notes a crew of workmen cleaning around the "old motor depot." Later in the year, the city council was asked to send a letter to the Southern Pacific asking that their building on North Main be removed at once. Ashland was in process of widening and paving a portion of North Main Street. The following January the railroad quit claimed the necessary 597 square feet to the city. Upon this small 60- by 10-foot parcel stood part of the old depot.

Gradually the Southern Pacific parceled out its downtown property. In 1936 the depot area was sold to H.L. Claycomb in two small portions. Ten years later Mr. Claycomb purchased most of the remaining station area. In 1947 the city received that portion Mr. Claycomb did not buy. The Southern Pacific in 1959 deeded to the city its right to the water of Ashland Creek.

Today the rails are gone. The road bed is covered with asphalt and concrete. Land has been filled and leveled. When you now park in the Plaza Mall parking lot you're where the spur ended and people boarded the "Whiskey Local."

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