Heart of Ashland

A few weeks ago, the landscape architectural firm of Covey Pardee presented to a City Council study session the preliminary landscape plan for the latest facelift of the triangular island that forms the hub of the Plaza. The public, through several sessions, provided opinions on this plan. In the first session, we were shown pictures of the various configurations that this space has taken over the past 158 years.

To understand history of the evolution of this island and the area we call the Plaza, if we faced Lithia Park from this island and traveled back to the 1860s, we would see the flour mill powered by a spillway coming down the hill on which the Angus Bowmer Theatre now sits.

To our left is City Hall, then Hargadine's General Store, and to the right, buildings formed on the East bank of Mill (Ashland) Creek. In front of these buildings ran the Old Stage Road. It circled around the front of the mill, passed by Hargadine's and then headed east up the hill, much as we do today to leave the park.

Slowly, businesses developed along East Main Street and became our downtown. The Old Stage Road became the Pacific Highway (99); the grade was lowered significantly from Laurel Street to Granite Street and buildings that formed the north side of the Plaza were taken out to create a straight shot through town.

Even though the highway bypassed the Plaza, the pulse of our dear city still emulated from this, the heart of the town.

While attending Briscoe Elementary School, I walked through this island every day. It was much manicured in those days; my maternal grandparents were among the many volunteers that kept it that way. There were important shops in the Plaza: Perrine's Clothing Store, Simpson Hardware, Lithia Grocery, Park View Department Store (co-owned by our city attorney Dave Lohman's dad), and the original Lithia Motors facing the Plaza from East Main Street. City Hall housed not only city administration, but also Council Chambers, the police station and the fire station.

Most of the picture I just painted has been erased, yet the Plaza still remains vital in its reinvention. My hope is that the council will proceed with finalizing the plan to revitalize the island.

By the way, does anybody know what happened to the "Free Lithia Water" sign that adorned a place near the fountains? It is so missed by yours truly.

Michael Dawkins has lived all but a few years in Ashland and has served on the Planning Commission for nine years. He calls himself a "plantsman" with knowledge of landscape design.

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