Preserving the past

The importance of Ashland's heritage and preservation was celebrated last week during Historic Preservation Week. The annual event, which began in Ashland in 1988, is an outreach program of The National Trust For Historic Preservation and part of National Historic Preservation Month.

The town's many architectural and historic resources were recognized.

Various walking tours and open houses for public viewing were offered throughout the week and, according to Historic Commission Administrative Clerk Billie Boswell, public viewing is part of the agreement when applying for historic recognition.

"The application allows for the freezing of property taxes for 15 years, enabling them to use the saved money for restoration and improvements," Boswell said. "Part of the agreement is that the property be open for public viewing once a year."

The commission notified everyone with these special assessments to open their property during preservation week, which would not only improve the week's offering, but also allow the commission to aid in the planning and running of the tours, Boswell said.

One of the most well-known historic register properties in town, the Peerless Hotel on Fourth Street, was open for public viewing on May 13.

"Several couples came by and we were pleasantly surprised," said Peerless Hotelkeeper Michael Biggs. "We've had open houses before and nobody showed up."

Biggs explained that Crissy Barnett purchased the building in 1989 and opened for business in 1994. The five years in between were spent on serious restoration.

"It was a resurrection rather than a restoration," Biggs said. "Basically, a new building was put inside the shell, but most of the original woodwork still remains."

The hotel, originally a boarding house for railroad workers, is listed in the book "1,000 Places To See Before You Die," a New York Times best-seller by Patricia Schultz.

To the theme of "Recognizing That This Place Matters," the Ashland Historic Commission presented the Distinguished Architectural Preservation Awards on Thursday in Pioneer Hall. The keynote speaker was Historic Commissioner Alexander Krach.

"We are only caretakers and inheritors of this land, and it is a difficult opportunity for us," Krach said. "Thank you for doing what you can to preserve it. These efforts are saving a little bit of history for us and our children and there is no way to quantify that."

During his opening speech, Krach emphasized the importance of community involvement in preservation matters.

"It is not solely the project that matters, it is the community that does it," he said. "It gives you a sense of place; it's part of your identity and that's all it has to be."

Ashland Mayor John Stromberg presented the awards and also stressed the community effort involved in the restoration projects.

"I try to get the community connected in different ways; it shows the importance of place," Stromberg said. "Let's be worthy of this miraculous place and let it guide us to be what we can be."

Ashland residents Cathy DeForest and Leon Pyle received the Individual Award, recognizing their efforts in raising awareness of the Historic Railroad District and the issues facing the city's Lithia Springs property, site of the Ashland Gun Club.

"We were very honored," DeForest said. "I can't take all the credit; we worked with some key people. I helped facilitate the process."

DeForest and Pyle helped create the Ashland Railroad Association, which publishes a walking map of the district and maintains a Web site highlighting the area's attractions.

"The Web site and walking map certainly raised awareness for the people who went there," DeForest said. "It really brought people there — not only tourists, but local residents as well."

The couple's latest achievement is to form the Citizens For Fiscal and Environmental Responsibility, which raised 486 signatures to get a thorough environmental study of the Ashland Gun Club/Lithia Springs property.

"We were aware that the (Gun Club's) lease was up for renewal and we were concerned about the lead," Deforest said. "The lease was renewed, but the city is now looking at doing an environmental impact study on the property. We are very happy about that."

DeForest described the historic importance of the Lithia property as "a place that was used as a ceremonial and trading place by indigenous tribes for thousands of years." She also emphasized that Lithia Springs was a key factor in the settling of Ashland.

According to the Ashland Historic Commission, there are more than 50 listings on the National Register of Historic Places in Ashland, as well as four National Register Districts: the Railroad District, the Downtown District, the Skidmore-Academy District and the Siskiyou-Hargadine District.

The 2009 winners of The Distinguished Architectural Preservation Awards were: Historically Compatible Commercial Renovation, the VanSant building at 542 A St.; Historically Compatible Residential Renovation, the house at 52 Granite St.; Historically Compatible Residential Addition and Renovation, the house at 160 Sherman St.; Historically Compatible New Accessory Structures, the house at 586 B St.; and Civic Restoration for the Lithia Fountain in the Plaza.

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