Sifting through history

An archaeologist surveying the Ashland Plaza for artifacts as part of a three-month plan to reconstruct the popular gathering area found some historical remnants Tuesday as city crews began preparing the site for demolition.

Workers removed the Lithia Fountain porcelain bowls and a historical information sign and plan to remove benches, the wooden utility box near the kiosk and three trees before the Plaza is fenced off on Jan. 2 for reconstruction, said Scott Fleury, the city's engineering services manager.

Out of a pit dug about 5 feet deep, Ashland-based independent archaeologist Jeff LaLande found broken pieces of ceramics and square nails he estimated date back to mid-19th century, and a few small flakes of obsidian and jasper.

"Everything so far has been in a disturbed context," he said. Most of the original topsoil on the Plaza has been covered by several feet of fill dirt since Ashland was settled in the mid-1800s.

Behind the information kiosk, city workers and a backhoe helped LaLande bust through one layer of buried asphalt before hitting native soil approaching 5 feet down, he said.

The pit is to determine whether rerouting an underground electrical line will disturb any untouched artifacts, Fleury said.

"Very little evidence of Native Americans," LaLande said. "We're just getting down to the early days of Ashland."

LaLande will dig a handful of other small test pits in the grassy area on the Plaza's west side, and sift through the dirt stirred by the removal of two large liquidambar trees (sweet gum), which stand side by side in front of Alex's Plaza Restaurant and Bar, and a Japanese maple, which will be relocated, likely to Lithia Park, Fleury said.

Starting Jan. 2, LaLande will also monitor city crews as they begin tearing out potions of the Plaza's concrete pad, Fleury said.

Pending the results of LaLande's report to the State Historic Preservation Office, construction will begin by the middle of February, Fleury said.

LaLande's work will cost the city no more than $10,000, which comes out of the project's contingency fund, Fleury said.

The city plans to put the construction of the Plaza redesign out to bid by late next week, he said, and expects to have the project complete by the middle of March.

Fleury said the Lithia Fountain's porcelain bowls will be freshly powder-coated and spouts re-chromed, but he wasn't certain on how long it would take before they were reinstalled. The fountain's internal plumbing will also be refurbished, he said.

The project includes low concrete walls to protect trees and landscaping, benches, pavers and a concrete wall that can be used for seating. That wall will be adorned with a ceramic mosaic designed by Ashland artist Sue Springer.

The total redesign budget — which includes a $28,000 contingency amount — is $168,000, City Administrator Dave Kanner said.

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email

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