The Ashland Hostel: affordable lodging for 30 years

A historic bungalow on North Main Street will have been accommodating playgoers, Pacific Crest Trail hikers and school groups for 30 years come Sunday.

The Ashland Hostel was founded on May 1, 1981, at 150 Main St. by John Breneiser of Ashland. Its low rates and easy walk to the Plaza and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival make it an ideal spot for travelers on a budget, its lodgers say.

"We've been to many other places here over the years and this is totally our preference," said Starr Hergenrather, a drama teacher from Analy High School in Sebastopol, Calif., whose class was in town this week to see OSF plays.

"It has great proximity to downtown. We can do all our own cooking and save money — and the boys are downstairs and the girls upstairs, so that's already handled."

The hostel offers a dining room, kitchen, fireplace, common room and simple sleeping arrangements in bunk beds in an attempt to avoid an institutional or motel feel, said owner Marilyn Northcross.

"We (she and partner Joseph Friedman) bought it five years ago with the goal of making it profitable and still incredibly affordable," Northcross said. The school rate of $25 per person per night makes a three-day stay affordable, leaving groups more money to spend on the town's shops, eateries and attractions, she said.

Known as the Wyatt-Johnson house, the bungalow-style home was built by contractor Samuel J. Wyatt in 1909 for his residence, according to Ashland historian George Kramer, who got the house listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001 as one of many such homes in the Skidmore Academy Historic District.

In 1912, records show the house sold to C.H. and Myrtle Johnson. An editor of the Ashland Daily Tidings, George Green, bought it in 1949. The home has many Craftsman-style features, such as capacious, enclosed porch and squared arch between living room and dining room, but Kramer says it's more properly called a bungalow, a style popular from 1890s till the 1930s.

Though the place is popular among school groups, Northcross emphasized it's not a "youth hostel" but a place for all ages. Last summer, she said, it accommodated an 85-year-old woman hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone.

Throwing themselves in a cozy, if crowded, pile on the living room couch Monday, Analy students expressed nothing but love for their homey digs, which many had enjoyed on earlier trips to Ashland since middle school.

"It's a tradition," said student Jeremy Lipsin. "All these cute little rooms and a common area to hang out."

"It's amazing, we love living in these conditions, being with people we love, just being myself, being weird," said student Hayden Zimmerman.

"It's like living in a big house with an extended family," said student Jojo Hill.

One California teacher who stayed at the hostel when in high school is now bringing his students here for plays and staying at the hostel, noted Northcross.

"Teachers love it that the hostel is secure, with no alcohol, drugs or smoking, and the kids are on their radar but there's not a sense of it being controlling," Northcross said. "I'm from the Midwest and have tried to give it that feeling of being at home, with the comforts of a B&B but not the cost of a B&B."

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John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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