Tours provide local history of Ashland

As Ashlanders and tourists venture down Siskiyou Boulevard, they may not realize it has more than a century of history behind it.

The street, built in 1888 and paved in 1910, has changed with the times, seeing churches, hospitals and schools come and go, but many of the homes still stand, although many in different locations. Local historian Terry Skibby led a tour down the boulevard Tuesday afternoon as part of National Historic Preservation Week.

"History is important because it helps preserve the character of Ashland and its livability," Skibby said. He has served on the city's historic commission since 1989 and has been active in private preservation groups since the 1970s.

He shared details such as the width of the islands in the middle of the street, the narrowing of which resulted in a scathing editorial from then Daily Tidings editor Ed Roundtree. The Winchester House, which served as the hospital and is now used as a bed and breakfast, was moved uphill by a single horse, he said.

Michael Dawkins, a member of the planning commission who grew up in Ashland along with Skibby, also joined the tour. They reminisced about the old junior high that sat in Safeway's current location and the popular drive-in, the Top Hat. Change has happened slowly, but it is definitely a different town, they said.

"When I was growing up we never needed to go to Medford," Dawkins said, but when the mill shut down and shopping centers were built in Medford, "the whole downtown kind of collapsed."

The area looks much different from his boyhood memories, when neon signs were common and the idea of a tourist economy had not surfaced.

Dawkins recalled a movement in the 1960s by young developers to make Siskiyou Boulevard a commercial artery similar to Riverside Avenue in Medford, but the preservationists defeated the idea, he said.

But many things remain the same.

"It was never an Ashland sort of thing to tear down," Dawkins said. He recalled his grandmother's deep sadness when the Ashland Hotel was demolished in 1961.

"'I remember my Grandma saying, 'Well, there goes Ashland,'" he said.

Skibby will lead a tour of the Railroad District on Thursday after the Ashland Historic Preservation Awards ceremony, which will be held at noon at the original Fire Station

2, 264 Fourth Street.

Relative newcomers said they enjoyed learning the history of their new town.

"It's very interesting to see that Ashland had enough sense to do a lot of preservation even though it hasn't been everything," said Cris Spieth, who moved to Ashland in February and said she appreciated learning the history of buildings she walks by every day.

"Until you go on a walking tour and stop and look at the buildings, you really can't appreciate a building driving by it," said Brenda Rosch, who attended the tour and said she has been impressed with Rogue Valley architecture, even after living in cities like Chicago.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .

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