1004416462 KneeboneBarn2.jpg
Photo by Maureen Flanagan Battistella
The Kneeborn barn, which stood on Ashland's Orchard Street before being demolished last month, represented a once-thriving fruit industry in the city.

A family legacy, and an industry, disappearing

The corner lot at Orchard Street and Sunnyview in Ashland sold recently and last month, contractors took down an old barn, clearing the concrete pad of burnt and rotten wood to make way for a new home.

Henry Kneebone built the barn in the late 1950s as a fruit packing shed.

Today, fruit box labels, scattered peach and apple trees and a street named Orchard serve as the last remaining testaments to a thriving fruit industry on the crest of the hills above Ashland.

Before Fernwood and Oakwood Drives, before Sunnyview Street and Sunshine Circle, there were Skycrest and Grandview drives and Strawberry Lane. These dirt roads bounded orchards and strawberry fields on gently sloped land in the Wright’s Creek Drainage.

William Henry Kneebone, Sr. settled along Wright’s Creek in 1921 with his wife Ethel and an elderly widowed aunt, Josephine Fincher. They stayed on Wimer at first, where their son, Henry, was born on July 27 that same year and then the family lived on a section of Grandview Drive that would later be renamed Orchard Street.

Henry Kneebone built his home at 449 Orchard Street in 1953, just up the hill from his father, and together father and son worked the land. The Kneebone orchard was behind Henry’s home on a stretch that ranged towards Strawberry Lane; a strawberry field was across the street in front of the home, the field where Henry would one day build a barn.

Skycrest Drive is right above the Kneebone home and that’s where Barbara Reinholdt Coldwell’s family built a home in 1956 when she was 8 years old.

“There were orchards on either side of Skycrest Drive, a lot of orchards up there. Harold Johnson owned a part of the orchards and Howard Wiley the other,” recalls Coldwell.

She remembers playing in the woods along Wright’s Creek with Henry’s children, Ila and Esther, and picking strawberries in the Kneebone’s fields. Houses were few and far between, none of the roads were paved, and the walk home from school was long and tiring: up Church Street, along Scenic and around Grandview to Skycrest and Orchard.

Kneebone’s across-the-street neighbor, Jerry Fitzgerald, remembers Henry, who died in 2016, as being “a bit ornery at times and standoffish.” Fitzgerald bought his Orchard Street lot from Kneebone in 1994 and built a home there in 1995.

Fitzgerald dates the barn to somewhere between 1953-1959 and says that Henry told him it was abandoned when a summer storm destroyed the fruit crop and 40 orchard acres were lost to fire. Henry went to work in the mills and his father, William Henry Kneebone, died in 1979. Not long after, the family began planning to subdivide the acreage which was well within the Ashland city limits.

“Kneebone subdivided in two phases, so the barn from Orchard out to Sunnyview Circle was developed in the mid-1980s,” explained Fitzgerald. That area was known as the Sunnyview Heights Subdivision.

By the mid-1990s, the orchards were gone, new streets were drawn and old streets renamed; the roads were paved and sidewalks constructed. The second phase of development was behind the Kneebone home at 449 Orchard toward Strawberry. That parcel is known today as the Eastfield Subdivision.

Henry Kneebone passed away in 2016 and three years ago, Joe Davis and Sidney Frederick moved into Kneebone’s house at 449 Orchard Street. They discovered a home with a history, well worthy of preservation.

“We took it down to the sticks, we kept the all these floors, we kept the floor plan and made it bigger,” Sidney noted.

When Sidney and Joe cleared out blackberry bushes along the side of the house, they found a heavy steel contraption Henry Kneebone may have once used to macerate fruit. They found old and gnarled peach and apple trees in the yard. They found Kneebone family photos, newspaper clippings and three Kneebone peach box labels in the attic and the garage.

The contraption is too heavy to move so is still out back. Joe took down the peach tree but the apple tree still bears fruit every fall. Sid kept the fruit box labels, donating one to the Southern Oregon Digital Archives at Southern Oregon University. She sent the photos to Henry’s daughter, Ila Kneebone in Berkeley, California.

Sid and Joe saw the old barn across the street, marveled at its presence in the middle of their neighborhood and wondered about its history. Over the course of two days last month, they watched the old barn taken down board by board and hauled away.

Maureen Flanagan Battistella is a curator of the Stories of Southern Oregon collection in the Southern Oregon Digital Archives at Southern Oregon University. Reach Battistella at battistem@sou.edu.

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