http://www.ashland.or.us/ (review: http://www.technogypsie.com/reviews/?p=18533
Just north of the California border, to the west of I-5 along Oregon Route 99 which runs parallel to I-5, is the ever so façade of a charming little village of Shakespeare called Ashland. With its placement inside the southwestern interior climate zone of Oregon, this town benefits from being in the fringe of Oregon coastal range’s rain shadow benefiting it substantially less rain than the mountain zones and the rest of western Oregon that normally experiences a tremendous amount of rain. In Ashland’s locale, on average approximately 114 days out of the year involve rain and a max of about 20 inches annually – making Ashland an ideal location naturally to settle. But realistically, “rain” these days is a non-existent phenomenon as from June 2014-April 2015, we only remember less than a dozen days of rain and one day of snow not sticking to the ground when we were living in town. As an update in November 2015, we’ve been told it has continued to be dry as a bone. Our recent escapade through the region during a heavy snow storm found Ashland to remain dry with snow not sticking (at least while we were there). Ashland is also a great area for agriculture, especially hay, grain, fruit, and other crops. The area is also known for its poultry and beef reportedly, though we never noticed during our life there. Snowfall rarely exceeds 1.4 inches annually as an average according to online sources. Average temperatures in December is normally a high of 47 degrees Fahrenheit and the warmest months usually being July and August with a high of 88 degrees Fahrenheit.
Historically the ground upon which Ashland rests was purportedly a sacred area to the Native Americans such as the Shasta and Siskiyou who became attracted to its mineral springs and gentle climate enticing them to settle in the valley. This was caught on by Euro-American homesteaders and pioneers who also came to the area. Unfortunately a lot of Ashland’s history seems to be pushed under the rug, not preserved, nor displayed for visitors, tourists, and explorers to experience or learn from. Ashland has no historic museums, kiosks, interpretive signs nor public display of their history outside of National Register buildings normal brandishing of their plaques outside building entrances. If you are seeking history, visit Jacksonville, not Ashland. So the tidbits of information obtained from online sources for this article lack validation and are theoretically hearsay.
Contrary to urban lore that Ashland was named after the ancient ash of the volcanoes in the region settling in the valley or being named ater is the ash from all the wildfires typically hitting the area – the town’s name’s history in reality is quite boring. “Ashland” was coined after the “Ashland Mills off of Ashland County Ohio” where Abel Helman, the founder of the town originated. It has also been said that the name comes from the town of Ashland Kentucky where other founders had family.
The first Westerners were early Hudson’s Bay Company hunters and trappers who followed the Siskiyou Trail passing through here in the 1820s. Settlers following the Applegate Trail passed through in the 1840s. The Donation Land Act brought settlers to the area beginning in the 1850s and as usual in American history, pushing out the Native Americans with a great number of conflicts taking place. These violent clashes lasted upwards to 1856. The 1850s saw the Gold Rush with gold being discovered in Rich Gulch off the Jackson Creek that led to the establishment of a tent city eventually being developed into the modern day city of Jacksonville. Settlers came to the area where Ashland is in 1852 – especially by the Helman and Hargadine families who filed the first land claims in the area. They built a saw mill along Mill Creek turning timber into lumber for the settlers in the valley. By 1854 M.B. Morris moved in building another mill – the Ashland Flouring Mills, establishing agriculture in the area. The community building itself up around these mills became known as “Ashland Mills” and eventually shortened to “Ashland” (by the Post office for simplicity). The first college built was Ashland Academy in 1872 by Reverend J.H. Skidmore. This later gave birth to the settling grounds of Southern Oregon University Ashland. The railway was short lived in the area as was the mills. The only remnant of history left of the railroad is the southern wing of the Depot Hotel as one of the few National Register properties in town as well as the tracks. The rails were once a prosperous hub between San Francisco and Portland, but were moved to Klamath Falls for safety. It wasn’t until 1908 that the Women’s Civic Improvement Club created “Lithia Park” along Ashland Creek based on the discovery of the Lithia water near Emigrant Lake and the desire to create a mineral spa here. The water was piped in from its source to the heart of the city and the creation of Lithia Springs Park was established. The spa plans were dumped in 1916, water was bottled and sold as mineral spring’s water. The 1935 Fourth of July celebrations gave birth to the first Shakespeare performance in the area which established the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and establishing the internationally-renown theater company that runs the operation today. While Ashland has 48 historic structures and 2 historical districts, they are not well marked, well preserved, nor presented as such to town visitors. Ashland lacks any historical museums or displays making the town appear historically void except via modern architectural design giving a pseudo-historic character charm to downtown. (Summer 2015)
This little town I possess a love/hate relationship with. From 2000-2014 I had visited the area often passing through on the I-5, storing my van for almost a year atop Dead Indian Memorial Road at a friend’s place, visiting extended family, and stopping over weeks at a time. These visits were good memorable times that attracted me to the area as a potential place to live. It was our moving to the town to setup a business and trying to find a house for a period of 10 months of living there that revealed the cold hard truth about Ashland. There is a hidden not so pretty of a reality that this “scenic by-way off the Interstate” portrays … oddly leading me to simply recommend most tourists to pass on by unless they need a glorified rest stop or want to catch a play. I know that’s a bit harsh, but it’s the true feeling I have about this ‘village’ based on my experiences there. Our fall 2015 re-visit verifies this as we have observed Ashland decay in compliance, rules, regulations, and tasteless architecture has taken hold of the area. Take the “scenic” by way, drop in for a walk in Lithia park to stretch your legs, gander about the shops down town, catch some drinks at Oberon’s or the Black Sheep, but move on – and not to fast or the police speed traps will get you for even a mile or two over the ridiculous 15-30 mph zones scattered alternating through the town. There really isn’t anything to see. You could take a swig of the foul-tasting Lithia waters to say you did it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some good times in Ashland, and a good percentage of the people are friendly, nice, and authentic. It is the fake people who want something from you, the transients, and those seeking handouts regardless if they are dressed as a hippie or in a business suit pushing some service that you’ll need to avoid. The majority of today’s “Ashlandians” (the general population, not the cool people that are trying to survive there) are a mix of Californian wealthy escapees who are spiraling down Ashland as they did to California. These “California” based elements are the ones that need to go, not the struggling artists who originally made the town what is was once reputedly a haven for. The good people, we made friends with and have deep in our hearts as extended family – those friends and family will be dearly missed and know who they are. But overall, Ashland has been one of the worst towns I’ve spent any reasonable time in.
Centered in Jackson County of Oregon, just off-set from the I-5 corridor connecting California with Oregon, Ashland lies at the border of the two states of Oregon and California just below Mount Ashland. Its population is just over 20,000. It is an expensive and hard city to live in as opposed to most small towns where “small” usually equals “affordability”. The town wouldn’t even be worth an exit if it wasn’t for it being home to SOU – Southern Oregon University and the OSF – Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I would add in Wellsprings, but that gem of a mineral springs spa is technically “out of town” placed north of town with a handy close interstate exit that will allow you to visit the springs without having to drive through Ashland. The mineral springs are very nice, and great spiritual, healing, and cleansing activities take place there – much needed after dredging through Ashland. I see the springs more reflectant of its bordering community north known as Talent than Ashland in all practicality (even though there is nothing really to see in Talent at all yet, though I’ve been told that’s soon to change). Most of the artists of the area seem to live in Talent, Phoenix, or on the outskirts of Ashland.
Ashland likes to portray itself as a city of the arts, theater, alternative lifestyles, healthy diets, friendliness, open-ness, and politically correctness – but in all reality it lacks every part of those core elements in practice that it broadcasts as its own to the world. Due to the influx and takeover from wealthy California escapees – it is an expensive haven. Cost of living is amongst the highest cities in all of Oregon (minus maybe Portland). There was until recently an extremely high transient population that reflects this (November 2015 – news that the city has been attacking them and pushing them out) (those living out of their vehicles have increased). Most of your hard working folk who thrive to be in Ashland, actually live in Talent, Phoenix, or Medford or the outskirts towards Emigrant Lake where their low wages have a better chance of taking care of their rents. The city is constantly suppressing the arts that are not part of their “money making tourism” or is in competition of such – destroying fountains, historical character of buildings, plazas, or places for the alternatively styled to hang out or that which could side-track tourists away from the theater. In order to push out the transients and hippies, they often will make the usual hangouts of these folk cluttered, cement laden botanically void plazas, with lack of places to hang – not only making it difficult for their targeted transients, but the tourists as well. Public restrooms are hard to find (except at Lithia Park) and most shops won’t let you use theirs. From a marketing perspective, if the business doesn’t exist on Main Street, it’ll die off from lack of foot traffic. So if you’re planning on operating a business in the city, stick only to the main street if you want a chance to survive. It is a hard town. Quite a few main street businesses are short-lived.
Tourists generally park along main street and venture nowhere else. It is often just a beeline from their parked cars to the theaters and Shakespeare Festival. Students at SOU seldom bother going down town, and as a survey conducted by us revealed, most who live off campus – do so in Talent, Phoenix, Jacksonville, or Medford. They hop the bus back and forth home and many have never even stepped foot in downtown …. What does that say about affordability or embracing the limited-income citizens of the State?
The dining experience – Lots of colorful and attractive places to dine, and the food is good at many places. However, no surprise, it is very expensive. In addition, it is more expensive to eat out here than in any other Oregon city – because Ashland feels it is above the State of Oregon and implements a food service tax, barring the no sales tax attraction of the State. Also be weary that some restaurants have seasonal menus with seasonal prices as well as menus for tourists and those for locals. Often prices just increase during tourist season – so your typical $6.50 burger will become $9.50 to rape the tourist’s wallet. As a former shop owner, we had so many locals come into our establishment complaining our prices were too low and need to be increased up triple – perhaps which was another reason we failed in the area.
Where does this food tax money go? Rumor has it into the political hands of the ego-centric folk that run the town supposedly for city development. Certainly not into landscaping, the arts, monuments, or say “history” that this town should depict. One of reasons Ashland possesses no historical museum (unlike most towns) is lack of funding and city support … the historical society tried, but rents and expenses were too high. The chamber of commerce is slanted to businesses willing to pay top dollar for promotions. For a town that artistically broadcasts “history” – whatever history once began here is plastered over with asphalt and overlooked like a decrepit Band-Aid. Some local historians told me that the town ignored many archaeological and historical preservation laws in building the plaza, buildings, and roads … ignoring Native American village sites. The artifacts they dug up in those excavations? Who knows where they live – certainly not in the ease of view by the public. Of course that is only hearsay and town gossip, one would have to dig deeper to know the truth. However, from my first hand experience, they do not present this history to visitors like they should.
Entertainment – The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is phenomenal, and the free concerts on the green each Wednesday is lovely. I’ve heard the Armory has a lot of great shows and gigs – one of the few stages alternative entertainment can prevail. Lithia Park is a beautiful green space, but any theatrical, artistic, drumming, and other usual-activities you find in parks – is suppressed by the police. I’ve heard in the past there once were numerous drum circles – banned by the city in effort to get rid of transients. In fact they have very minimal set hours that one could drum there if at all. Street performers seem to be tolerated but not encouraged. The ice skating rink is nice, quaint, and charming. The duck pond is great for the kids. But it is seasonal, drained during certain seasons. Oberon’s Tavern and the Black Sheep are the only worthy places to go evenings hosting the only outlets left for the artistic to seek refuge and company. Good times have been had many times at those establishments. It’s a shame that most of the students don’t venture downtown to liven these places up more. There really is no dance clubs to speak of and the city seems too often shut them down. Apparently in the past there were a few, but closed down through time. The art walks are pathetic and again only centered down the main street. Businesses set off the main street are lucky to get a handful wandering in all night. Everyone brags about the parades – they are very crowded but simplistic and any off-zone entertainment stifled. Due to the passing of Medical and Recreational Marijuana use in the state, much to the dismay of Ashland city planners, several pot shops have opened their doors around town. (Fall 2015)
Flash mobs – essentially non-existent, though I hope this changes if someone is brave enough to take up the organizing. There is a zombie crawl, but it is a boring walk from the Library to the Plaza with not much more than that, stifled from threats of permits and concerns something could go wrong. Santa-con? Hasn’t been accomplished in this city yet from my observations (2014-2015). The parades in the city used to be phenomenal, or so I’ve heard – 4th of July and Halloween, but due to crowds and safety concerns, the city has suppressed them as best as they can get away with. The crowds do still come for the events expecting the wild party that they once had a reputation for. Ashland was once known for its wild and creative colors, most of which are being suppressed and pushed out these days. Wandering musicians and street performers – they are still there, but being pushed onwards (Fall 2015). Tarot readers? You’d think this city would be bonkers for the divinatory and gypsy arts as many portray themselves as new age, enlightened, or earth rooted in town – not quite, often ignored. There is a lot of “pretending” about being “enlightened” in this city. Much of it is a façade. It’s hard to find a reader within the city limits. There is one psychic just north of town (2015), outside the city limits, more towards Talent. Ashland once hosted a few psychic fairs – all of which are non-existent these days. The image of light weaving, crystal bearing, new agers and hippies has gone only as a yuppie styled facade rather than an actual practice. Again, though – true spirituality and alternative religious thought is very abundant in the area’s outskirts, especially just OUTSIDE the borders of town, to the north with great groups like the Goddess Temple, Rowan tree, etc. You won’t find much in Ashland. Even the infamous Metaphysical library recently shut down its doors (2015). Most of the metaphysical or Pagan shops have also shut down and moved on (2015). Ghost tours – non-existent, though there is always rumors someone is going to start this up. We thought about starting one up, but what little haunted history the town has, is pushed under the rug. The freedom with clothing optional activities that Oregon is often known for – very suppressed in this town, again altering State Law, the city forbids nudity in public. No Naked bike rides here.
Oregon Shakespeare fest now runs from February to October, almost year round in its three theaters. This is the base of entertainment for the city. The Oregon Cabaret Theater has musicals and comedies through the year. The Ashland Independent Film Festival showing domestic and international films is hosted annually in April with over 80 films screened within 5 days. Ashland New Plays Festival holds competitions annually during its October 5 day event. The National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory is located in Ashland and is the world’s only laboratory dedicated to solving crimes against wildlife, though there is no visitor center. The Ashland Public Library is a wonderful library with great kid programs, a must visit location for parents living in the city and visiting. The Science Center is also a great space for kids.
Ashland has a fair share of parks and green space. Lithia Park, the most famous, is a 93 acre park with 42 of its acreage on the National Register of Historic Places. It hosts two ponds, a Japanese garden, tennis courts, two public greens, an outdoor band shell, and hiking trails. There are fountains in the town plaza pumping out the infamous LIthia waters – strongly mineral tasting for tourists to taste. The Bear Creek greenway runs from Ashland following Bear Creek 25 miles to Talent, Phoenix, Medford, and Central Point and is a great walking, hiking, and bicycling trail.
Politics – Ashland tries to advertise its alternative thoughts, clean living, and open-ness – it however is predominantly conservative, closed group, and consisting of a mayor-council government assisted by citizen committees. Its liberal politics always differ sharply with the rest of southwestern Oregon making its conservative-liberal clash and mix a strange phenomena to experience first hand. The city is run by a mayor-council government with a mayor and 6 council members serving 4 years. The current mayor, John Stromberg ends his term in 2016 and is seen as responsible for much of the downtrends of Ashland losing popularity as a tourist destination. In the past however, Ashland was known for being more liberal than the rest of Oregon and had the nickname as being the People’s Republic of Ashland and advocates to join the state of Jefferson. Many citizens in Oregon are for clean air (although Ashland air quality is low), anti-immunizations, anti-chem trails, and against brand-name commercial development. Although there seems to be a large amount of individuals claiming to eat and live healthy, the number of healthier alternative restaurants in town are minimal and there are no vegan only establishments (2015). Through a nasty monopoly grocery-chain war, Haggens was set up to fail by Albertsons/Safeway in 2015. The Health food co-op and Shop n’ Kart are the places to go.
Ashland is not very varied in diversity, according to the 2010 Census, calculating a population just over 20,000 placed Ashland as 90% white, 5% Hispanic, 1% African American, 1% Native American, 2% Asian, .3% Pacific Islander, and 4.4% Other. Ashland has a median age range of 42.9 years of age. The average Ashland income is about $41,334 and median family income is $58,409. The per capita income for the city is $28,941 with over 21% of the population below poverty.
Ashland depends on tourism and that is severely suffered these days due to the current political climate and control. Stores, restaurants, and businesses often come and go – seeing a flux that is ending independent business in the village moving to larger entities and away from the mom and pop shop. Again, Ashland would not have an economy without the Oregon Shakespeare Festival that sells more than 400,000 tickets a year. The largest employer in town is the University.
Ashland has been the film set for Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline” and the 2014 Reese Witherspoon movie “Wild”.
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