We are such stuff as dreams are made on,” says Shakespeare’s Prospero in The Tempest. Southern Oregon, with its own Shakespeare festival, was also shaped by its early dreamers. Dreamers such as those who brought lumber mills, the railroad and other businesses to found Ashland; the tenacious visionary of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Angus Bowmer; the dreamers who surveyed the area and created the maps that paved the way for settlers and more, as the following hometown authors can attest.
“Ashland’s history reflects an amazing spirit and resiliency,” said Joe Peterson, author of Ashland (Arcadia Publishing, 2009). “It’s gone through boom and bust times that would have caused many small towns to become drab or even die out. But Ashland always found a way to move forward.”
Ashland began as a crossroads stopover for people going somewhere else, according to Peterson, who has taught history and education at SOU and managed Teaching American History federal grants for the Southern Oregon Education Service District. “Farmers traveling to the farm lands of the Willamette Valley and gold seekers traveling to what is now Jacksonville would stop off here. Today, the town is a destination in its own right.”
How did this happen? A small group of entrepreneurs, many of them former gold seekers, decided they could make a more stable living by providing travelers with lumber, equipment, food, outfitting and supplies. “Eventually, the railroad came through, a Chautauqua summer program was established and Lithia Park was built,” said Peterson, whose new book has over 200 photographs, mostly from Terry Skibby’s vast collection, amassed over 40 years. “Then, the railroad pulled out and went to Klamath Falls. The Chautauqua circuit ended and Ashland went through depressed economic times.”
The town re-invented itself. “Eventually, tourism became the focus. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival came, then, an influx of hippy entrepreneurs, kinder, gentler capitalists. Each helped boost Ashland’s economy.” Peterson loves writing local history. “It’s my way of becoming part of the community.” For further information: www.arcadiapublishing.com.