Central Point history comes alive

CENTRAL POINT — Longtime residents who learned more about the gold-rush town of Jacksonville than their own city in history classes at school are helping ensure today's fourth- and fifth-graders know better.

Opal Lees, 89, and Margaret Walch, 83, were asked to tell their stories as part of a video on the history of Central Point commissioned by the city to help commemorate its 120th anniversary last year.

Print materials and artifacts have since been added to provide a history curriculum for students that will be presented to the Central Point School District on Tuesday.

"Growing up, all the history we learned always seemed to be about Jacksonville," recalled Scott Dippel, Jewett Elementary School principal, who grew up in Central Point.

"I think our students will really enjoy the curriculum, especially seeing pictures of the places that they can look at now and go, 'Oh, this is there and this used to be there.'

"It's really a way for our kids to have a connection to this town."

The video was produced by Greg Frederick with help from the Southern Oregon Historical Society and local historians including Ben Truwe, a collector of documents and photographs and a Medford City Council member. Central Point provided $15,000 for the project from its 2009-10 budget. In addition to preserving stories of the city's early days, the video will act as a marketing tool for the city and Central Point Chamber.

Central Point was founded a year or more before gold was discovered in Jacksonville in 1851. A post office was established in 1872, and the town was named after its central location at the crossroads of the Oregon-California stage road and the wagon road between Jacksonville, Sams Valley and the upper Rogue.

The downtown moved a mile further east to its present location to accommodate the arrival of the railroad around 1883. It was officially incorporated in 1889.

Two prominent businesses established in Central Point during the Great Depression — the Grange Co-op with its signature grain elevator and the Rogue Creamery — are still thriving today.

Walch, born and raised in the city, holds good memories of her hometown, even during the Depression, she said.

She remembers her friends riding horses to the brick Central Point Elementary School and recalled that her mother started a school lunch program with a kettle of soup and a red wagon.

As a teenager, she watched soldiers from Camp White conduct practice drills in the downtown and made her fair share of hot meals for the soldiers.

"We always told them if they came in on Sunday and went to church with us, we'd take them home for dinner," Walch said.

"Quite a few people here in town did that and they'd feed them a good chicken dinner they wouldn't get otherwise."

City Administrator Phil Messina said the city was pleased local schools would be benefitting from the project.

"All the stories that were told showed us that Central Point still had the typical small-town feel that people still live here for," Messina said. "People worked together and went to school together and basically stuck together.

"There was really nothing of earth-shattering historical importance happening, no one famous making a mark, just a lot of really good stories about really good people."

To see the video online, go to www.mailtribune.com/cpvideo. Be sure to scroll all the way down within the Web browser and click to play various segments of the video.

For copies of the video, contact City Hall at 541-664-3321.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.

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