Medford history book will focus on pictures

Medford history book will focus on pictures

One person's garbage is another's history, and Ben Truwe is asking Medford residents to search their attics, comb their basements and root through bags marked for the landfill for any documents or photographs that could help to tell the true story of Medford.

The city councilman will be collecting material for an upcoming history book on Medford during the Southern Oregon Photographic Association's annual show and sale, set for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 22, at Medford's Congregational United Church of Christ.

The book is one of several projects the City Council is planning to commemorate Medford's 125th anniversary. The city was incorporated on Feb. 24, 1885.

The book will help fill a gap in young people's knowledge of their community, said Glenda Owens, a city planner.

"History class teaches youth state and U.S. history, not how their local community came into being," Owens said.

The council hired Kevin Keating, a Butte Falls High School history teacher and author, to write the book. The city will pay Keating $2,000 for the writing, and as much as $5,000 for photographs and other supporting materials.

Published through Arcadia Publishing Co. as part of its "Images of America" series, the final manuscript must be submitted in September. Owens said the goal is to publish by spring 2011.

Keating said the theme for the book will be the variety of events in Medford's history. From the 1853 Table Rock Treaty with American Indians to Charles Lindbergh's visit here during the early years of what would become United Airlines, local history is extremely rich, he said.

The council asked Truwe, a longtime local history buff, to help Keating create a complete, accurate history of Medford.

Truwe said ignorance of history creates "a historical vacuum that sucks in myth, supposition and heresy to create a false history."

Medford became a place when the railroad came to Southern Oregon in 1883, but the early historical record is extremely spotty. Only two editions of Medford newspapers published before 1892 survive, and a grainy photo of downtown Medford in 1884 is the earliest photographic image Truwe recalls seeing. Other records from that time or even earlier might be serving as insulation in an old attic or rotting in a landfill, he said.

"History is already winnowed by fires, (families) moving, and the city dump," he said.

"A fragment of a photograph could fill in a tiny corner of history," he added.

While thousands of photographs, documents and anecdotes have been collected by the Southern Oregon Historical Society, there is little representation of Medford between 1950 and today, Truwe said. He hopes the public will help fill in gaps.

Previously unknown photographs surface continually, he said, but many people don't consider events that occurred in their own lifetime as historical, a phenomenon he called a peculiarity of history.

He said every generation has its own notion of what is "historical," but every passing moment creates history.

Becky Gilmer is a Mail Tribune intern. E-mail her at

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