You can almost hear the locomotives

ASHLAND — One hundred years ago, when trains regularly roared into Ashland, lower Fourth Street was a hub in the bustling Railroad District, full of restaurants, shops and hotels.

This year, the area seems to be experiencing a revitalization of sorts with four new businesses — two galleries, a coffee shop and a restaurant — set to open soon within feet of each other.

"This little local spot is really going to be the center of activity in some ways, which is interesting because this used to be the center of Ashland, and it almost feels like some of that energy is coming back," said Jared Rennie, owner of Noble Coffee Roasting, who is opening the coffee shop on Fourth Street.

Noble Café & Roastery, a 36-seat coffee shop, is scheduled to open in early spring. The almost 3,000-square-foot space will serve also as the Noble Coffee Roasting headquarters, Rennie said.

The two galleries are scheduled to open across the street from each other. Etienne Gallery, at 270 Fourth St., will open March 1 and Positively 4th Street Studio & Gallery, next to Noble Café, will hold a "soft" opening Feb. 6, the owners said. Etienne Gallery will feature paintings by Suzanne Etienne, and Positively 4th Street will display pottery and folk art by a variety of local artists.

The Peerless Hotel & Restaurant — which experienced Fourth Street's original boom after it was built in 1900 — stands between Noble Café and Illahe Design Studio & Gallery, which opened last summer.

Above Illahe is another new business: the Studio, which Ashley Jensen, an Ashland real estate broker, opened last November. Jensen, who also is a tango instructor, holds Argentine tango, salsa and West Coast swing-dance classes and events in the 1,500-square-foot space.

The fourth business scheduled to open in the next few months is Palace Café, a restaurant at 542 A St., just around the corner from Fourth Street. The café — named after the Palace Chophouse, originally located there in 1905 — will serve breakfast and lunch, as well as to-go food and baked goods.

"I think it's sort of a synchronicity of time and place," Helena Darling, who is opening the restaurant, said of the changes in the district. "One thing we're finding as we're down there working is that all kinds of people are stopping in who live in the Railroad District or are just shopping there, and there's just such support for this in the area."

Business owners in the district seem to be largely pleased with the additions, said Molly Schiessl, who owns Fourth Corner Fine Quilt Gallery at 552 A St.

"I always thought it was bound to happen and I'm just so excited it's happened now," she said. "It's kind of like the groundwork was here and everybody's been working behind the scenes to bring their business here. It's just great that it's happening all at once."

Hannah Guzik is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226 or

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