Jacksonville's first power house brought electricity to town from 1905 until the 1940s. - Bill Miller

A site for transformers

A reader asks, "What can you tell me about the history of that Jacksonville brick building with the cute little cupola on it?"

After answers to a few orientation questions, we learn the building, on the southwest side of California Street, is currently occupied by Christian Discount Books.

That would have been the north side of Jacksonville's Chinatown in the late 1880s, and sure enough, a Chinese gentleman named Long Chong sold the property to local attorney Charles Kahler in 1872.

An 1888 map shows a row of vacant Chinese-owned storefronts on that side of the street flanking one Chinese laundry next to an open yard.

Kahler tore out the dilapidated wooden structures and over the next 15 years built a couple of rental buildings. When Kahler died in 1904, Sam Taylor bought the property, and it couldn't have been at a better time.

The Condor Power Company's Gold Ray Dam, near Gold Hill, finally was finished and beginning to generate electricity. Power lines spread out across the valley, reaching Medford in December 1904 and Jacksonville in January 1905.

Dr. Charles Ray, owner of Condor, bought one-tenth of an acre of Taylor's property in April and constructed our reader's brick building as an indoor substation to house transformers and other electrical equipment.

One electric company merged with another until the California Oregon Power Co. (Copco) was formed in 1912 and took over the substation.

The transformers in the little brick room kept pushing through the amps until they were out of date and no longer needed in 1940.

Copco sold the building to a Jacksonville couple who used it as a blacksmith and machine shop until 1965, when Pacific Power and Light, successor to Copco, reacquired the substation and allowed Jacksonville's chamber of commerce to use it as a visitors information center.

Four years later the company gave the building to Jackson County, hoping a museum of electrical power could be developed by the Southern Oregon Historical Society.

The society lacked the funds and necessary equipment to start the museum, so, until 1990, when the Medford History Center opened, it served as the organization's carpentry shop where employees prepared exhibits. With no further use for the brick building, the society gave it back to the county.

The current owner of Christian Discount Books acquired it in 1992.

If you didn't look closely, you'd miss the barely visible outline of the original larger door in the brickwork — a larger door to accommodate those big transformers.

A few years ago, you could still see six mortar-filled holes at the roofline of the building, where power lines once entered and left the building, but now they've disappeared.

And what about that little cupola up on the roof — 12 windows — three on each side? The best guessers say it was meant to keep those transformers from burning up by providing better air circulation. But who knows?

It's a building we'd probably never notice, if not for that "cute little cupola" on top.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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