Judge Frank TouVelle donated land for TouVelle State Park, in memory of his wife, Elizabeth, so the people of Jackson County would always have access to the Rogue River.

Elizabeth's park

Out on the sun-baked Agate Desert in the late summer of 1942, raw recruits were dripping sweat and turning brown.

They were following the orders of Gen. Charles Gerhardt, Camp White commanding officer who insisted that all men, including officers, should take off their shirts while training and, as often as possible, be stripped to the waist.

"It will toughen their hide and will equip them for desert heat," he said.

The general was not the exception to the rule. Whether he was watching his men from the saddle on his favorite horse or, because of the strict ban on needless use of gasoline and tires, from the seat of his bicycle, Gerhardt was always stripped to the waist.

New recruits were always easy to spot, their pasty skin tone shining like a spotlight across the widest parade ground.

After a long day in the parched desert, the men found an oasis in the Rogue River, but Army brass had concerns. "The Rogue River is a dangerous stream. It is just what its name says it is. Don't take any chances!"

The men needed a safe place to cool off, and Judge Frank TouVelle owned the perfect swimming hole.

In 1917, barely a year after they were married, TouVelle and his wife, Elizabeth, purchased 184 acres along the Rogue. In 1941, nine years after Elizabeth died, TouVelle created a public park on part of that land.

"It will be a memorial to my wife, Elizabeth," he said, "and it will be called Elizabeth Park." A year later, he opened that river frontage to the troops.

After having restrooms, picnic tables and a diving board installed, TouVelle became every soldier's hero.

TouVelle was born in Kansas in 1870, graduated from the Cincinnati Law School, and by the 1890s was a county treasurer in Ohio. He arrived in the Rogue Valley at the beginning of the orchard boom in 1905 and quickly invested in profitable agricultural land.

He was so well liked that even when he was elected county commissioner as a Democrat in 1913, he had the full support of Republican stalwart James Sullivan Howard, the self-proclaimed "father of Medford."

Elizabeth Blosser TouVelle came west for the first time in 1916, after marrying TouVelle in her hometown of Chillicothe, Ohio. The couple bought a home in Jacksonville.

During their short life together, she was heavily involved in valley charitable and social welfare activities, especially the Jackson County Public Health Association, where she was an early president.

With the opening of TouVelle's swimming hole in 1942, Army brass had only three rules — "be careful, no diving from the bridge and bathing suits will be worn at all times." They could have also said, beware of that icy water.

"When it is blistering hot in the valley," wrote a Mail Tribune reporter, "the boys will be due for a real shock. And how!"

In 1946, when the war was over and the Army had disappeared, TouVelle donated his 25 acres to the people of Oregon.

"I make this gift through a desire to leave a recreational heritage to my people of Jackson County," he said.

And so he has.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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