Since You Asked: Medford owes its growth to railroad decision

I've wondered for a while about how old some of the oldest houses in Medford might be. I'm wondering if my house is one of the oldest houses around.

What the heck was in this area in 1900? If there were people here, how many and what did they do? I'm sure my house has been fixed up a few times in the past 110 years.

— Bruce R., by e-mail

What was in Medford 110 years ago, Bruce? In two words, "not much," at least by current measure. At the turn of the 20th century, Medford was a little railroad boom town with fewer than 2,000 people.

Not bad, when you consider there was no town at all until 1884. Remember that until the railroad came through, Jacksonville was the county seat.

Everything changed in 1883, when the railroad decided to bypass Jacksonville and travel in a straight line through the valley. Several prominent landowners donated acreage for a train yard, and Medford was born.

Medford grew out from the tracks. The Waverly Cottage, built in 1898 at the corner of Fourth and Grape streets, is a distinctive memory of the Queen Anne style that was popular among those who could afford it. The old fire hall, built in 1908 at the corner of Sixth and Front streets (now a coffee shop), is the city's oldest surviving public building.

There weren't building codes in those early days, and many houses were built as quickly and cheaply as possible. Consequently, many of them didn't last long. Others were torn down to make way for commercial buildings in downtown.

The Waverly Cottage looks great now, but that's only because owners invested thousands in a major restoration a few years back.

Some of Medford's most handsome houses are on the east side of Bear Creek and date back to the 1920s, when people thought prosperity would last forever. A talented architect named Frank Clark drew dozens of houses that still stand on the east side.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

Share This Story