Ashland is a city in Jackson County, Oregon, United States, near Interstate 5 and the California border, and located in the south end of the Rogue Valley. It was named after Ashland County, Ohio, point of origin of Abel Helman and other founders, and secondarily for Ashland, Kentucky, where other founders had family connections. It officially became a town with the name Ashland Mills in 1855. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 19,522. The 2007 estimate is 21,630 residents. It is the home of Southern Oregon University and the internationally renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
In 1851, gold was discovered at Rich Gulch, a tributary of Jackson Creek, and a tent city developed on its banks, the area now known as Jacksonville. Settlers soon arrived to the Ashland area in January 1852, including Abel Helman, Eber Emery and his brother James Emery, Robert Hargadine and others. In order to capitalize on mining in nearby Jacksonville, Helman and the Emerys established a lumber mill on Ashland Creek (then called Mill Creek).
During the 1860s and 1870s the community grew, establishing a school, churches and other businesses. In 1871, the Post Office dropped "Mills" from Ashland's name. In November 4, 1872 Reverend J. H. Skidmore founded the Ashland Academy—it eventually became Southern Oregon University.
In December 1887, Portland, Oregon and San Francisco, California were joined by rail at Ashland. Until 1926, when most rail service began taking a different route (east through Klamath Falls to avoid the steep grade through the Siskiyou Mountains) Ashland thrived on rail trade. This was especially the case with orchard products, such as the famous Ashland peach, which won top honors at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago.
In 1908, the Women's Civic Improvement Club petitioned for the creation of a park--Ashland Canyon Park--along Ashland Creek. The discovery of Lithia water around the same time led to a plan to establish a mineral spa at the park. Using the resulting funding, the town engaged John McLaren, landscape architect of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, to design the park. This also resulted in a name change, first to Lithia Springs Park and then to Lithia Park.
The oldest working telephone booth in Oregon, made of wood with a tin ceiling, is located in downtown Ashland in the Columbia Hotel. The Columbia Hotel, built in 1910 as part of the Enders Building, is the oldest hotel in Ashland and continues to flourish today. The building was originally home of the largest mercantile establishment between Sacramento, CA and Portland, OR in the period 1910 to 1928.
During the Fourth of July celebration in 1935, Angus L. Bowmer arranged the first performances of what would become the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The festival grew during the 1900s, and has become an award-winning and internationally-known regional theater company.
Ashland is also home to the Ashland Independent Film Festival which shows international and domestic films of almost every genre since 2001.
The annual Ashland New Plays Festival is a week-long event that focuses attention on playwrights and the development of new work for the American stage.
Lithia Park is a 100 acre (0.4 km²) park extending from the center of town ("The Plaza") up Ashland Creek to the foothills of Mount Ashland. It includes two ponds, a Japanese garden, tennis courts, two public greens, a bandshell (outdoor stage) and miles of hiking trails. The name Lithia comes from the natural mineral water in Ashland, Lithia water. Lithia water is famous for its strong mineral taste and slight effervescence, and the Lithia water fountains found on the town plaza are frequently tasted by unsuspecting tourists (often at the behest of residents or frequent visitors who use the fountains as a cheap, humorous Ashland initiation rite). As of October 2006, the fountains on the plaza are temporarily under construction due to vandalism and their allegedly curative water is available from an unmarked spigot nearby. Lithia water can be sampled from a fountain near the bandshell in Lithia Park as well.
The Ashland City Band is the oldest continuous city band in the United States, having formed as the Ashland Brass Band in 1876. John McLaren, designer of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, designed Lithia Park and included an octagonal gazebo-style bandstand which was used by the ACB until the bandshell was built in 1949.
Musical theatre can almost always be seen at The Oregon Cabaret Theatre. First opened in 1986, The Cabaret produces five musicals a season and offers a full service dinner and dessert menu.
The city is 350 miles (560 km) north of San Francisco, California and 285 miles (459 km) south of Portland, Oregon, in an area once proposed to become the State of Jefferson. It is 90 miles (145 km) from Crater Lake National Park and Oregon Caves National Monument.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 6.5 square miles (16.8 km²), none of which is covered with water.
Of the 8,537 households 25.3% have children under the age of 18, 37.4% have married couples living together, 11.7% have a female householder with no husband present, and 47.5% are non-families. Thirty-three percent of all households are made up of individuals and 10.9% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.14 and the average family size is 2.72.
The age of residents is distributed, with 18.8% under the age of 18, 17.5% from 18 to 24, 23.3% from 25 to 44, 25.5% from 45 to 64, and 14.8% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 38 years. For every 100 females there are 85.6 males; for every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 82.7 males.
Ashland is currently undergoing a large demographic change as more and more retirees relocate to the Rogue Valley. Housing costs have risen drastically, pricing many families out of Ashland.
Between 2000 and 2005, elementary school student enrollment declined 16 percent, causing the district to close two elementary schools within two years: Briscoe Elementary in 2003 and Lincoln Elementary in 2005.
As of the census of 2000, the median income for a household in the city is $32,670, and the median income for a family is $49,647. Males have a median income of $36,825 versus $30,632 for females. The per capita income for the city is $21,292. 19.6% of the population and 12.5% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 22.0% of those under the age of 18 and 8.5% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.
Ashland's city-owned electric company moved to improve the city's Broadband Internet access in 1999 by creating the Ashland Fiber Network (AFN), which built a $8.5 million fiber optic ring inside the city boundaries. This supports 3,700 cable modem customers (an estimated three-quarters of the market), and splits the local cable television market with Charter Communications. However, in 2006, the city faced difficulties servicing AFN's debt load, which was approaching $15.5 million. The city hired a new AFN director, Joe Franell, who suggested scrapping cable television service while retaining the more-profitable high-speed Internet access. In October, 2006, the cable television service was transferred to a local company, Ashland Home Net, while the City retained both the infrastructure and the wholesale Internet business. AFN has also added telephone and wireless Internet service to its offerings.
The Bathroom Readers' Institute and Bathroom Readers' Press, which release the popular Uncle John's Bathroom Reader books, are based in Ashland.