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 July 1, 2011, the city had a total population of 20,255. It is the home of Southern Oregon University and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Prior to the arrival of settlers in mid-19th century, Shasta Indians lived in the valley along the creek approximately where Ashland is located. Early Hudson's Bay Company hunters and trappers, following the Siskiyou Trail, passed through the site in the 1820s. In the late 1840s, settlers (mostly American) following the Applegate Trail began passing through the area. By the early 1850s, the Donation Land Act brought many white settlers into the Rogue Valley and in conflict with its native people. These often violent clashes continued until 1856.
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.
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. On 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 and Portland 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 20th century, and has become an award-winning and internationally-known regional theater company.