Sharon Bywater

As It Was Contributor

Sharon Bywater of Ashland, Oregon grew up in Southern California. She taught English literature and writing at Syracuse University in New York, where she also wrote and edited adult literacy books and published freelance articles in local media. Later, she lived in Washington, D.C., where she worked as an international telecommunications policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Commerce. She has Master’s degrees in English and Communications Management. Her husband, Peter Krasilovsky, is a media analyst. Sharon plays the recorder and volunteers for the Southern Oregon Historical Society. She enjoys the wonderful Oregon outdoors, as well as theater, and musical concerts.

When major U.S. cities were connected to telephone service in the late 1800s, small towns in Southern Oregon were left on the sidelines.  They didn’t have electric power plants or sewer lines, and couldn’t afford to build phone networks and pay royalties to Alexander Graham Bell.

In 1879, famed science-fiction writer Jules Verne wrote a book about a utopian city called Ville-France, run by a French doctor, and a German city run by an evil scientist.  The book was called “The Begum’s Fortune,” after an East Indian widow who bequeathed her riches to the two men.

Since 1953, the town of Rogue River, Ore., has held a rooster crowing contest every June.  Shade Combs got the idea from an article he read about rooster competitions among Welsh miners.

In March 1965, the owner of Novelcraft Plastics in Gold Hill, Ore., Lew Trickey, ordered 3,500 pounds of coconuts from San Francisco said to be “fresh from the tropics.”  Trickey wanted the coconut husks for his craft business.

Does natural mineral water cure rheumatism?  Early southern Oregonians believed it did.  At one point, the Ashland area had five spring-water spas, one of them on Ashland pioneer Abel Helman’s property near today’s Lithia Park.

A year before the United States entered World War I, cars were already making an impact on the country.  It was 1916 and the three-day Fourth of July celebration in Ashland drew 60,000 visitors.

In 1854, James Sterling and a partner dipped a sluicing pan into Sterling Creek near Jacksonville, Ore., and captured some gold nuggets.  The two men agreed to keep their discovery secret until they could stake their claims.

Southern Oregon’s early Fourth of July celebrations were exuberant, all-day events, often livened by a group calling themselves the “Callithumpians.” 

Some presidents play golf, others retreat to their ranches or luxury beach resorts, but the 31st president, Herbert Hoover, found relaxation in fly fishing.  He said fishing “reduces our egoism, soothes our troubles and shames our wickedness.”  Hoover grew up in Oregon and his favorite place to fish was the Rogue River.

Getting married in Southern Oregon in the 1800s didn’t always entail a church wedding.  Early settlers worked hard to make ends meet and life was spartan.  Marriage often meant stopping after a day’s work to be married by a circuit preacher and perhaps to enjoy a meal with family and friends.

As young men, Michael Hanley and his brother, John, shared a business shipping goods down the Ohio River to New Orleans.  With the discovery of gold in 1849, they decided to meet in New Orleans, then go West together to make a fortune.  However, the two brothers never met and never spoke again.  Each told a slightly different story about the rift.

Southern Oregon gold miners often gathered after work in saloons to drink and gamble.  Risk takers by nature, the miners couldn’t resist trying to beat the odds.

The Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon is well known for its pears, but it also used to produce delicious catsup.

In 1908, the Medford Daily Tribune came up with a popularity contest to boost its dwindling circulation, and that of the bi-weekly Southern Oregonian.

The Jackson County Courthouse, newly renovated in 2016 with modern heating and air conditioning, has transitioned into the Jacksonville, Ore., City Hall.

Jacksonville, the original county seat of Jackson County, didn’t have a proper courthouse until 1884.  For years, court had been convened in a crudely built, two-story building shared with the Masonic Temple. The Democratic Times derided the dilapidated structure as “a disgrace to the county,” and the Sentinel asked, “Is it not time that the county had a courthouse that would not be mistaken for a barn?”

In 1903, William F. Isaacs opened the Toggery on Main Street in Medford, Ore., offering fine clothing, hats and gloves.  A son of Oregon pioneers, Isaacs was an avid fly fisherman and believed in the power of advertising.

Roy Parker, a longtime mill operator in Selma, Ore., had a hard time collecting an inheritance because the army believed he had died when his troop ship blew up and killed everyone aboard at the start of World War I.  Parker was listed among the dead even though he had arrived too late to board the ship.

As a young girl growing up in Minnesota at the turn of the century, Hilda Montgomery, born Matthea Thorseth, always loved to write.  She used to scribble notes and stash them in her apron pocket while doing chores on the family farm.  She later moved to the Pacific Northwest and became a teacher and best-selling regional author.

In 1910, the Barnum and Bailey Circus came to Medford, astounding the town with a herd of exotic zebras.  At least one man refused to be fooled by their beautiful black stripes. 

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