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As It Was: Merlin, Ore., Takes Name from Small Falcons Called Merlins

Present-day Merlin, Ore., has been called the “Gateway to the Wild and Scenic Rogue River” for its proximity to fishing and rafting.  The unincorporated town is next to U.S. Interstate 5 about six miles northwest of Grants Pass.

The Southern Pacific Railroad opened the Jump-Off Joe Station in the early 1880s that soon was known as the Merlin Station.  A contemporary newspaper joked that the name changed because whenever the conductor called out, “Jump-Off Joe Station,” every passenger named Joe would jump off the moving train. 

The Merlin post office went through several names, including Azalea and McAllister.  A railroad employee suggested naming it Merlin after the area’s small pigeon-hawk falcons, also known as Merlins.

Platted in 1905, the town by that time had a grocery store, a three-story hotel and daily train stops.  A fire on the morning of Oct. 24, 1915, destroyed a downtown block that included the post office and the train depot. In the early 1900s, the Merlin railroad depot served downriver Josephine County travelers, who arrived by stage coach in mid-afternoon from towns like Galice, lunched and dined at Massie’s Hotel, and caught the 6 p.m. train to Grants Pass.

Source: Hill, Edna May M., editor. Josephine County Historical Highlights. First ed., vol. I, Medford, Ore., Josephine County Library System and Josephine County Historical Society, 1980;  “Merln Depot; " Hugo Neighborhood, edited by Karen Rose and Mike Walker, Hugo Neighborhood Association & Historical Society, 21 Nov. 2017, www.hugoneighborhood.org/BROCHURE_RR9%20Depot_5_Merlin_121604.pdf. Accessed 21 Nov. 2017.

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Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.