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As It Was: Groundwork on First Southern Oregon Railroad Begins in 1863

Railroad history in Southern Oregon is often thought to have had its beginnings in the 1880s, but the groundwork began nearly 20 years earlier.

A California promoter and an Oregon engineer ran a survey in 1863 from Marysville, Calif., to Portland, Ore., for Col. A. C. Barry, who sought a Congressional land grant charter for the new line.

The survey party had worked its way to Jacksonville, Ore., but was abandoned without pay until Col. Barry hired Joseph Gaston, a Jacksonville miner, to find a way to keep the surveyors there until spring. 

Gaston talked county commissioners into housing the survey party in the county hospital and solicited farmers for food.  The first to respond was Michael Hanley, who bartered $10 worth of wheat for one share in the railroad.  Other farmers followed suit and the surveyors, housed and fed, stayed on the job.

That spring, Gaston rounded up horses and a wagon and the crew began surveying from Jacksonville to Portland.

In 1866, Congress granted a charter to the Oregon and California Railroad with Gaston as it head.

Source: Lockley, Fred. "Joseph Gaston Recalls Rivalry of Early Railroad Builders in Oregon." Oregon Daily Journal, 30 Mar. 1913[Portland] , p. 20.

Alice Mullaly is a graduate of Oregon State and Stanford University, and taught mathematics for 42 years in high schools in Nyack, New York; Mill Valley, California; and Hedrick Junior High School in Medford. Alice has been an Southern Oregon Historical Society volunteer for nearly 30 years, the source of many of her “As It Was” stories.