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As It Was: Electrified Railways Link Medford and Jacksonville

There was a time when electrified railways ran through downtown Medford and connected Medford with Jacksonville.  Those tracks are long gone today.

A 100-year-old Mail Tribune article reported that a crowd gathered as the first street car rolled from Main to Bartlett streets and back on March 22, 1914.  The newspaper said the trolley “nearly scared a horse to death.”  An old-timer watching the trial run, reminisced, “Thirty years ago I cooked beans on the spot where the car now stands.”

The Southern Oregon Traction Co. was organized by Spencer S. Bullis. Its streetcars eventually ran on 2 1/2 miles of track, east from the Southern Pacific Railroad mainline to Eastwood Drive and west through downtown to Oakdale Avenue. Four years later the company operated a six-mile electrified rail line between Medford and Jacksonville that merged with the Medford trolley system.  Efforts to build a line to Ashland failed. 

Railroad man William S. Barnum, whose Rogue River Valley Railway pioneered the region’s modern passenger service in 1891, took control of Bullis’ company in 1918. 

Barnum abandoned passenger service on all his lines in 1920, ending the Southern Oregon streetcar era only six years after it started.

Sources: "Medford-Jacksonville streetcar system." The Oregon Encyclopedia.- Oregon History and Culture. Portland State University, 2008-2014. Web. 22 Mar. 2014. https://www.oregonencyclopedia.org/entry/view/medford_jacksonville_streetcar_system/; "Mail Tribune 100 - March 22, 1914." Mail Tribune 22 Mar. 2014 [Medford, Ore.] : 2A. Print.

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.