Country Willows Inn is proud to call Ashland, Oregon its home. Most known for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, our little town has become a beacon for theatre-goers worldwide; but there is more to Ashland than Shakespeare. Nestled between the Siskiyou and Cascade mountain ranges, our gem of a town has a rich history and cultural background. Keep reading to learn about Ashland’s past and how it has shaped what we see today.
Ashland’s Humble Beginnings
From Lithia Park and the mineral fountains aimed at drawing in tourists in the early 1900s, to the Shakespeare Festival still running today, the town’s history is woven into the very fabric of what makes Ashland so special.Originally called Ashland Mills, Ashland began as a modest mill town in the mid-1800s. Its fertile land, access to natural resources and proximity to the trails and railroads connecting California to northern Oregon made it an ideal location. In its early days, the town was prosperous, quickly becoming the largest city in the state. However, by the early 1900s the Southern Pacific Railroad completed its route over Willamette Pass to Eugene, making the trails and railroad through Ashland less desirable. While the city was struggling to maintain its hold as the gem of Oregon, the Great Depression hit, further diminishing the population.
The Rise of Wine in Ashland and Southern Oregon
Known by some wine enthusiasts as Little Napa, the history of wine in Ashland and southern Oregon goes all the way back to the 1850s, around the same time the city was established. It was then that Peter Britt, of the Britt Music Festival in Jacksonville, planted his vineyard and established Valley View Winery.
Britt used southern Oregon’s micro-climates to his advantage and by the early 1900s he was able to grow the winery to be the largest on the west coast. Unfortunately, after Britt passed away the winery shut down and stayed closed for decades to come. After more than half a century of not producing wine on the estate, the Wisnovsky family purchased the land in 1972 and revived the vineyard to its former glory. They have gone on to win awards worldwide for their amazing wines. Thanks to Peter Britt’s success, there are now wineries throughout the region, and our guests at the inn can enjoy an excellent bottle of wine from right here in Ashland.
Ashland and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival Grow Together
Ashland and Shakespeare go back to the 1930s, when a young teacher saw potential in the remains of an old performance building reminiscent of an Elizabethan Theatre. Angus L. Bowmer was inspired by this similarity and petitioned the city to put on a two-day festival to coincide with the Fourth of July celebrations. His proposal was approved and on July 2, 1935 the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was born!
What started as a two-day event now spans from spring through fall, with multiple plays featured in a handful of theatres (including the original Allen Elizabethan Theatre). As the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has matured, so too has Ashland, and both are forever intertwined. The festival is known worldwide and draws thousands of theatre-goers every year to the Ashland area. If it weren’t for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, our town would look a lot different today.
The next time you visit us at Country Willows Inn, we encourage you to take some time to explore Ashland and appreciate the history that has made the city what it is today.