Who Was Medford's First Mayor?

Take your pick: George Haskins, J. S. Howard, or Dr. E. P. Geary.

     On March 26, 1907, a saddened Medford City Council adopted the following resolution:
     Whereas, death has removed from our midst George H. Haskins, a pioneer and the first mayor of the City of Medford, now, Therefore, the mayor, the city council and the city officials of the City of Medford give expression to their sorrow at the loss of such a good citizen, of sterling character, and tender to the family their sincere sympathy in their sad bereavement.
     Just one problem--Medford was incorporated in 1885, and pharmacist George Haskins wasn't elected mayor until 1894. This means there were five mayors before him. (Or six; it depends on how you count.) Interesting thing, though: When your obituary is headlined "Medford's First Mayor Is Laid To Rest," it tends to become accepted history.
Another candidate for Medford's first mayor, surveyor/merchant/postmaster/
real estate agent/notary James Sullivan Howard, is often also credited as the "Father of Medford."
Another problem: He gave himself both those titles. Yes, J. S. Howard had been elected the first president of the city's Board of Trustees, back when they formed the city government in his store's office on South Front Street on March 28, 1885. But there was no office of mayor then. The first city charter, dated January 24, 1885 (which Howard himself wrote), doesn't even use the word "mayor."
     But that didn't prevent president Howard from signing the council minutes "J. S. Howard, mayor," beginning in December of 1886. He actually did become mayor when a new city charter was adopted in March of 1887, for the first time creating that office in Medford.
     But Howard hadn't run for mayor, so he wasn't the first elected mayor. That honor belongs to University of Oregon graduate Dr. Edward Payson Geary, who ran for the office and was elected on January 2, 1888.
     So if (a) Haskins qualifies as first mayor because the city council (and his obituary) said he was, and the error has been repeated enough to take on the aura of fact; (b) Howard qualifies because he was the first person to call himself "mayor" and because the title of mayor was created while he was president; and (c) Geary qualifies because he was the first person elected mayor--who wins the first mayor sweepstakes?
     Well, there's one more fact to consider. Remember that meeting in the spring of 1885 in J. S. Howard's office on South Front? Well, just before Howard was elected president, the trustees had chosen a temporary chairman--a man who three years later would be the first man to successfully run for mayor of Medford: Dr. E. P. Geary.

    "Dr. and Mrs. E. P. Geary were the guests of Dr. and Mrs. E. B. Pickel last week, before leaving for their home in Portland. They have been spending several weeks on their Griffin Creek ranch. Dr. Geary was the first mayor of Medford and was formerly in partnership with Dr. Pickel."
"In Medford's Social Realm," Medford Mail Tribune, August 28, 1910, page B1

    Engineer J. S. Howard was the first mayor of Medford, and not Dr. Geary as published. Mr. Howard, who is known as the father of Medford, was chairman of the board of incorporation in 1885 and elected president of the council, serving as such a year. Then the charter was changed and a mayor provided, Mr. Howard serving as such. In 1887 Dr. Geary was elected mayor, so that he was second mayor of Medford instead of first.
Medford Mail Tribune, February 28, 1912, page 4

Last revised February 28, 2012