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The Middleford Myth

Medford was never named "Middleford." There has never been a town named Middleford in the Rogue Valley. There has never even been an area named Middleford in the Rogue Valley. When the town plat was drawn before the town was founded--a month before the arrival of the railroad--the name of the town was Medford. 

The name "Middleford" was reported in a newspaper one time in 1883 as just one of the names under consideration--as the newspapers also reported suggestions of "Phippstown," "Grand Central" and "East Jacksonville"--but reminiscences from those actually present at the deliberations recall the name considered as "Midford," not "Middleford." 

The Ashland Tidings, the only source for the Middleford name, admitted that it got that information second- or third-hand. The word "Middleford" appears nowhere in print again--not in a legal document, not in a newspaper story, not in a pioneer's reminiscence--until 1932. For a dozen pioneers' reminiscences about what Medford was like before there was a Medford, click here.

And Medford was not built "at the middle ford in the valley." There was no ford at the Medford site. The town's location was chosen because it was the property of Iradell J. Phipps and Charles W. Broback, not because there was supposedly a ford there. Main Street did not exist when the town was founded, so there was no reason to cross Bear Creek at that exact location. The ford referred to was the one on the county road leading to the McAndrews ranch, a half mile north of the townsite.

So the real story is a more nuanced one: The "Med" in "Medford" is because it's in the middle of the valley; the "ford" refers to one of several fords in the valley--the one just north of town.

And Medford is called "Medford"--instead of "Midford" or "Middleford"--
because the Oregon & California Railroad's right-of-way agent, civil engineer David Loring, was a native of Concord, Massachusetts and was familiar with the name of a city about twelve miles east of there--Medford, Massachusetts.

Below is every newspaper citation and reminiscence known about the naming of Medford, including the one that became the source of the Middleford myth.

If you've read the information below and still think there was a Middleford before the railroad came, click on this link and read the pioneers' descriptions of the town site before the railroad.


    OUR DEPOT--The Grand Central railroad depot has been located at last and the company have decided on putting it on the land owned by C. W. Broback, C. Mingus, C. C. Beekman and I. J. Phipps. It is on a corner owned by the four above mentioned parties but the depot property will be on the land owned by Broback. A town site will be laid out and property offered for sale.
Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, November 3, 1883, page 3


    The name of our depot is still in doubt, some calling it East Jacksonville, while others persist in naming it Phippstown. "Grand Central" seems to have dropped behind.--Sentinel. ("East Jacksonville" is pretty good. Better call it North Phoenix or West Eagle Point.)
Ashland Tidings, November 23, 1883, page 3


    Chas. Howard, of Jacksonville, is engaged in surveying the new town site at the central depot in Manzanita precinct. About 200 acres will be laid off in town lots. A name for the town has not yet been finally adopted, but "Medford" or "Middleford" has been suggested by the railroad people, we are told.
"Railroad Notes," Ashland Tidings, November 30, 1883, page 3


    C. W. Broback, one of the proprietors of the new town down the valley, was in Ashland Wednesday. He says "East Jacksonville" is "no go."
"Personal," Ashland Tidings, November 30, 1883, page 3


Medford was surveyed in December of 1883; the plat was recorded on December 20th. The name on the original town plat is "Medford."


    The central station in the valley is to be called Medford, and the one at Chavner's bridge is named Bedford. With the passengers coming from the south it is all right, as they can commence undressing at Medford before reaching Bedford.
"Local Items," Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, December 15, 1883, page 3   Wiser heads prevailed, and "Bedford" became Gold Hill.


    From a crossing on Bear Creek known as "Middle-ford" a town originally started there grew into a community called Medford--a little village in the Rogue River Valley. Today it is known as Medford--the biggest little town on the Pacific Slope.
"Great Increase Local Schools During Year," Medford Mail Tribune, May 21, 1911, page 1


    Richard Koehler, a resident of Oregon for more than half a century and for many years operating head of the Southern Pacific Company lines in this state, informs the compiler that the town of Medford was named by David Loring who was at the time of construction a civil engineer connected with the right-of-way operations for the Oregon and California Rail Road Company.
    The railroad was opened to traffic from Grants Pass to Phoenix in 1884. The name was apparently applied shortly before that date. Mr. Loring who was for many years later a resident of Portland, was a native of Massachusetts and selected the name of Medford in honor of Medford, Massachusetts.
Lewis A. McArthur, "Oregon Geographic Names," Oregon Historical Quarterly, vol. 27, no. 3, September 1926, page 340


    David Loring, of Portland, who named the city of Medford, informed the compiler in August, 1927, that while the form of the name was suggested by Medford, Massachusetts, he really named the new community in Oregon because it was situated at the middle ford on Bear Creek [Medford was situated near a ford; there was no ford at the Medford site. See the original town plat.].
Lewis A. McArthur, "Oregon Geographic Names," Oregon Historical Quarterly, vol. 28, no. 3, September 1927, page 297



    Medford was founded in 1883 by Iradell J. Phipps and the name of the town was suggested by him on account of its location in the middle of the valley, probably first called Midford.
"Coming of the Railroad and Medford's Founding," by Alice Applegate Sargent, Medford Mail Tribune, January 31, 1932, page 3


    Five miles east of Jacksonville, in the very heart of this beautiful Rogue River Valley, the railroad planned to start a new town and the name first selected was Middleford, as David Loring, the railroad engineer claims because Bear Creek was forded at this place, but Loring happened to have lived in Medford, Mass., and so he shortened the name of the new townsite to Medford.
"Medford History Dates from Railway Inception," Medford Mail Tribune, February 28, 1932, page 3
[This widely disseminated bit of sloppy history is the source of the Middleford myth, which was unrecorded before 1932. Bear Creek was not forded at Medford; the ford referred to was at McAndrews Road. It is unknown whether Loring ever lived in Medford, Massachusetts; he was a native of nearby Concord, Mass.]


    The county court [i.e., the county commissioners] has always assumed to have authority to come inside our corporate [city] limits and lay out county roads without so much as asking or even notifying our honorable board in reference to the same, and the county court about 1886 did come into the corporation of Medford and laid out a county road from the east end of Seventh Street [Main] at the intersection of the same with the valley road [Riverside] to and across Bear Creek and thence to the eastern boundary of our road district without the official knowledge or consent of the trustees of our town, and this is the road upon which the Bear Creek bridge is built. . . .
"The County Bridge Across Bear Creek," Medford Mail, January 26, 1894, page 2   There was no road across Bear Creek at Medford when the town was named.


   
The county road now known as East Main Street, commencing on the east line of Medford corporate limits, was established in [the] '80s, about 1885 or 1886. It was laid out by me as a county road under the orders of the county court and accepted and recorded as such.
"J. S. Howard on Bridge Case," Medford Mail Tribune, December 27, 1912, page 4


NAMING MEDFORD
    Elsewhere on this page is a letter from Emil Peil, Ashland, Or., merchant, who states that he was present when the naming of the town of Medford was under discussion and that Medford was chosen for its meaning--that is, because the new town was in a "middle" position in the valley.
    This is in direct contradiction to the ordinary version, which is to the effect that David Loring, a civil engineer engaged on the railroad construction through the valley [he was a civil engineer, yes, but his job was securing the right of way for the railroad], selected the name in honor of Medford, Mass. The latter version is the one given by Lewis A. McArthur in his Oregon Geographic Names, and he cites Richard Koehler, long operating head of the Southern Pacific in Oregon, as his authority.
    However, it may be that both sides in the discussion are right. In all probability Mr. Loring did suggest the name in the manner recounted, but in talking it over between the railroad officials and the Jacksonville folk [Even though this is how Emil Peil also remembered it, it seems more likely that Loring discussed it with townsite owners I. J. Phipps and C. W. Broback, not the "Jacksonville folk." The Ashland Tidings cited Broback as its authority for the news that the name East Jacksonville had been rejected. It's likely Phipps and Broback were considered "Jacksonville folk" in 1883, since Jacksonville was the nearest town and Jacksonville would have been their mailing address.], its appropriateness was what was considered. Whether or not the name was finally chosen because of its meaning of "middle," the fact remains that someone must have thought of it in the first place and must have had a reason for calling it to mind. The evidence is that Mr. Loring was the one who proposed the name and that he did so as a result of his memory of Medford, Mass. The name apparently was first used just before the railroad from Grants Pass to Phoenix was opened to traffic in 1884.
Oregonian, Portland, January 30, 1933, page 6


The Name "Medford."
    To the Editor: In the Monday issue of The Oregonian, January 23, in the "Those Who Come and Go" column, I read the statement that Medford, Or., was named in honor of Medford, Mass. This is a mistake, as in the fall of 1883 I heard the discussion between railroad officials and Jacksonville people as to the name to be given the new town, being located in the middle of the valley. They decided on Medford, meaning "the middle ford." The Jacksonville people, being somewhat jealous of the new town so near, called it "Chaparral City" for some time, as the location was overgrown with the shrub.
EMIL PEIL.                
Ashland, Or.      
Oregonian, Portland, January 30, 1933, page 6


    At Jacksonville I met some railroad officials and learned that they were trying to get Jacksonville to put up money to have the railroad pass through the town. The Jacksonville people thought the railroad would have to come there, so they refused any bonds. The officials decided to leave Jacksonville out and establish a town on the railroad about four or five miles from Jacksonville. I happened to be present when they were discussing a name for the proposed town. David Loring was a civil engineer employed by the right-of-way department of the Ore. & Calif. Railroad Company. One official wanted to name the new town something that would signify that it was midway between Central Point and Phoenix. He suggested "Medfort." [sic--the word is partly obliterated in the typescript and may be a transcription error for "Midford." Or possibly Peil's recollection was colored by his German accent.] The others objected to this, so they compromised on "Medford." The railroad was opened to traffic from Grants Pass to Phoenix in 1884.
Emil Peil, quoted in A Peil-Nail Family History, undated typescript compiled by Sharon Peil Morrow, SOHS vertical file


    The new town was named Middleford because it was situated at the middle of three fords on Bear Creek, but David Loring, a railroad engineer who had lived in Medford, Massachusetts, suggested the change to the present name.
Oregon: End of the Trail, Federal Writers' Project 1940, page 188    The WPA writers were copying the information in the erroneous 1932 Mail Tribune story.


    Richard Koehler, a resident of Oregon for more than half a century and for many years operating head of Southern Pacific Company lines in this state, told the compiler that the town of Medford was named by David Loring who was at the time of construction a civil engineer connected with the right-of-way operations for the Oregon and California Rail Road Company. The railroad was opened to traffic from Grants Pass to Phoenix in 1884. The name was apparently applied shortly before that date.
    In August, 1927, David Loring was living in Portland, and in conversation with the compiler confirmed Mr. Koehler's statement. Mr. Loring said that while the form of the name was suggested by Medford, Massachusetts, he really named the new community in Oregon because it was situated at the middle ford on Bear Creek. [Even if the McAndrews ford was "the" middle ford--which no one has ever demonstrated--Medford was not situated "at" it. The McAndrews ford was a half-mile north of the original townsite.] Mr. Loring was a native of Medford, Massachusetts. [Loring was a native of Concord, not Medford.] People in Jacksonville were not enthusiastic about the new rival community of Medford and referred to it as Chaparral City.
Lewis A. McArthur, "Oregon Geographic Names," Oregon Historical Quarterly, vol. 44, 1944, page 206


    The name first selected was Middle-Ford, as David Loring, the railroad engineer, claims because Bear Creek was forded at this place. Loring had lived in Medford, Mass., and so he shortened the name of the new townsite to Medford.
Medford Mail Tribune, May 17, 1959.  The myth firmly in place by 1959. Let me repeat: There's scant--and questionable--evidence that the name "Middle-Ford" or "Middleford" was ever considered, David Loring was a civil engineer, Bear Creek wasn't forded at Medford, it's unknown whether Loring ever lived in Medford, Mass., and Medford has been named Medford since its inception. "Medford" isn't a shortening of anything.



Last revised February 23, 2013