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What lies beneath the Plaza?

The city waits on word from state preservation division to begin redesign
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A fountain in the Ashland Plaza offers visitors a taste of Lithia water. Before the city can move ahead with its plan to redesign the Plaza, the state has to determine whether an archaeological survey must be done first. “We know that certain areas of downtown Ashland are in that inventory ... They will let us know if there is anything we are required to do,” said City Administrator Dave Kanner. “We’re not excavating to a depth that is of concern.”Bob Pennell
 Posted: 2:00 AM September 11, 2012

The city of Ashland is waiting to hear back from the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office on whether it will be required to carry out an archaeological survey of the Plaza before a planned redesign can begin.

The SHPO asked the city to send a map of the project so it could determine whether that part of the Plaza is included on the state's list of historic and archaeological properties.

"We know that certain areas of downtown Ashland are in that inventory ... They will let us know if there is anything we are required to do," said City Administrator Dave Kanner.

Kanner doubts the city will be required to survey the site for traces of Native American and settler artifacts because most of the original topsoil there has been covered by several feet of fill dirt since Ashland was settled in the mid-1800s. "We're not excavating to a depth that is of concern," Kanner said. "We're disturbing dirt only at the surface level."

Two past archeological surveys that were conducted along Ashland Creek upstream from the Plaza uncovered large quantities of Native American and settler artifacts, said Mark Tveskov, Southern Oregon University associate professor of anthropology and director of SOU's anthropology laboratory.

In 2002, Tveskov led a limited survey along the creek that uncovered remnants of an ancient fireplace, a glass bead, arrow heads, pieces of stone tool and several chips of worked stone, he said.

Another unofficial survey was conducted in the 1980s on the grassy area at the entrance to Lithia Park, but was never finalized in an official report, Tveskov said.

That dig, where the former Ashland Flour Mill stood, was led by then SOU professors Nan Hannon and Rich Olmo and revealed hundreds of Native American and settler artifacts, Tveskov said.

Tveskov said he is not familiar with the intricacies of the Ashland Plaza redesign or its proposed impact, and he is uncertain whether the project warrants a similar survey.

"Certainly, Ashland's downtown is an area of interest," he said. "It's the downtown core, and it's been that way since pre-history."

Ashland resident Cici Brown said she would like to see the Plaza area surveyed by an archaeologist before the redesign begins.

"I am not against the redesign, I'm just annoyed that they (the city) didn't do an investigation into this before approving the plan," she said.

The potential archeological significance of the area was not formally discussed by the City Council before it voted on the redesign.

Councilors Mike Morris, Greg Lemhouse, Dennis Slattery and Russ Silbiger voted in favor of the redesign, while councilors David Chapman and Carol Voisin voted against the plan.

Before work can begin on the redesign, the city will have to wait for SHPO to determine what impact the project might have on artifacts that potentially lie buried beneath one of Ashland's premier public spaces.

"If SHPO tells us we need to do something, we'll do it," Kanner said.

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.


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