The City of Ashland is pursuing a plan to add historic markers plus public art to the historic Railroad District.

The City of Ashland is pursuing a plan to add historic markers plus public art to the historic Railroad District.

"Each one can complement the other," said Ashland Historic Commissioner Allison Renwick, who is working on the project — still in its infancy — that merges art and history.

The markers would provide historical information, while the public art would delight residents and tourists alike, she said.

Renwick noted that cultural heritage tourists spend billions of dollars in Oregon annually.

Combining historical information with art is an efficient way to appeal to tourists interested in history, art or both, said Renwick, a retired art historian who taught at Portland Community College before moving to Ashland.

"Why not get more bang for our buck? This will enhance our economy by keeping them here and giving them something to look at," Renwick said. "It will give them something to do. They will stay longer and spend more money."

In May, the Ashland City Council endorsed a plan created by Renwick and other residents interested in art and history that calls for investing $53,500 to bring historical markers and public art to the Railroad District, which encompasses A Street and surrounding areas.

The markers and public art could be paid for through outside grants and, potentially, city tourism revenue, under the plan.

Councilors decided to back the $53,500 plan for the Railroad District rather than endorsing a $144,500 plan to bring markers and art to various parts of the city, including the Railroad District and downtown.

"I think it would be a wonderful pilot project," Councilor Rich Rosenthal said of the more limited plan to focus on the Railroad District.

He said there is already a lot going on in the downtown, and people are less aware of the historical significance of the Railroad District.

If the project proves successful in the Railroad District, it could be expanded, Rosenthal said.

Renwick said the historical markers could be integrated into benches, lamp posts or signs that would point the way to various attractions.

The public art could be free-standing or functional, such as bike racks shaped like railroad spikes, a Chinese-style dragon or a vintage gas pump, she said.

The Railroad District was once an area that catered to passenger and freight trains that were constantly making stops in Ashland.

It had a thriving community of Chinese immigrants.

Many historic buildings are still there, including the Haskins Garage building, which still has a vintage gas pump and now houses Revive Home Decor, and The Peerless Hotel building.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or