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Ashland historian Kay Atwood dies

 Posted: 5:05 PM May 27, 2014

Fans of Southern Oregon history are mourning the loss of Kay Atwood, who brought the past alive through exhaustive research and vividly written books.

Katherine "Kay" Conlee Atwood, 71, passed away at her Ashland home on Saturday.

Born in Bakersfield, Calif., Atwood earned degrees in theater design and theater before moving to Ashland in 1969 to work for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. She soon began preparing exhibits for the Southern Oregon Historical Society and eventually became a history consultant and author.

"Kay had an amazing impact," said historic preservation consultant George Kramer of Kramer & Company in Ashland. "She was able to take history in Southern Oregon and transform it from dry and dusty things in a library into books people bought and read and enjoyed."

Whether writing or speaking before audiences of all ages, Atwood had an approachable style, but still managed to convey large volumes of information, Kramer said.

She wrote about everything from settlement along the lower Rogue River to the medical profession in Jackson County to Chinese people in Southern Oregon.

"It's hard to write about Southern Oregon without citing Kay Atwood," Kramer said. "Kay is probably the best known figure in Southern Oregon history in the last 30 years. She was the experts' expert. I would call Kay up and she just knew the answers. She was incredibly generous with providing that knowledge."

A skilled researcher, Atwood could find documents and discover the most obscure details, such as how many chickens a settler owned and how much he had paid for his horses, Kramer said.

Kramer said if a subject piqued Atwood's curiosity, she would research it and write a book.

Her books include "Mill Creek Journal: Ashland, Oregon 1850-1860," "Illahee: The Story of Settlement in the Rogue River Canyon" and, most recently, "Chaining Oregon: Surveying the Public Lands of the Pacific Northwest, 1851-1855."

— Vickie Aldous

Read more in Wednesday's newspaper.

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