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The Square Mile Project lends focus to history

SOU student projects will be shown at Ashland, Medford libraries
 Posted: 2:00 AM June 04, 2014

Instead of hearing the story of all 2,802 square miles of Jackson County, the public will get the chance to explore the history and geography of just one square mile of the county, as researched and compiled over the years by students of Southern Oregon University.

Part of the Windows in Time lecture series, "The Square Mile Project" presentation by emeritus professor Patricia Acklin will be from noon to 1 today at the Medford library and the same time Wednesday, June 11, at the Ashland library. The presentations, sponsored by the Jackson County Library System and Southern Oregon Historical Society, are free and open to the public.

As a capstone project, SOU geography seniors each gathered in-depth historical and geographical features of a one-mile-square section, often going into the field to interview residents, take oral histories and peruse relevant documents and photographs to get an analysis of all that's happened in their square mile, says Acklin.

Windows in Time series

June — The Square Mile Project

July — Susie Jessel, Ashland spiritual healer in the 1930s

August — The Modoc War

September — Crater Lake trip from 1889

October — Local movie-making

November — Saloons and suffrage

December — A Japanese family in Medford

Lunchtime lectures are held the first and second Wednesdays of the month. For more, see

Acklin will present several of the seniors' projects, covering the donation land claims of the pioneer Hill and Dunn families, Siskiyou Summit, the Table Rock area — including the now-burned Colver House — and Jacksonville. She will take a look at her own project from 1977, on a square mile in Talent.

"The students would get out their maps and go on group field trips in spring quarter before graduation. They learned a lot of interviewing, map-making and note-taking skills," says Acklin.

"On mine, I was out at the Stern Cemetery in Talent and here were all the relatives of people buried there, cleaning up the grave sites. I remember feeling shy about asking strangers questions, but I got used to it. This was before GIS (geographical information systems) so it was pretty funky compared to what we have now."

Students would do their capstone presentations on-site and describe and explain all aspects of that area, she says. Acklin will tell stories of the students' methodologies and learning experiences as well as skimming the history of the square-mile areas. The class was cut in recent SOU budget retrenchments.

The Square Mile Project was created by Acklin's professor, Claude Curran, a sometimes weatherman at KOBI-TV and developer of SORSI, the Southern Oregon Regional Services Institute. The class was called Field Geology and was also part of the Environmental Studies degree. The research, most of it completed since 2000, was donated to the historical society.

Acklin teaches geography and environmental studies at SOU. A resident of the Rogue Valley since 1971, she says her perspectives have been developed through work as a land use planner and soil scientist for Jackson County and as citizen involvement coordinator for a regional transportation planning effort coordinated by the Rogue Valley Council of Governments. She also served on the Ashland City Council.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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