Just in time for the 220th anniversary of the golden spike, an Ashland museum dedicated to honoring the role of the railroad in our country's progress has opened.

The Ashland Historic Railroad Museum, founded by Southern Oregon University graduate Victoria Law, is now open from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.

Exhibits change monthly and will feature early settlers in the area during January, featuring a presentation by Larry Mullaly. Railroad contributions by African American engineers will be on display in February followed in March by women's involvement in railroads.

Law was attracted to trains as a little girl growing up in Ohio, where railroads cut through the countryside in all directions. She was drawn to technology in college and became a systems analyst for Boeing Co. before moving to Ashland, where her interests grew together while she earned a history degree at Southern Oregon University.

The museum is on the second floor of the A Street Arts Buildings, 258 A St., No. 7, in Ashland. Admission is free.

"Trains were at the forefront of technology when they arrived here in Ashland," said Law. "Trains and telegraphs transformed society like computers and the Internet have today."

Law has labored the past five years to bring the Ashland Historic Railroad Museum into existence, putting together a board and obtaining items for display. The museum, on the second floor of a converted warehouse, celebrated its grand opening Saturday.

Law points out the golden spike, driven Dec. 17, 1787, in Ashland, not only connected previously isolated Southern Oregon to the outside world, but also linked Northwest and California commerce &

something that previously required sailing ships.

"It took stage coaches going between Portland and San Francisco 136 hours and cost $36," Law said. "During technological revolutions, things get cheaper and it allows people to put more money into the economy."

Train travel between Portland and San Francisco reduced the time to 36 hours and cost less.

"The combination of railroads and telegraphs have been called the Victorian Internet, because it allowed incredibly quick communication," she said. "It also led to telegraph romances, a precursor to what happens on the Internet today."

The immediate impact of rail service rolling through town spawned a population explosion as the town doubled in size in two years.

"They were able to ship produce and other products out for the first time," Law said.

Because the Natron Cutoff wasn't pushed through east of the Cascades until 1927, the route was unrivaled as a shipping route for 40 years. During that period, a variety of photos were taken, but not all of them surfaced in Southern Oregon.

"The postcard photographers would come through and then sell their pictures, maybe in a pharmacy back East," said Law, who has found a couple old pictures on eBay.

Law bought the former White Fir Lumber Co. warehouse seven years ago, gave the fa&

231;ade an overhaul and created an arts and retail center. She began exhibiting some of her collection in the hallway three years ago. The response to that, along with an evening program, led her to think the museum would work.

A $10,000 donation has launched the museum. Law provides free rent.

"My desire was to bring Ashland railroad history to life &

again," she said. "I collected photos, artifacts and videos to make it lively here. We don't want those things in a box somewhere where people can't see them."