In 1890, Mary Elizabeth Anderson Brown McCall planted a magnolia tree in the front yard of her home at 153 Oak St. That tree was planted in memory of Elsie May McCall, on the occasion of her death at the age of 17 years.

Last week, Oregon Travel Experience named the magnolia an Oregon Heritage Tree, recognizing John McCall’s contributions to Oregon and that healthy and beautiful tree, well cared for over 128 years.

Elsie was just 3 when her mother, Theresa Rose Applegate McCall, died in 1875, a month after the birth of her fourth child. Elsie’s father, John McCall, married Mary Elizabeth a year later as he vied for a seat in the Oregon state legislature.

Mary Elizabeth, who was called Lizzie, bore no children of her own and so John’s children must have been ever so welcome and much loved. Elsie was the sweetest of all and caught the heart of her adoptive mother.

It is John Marshall McCall who comes to mind when one considers the 1883 McCall House. He was an influential politician, a wealthy industrialist and a gracious man to all who knew him. John McCall established the Ashland Woolen Mills, the first local bank and was mayor of Ashland.

McCall’s achievements were many but it was Lizzie who kept their home, cared for John’s children and flourished as a woman confident in her own person. The Ashland Daily Tidings reports that the big house on Oak Street was filled with children and was the center of Ashland’s social and political life in the 1880s.

When Elsie died in 1890, just months short of her 18th birthday, Lizzie grieved. It wasn’t an easy death as Elsie was an invalid, weakened by measles 10 years earlier. In an era when a man’s death was noted and rarely those of women and children, Elsie’s memorial is poetic and powerful, filled with love and loss.

128 years later, at least one member of the McCall family still lives in Ashland. Susanne Kreig was there last week to join in the celebration of the McCall House Magnolia.

Susanne Kreig is the great granddaughter of John McCall and Mary Elizabeth, and the granddaughter of Melissa Anna Anderson Wagner. Anna, as she was known, was Mary’s niece adopted into the McCall household when the infant’s parents perished in a typhoid epidemic leaving seven children behind.

Anna spent most of her life in the McCall home, was married there and died there in 1957 at the age of 92. Susanna recalls visiting her grandparents as a child, the big magnolia in front and yellow roses blooming alongside.

“I remember sliding on the bannister, one bathroom upstairs and one down,” Susanne says. ”The Ashland Daily Tidings described each visit in the Society Pages.”

In 2001 Millis Mcloughlin bought the McCall property and restored the home as a guest house. Now the McCall House has a bathroom for each bedroom, lots of closets and elegant furnishings to delight the senses.

There are many photographs of the magnolia tree over the years, some with Lizzie standing in its comforting shade. Today the magnolia towers over the home and is vibrant with shiny green leaves throughout the winter, blooming brilliantly spring into summer.

Lizzie planted that tree for Elsie in 1890.
— Maureen Flanagan Battistella is an Ashland freelance writer. She can be reached at mbattistellaor@gmail.com