Imagine this site in the 1890's. A small but serviceable locomotive, belching steam and smoke, rumbles up to the little depot on the corner. Commuters step from a single passenger car and quickly disperse. Further down the track, in the train yard where you now stand, a loaded freight car waits to be attached. Hours later, the passenger car refills. A young boy dressed in conductor's hat and coat collects tickets. The whistle bellows two long blasts, a gasp of steam escapes from the engine, and the little train once again chugs from the station.
The rails you see beside you, and across the street, are remnants from the original Rogue River Valley Railway, which once carried passengers, freight, and mail between Jacksonville and Medford. Local residents held high expectations for the five-mile long short-line when it began in 1891. Jacksonville, once a thriving trade center, lost its economic fortunes when it was bypassed by the mainline railroad in the 1880s. It was hoped that the pint-sized railroad would revive the the economy. Jacksonville was still the county seat, and the new railroad would provide easy access to the courthouse. The RRVRR would also link to Southern Pacific tracks in Medford, connecting Jacksonville to world markets.
As automobiles became more common, the modest train system could not maintain
a profit. It failed to revive Jacksonville's economy, and could not even save itself. In 1925, the line closed. Rolling stock was sold and rails were paved over or recycled into stop sign posts and bridge supports.
Jacksonville's economy spiraled downward as the county seat moved to Medford in 1927, and the Great Depression hit in 1929. Designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1966, Jacksonville's prosperity has returned. Today, tourists arrive on asphalt roads instead of metal rails, but the little depot, now an information center, still serves travelers visiting the town.
Although the Rogue River Valley Railway had a number of different owners, much of the time William Barnum operated it as a family business with his wife and sons. In 1893, a railroad magazine featured 13 year-old John Barnum as the nation's youngest conductor.