Merlin, Oregon History
by Dennis Hotchkiss
On the original application for a post office on October 11, 1885, the name "McAllister" is crossed out and Brandt is used. The name was changed back to McAllister on November 23, 1885. The name was later changed to Merlin--after the Pigeon Hawks in the area--on March 21, 1891.
The founder of Merlin was postmaster John C. Lanterman in 1885; the first post office was established on November 23, 1885. The first Merlin townsite was platted by Sarah E. Lanterman and registered in the courthouse on March 31, 1888, as the town of Azalia. Also stated on the platt, "Streets and alleys donated" (lot owners usually had to pay for streets and alleys, as well as, maintain them). In 1905 the Merlin township was founded by A.B. Cousins and the Merlin Land Development Company. This platt enlarged the original townsite of Azalia considerably.
J.W. Mitchell, pioneer merchant, purchased property in the center of the Azalia subdivision in 1888 and constructed a large mercantile store and was the leading merchant until the main part of the town burned in October of 1915, thus ending 27 years as Merlin's leading merchant.
The Southern Pacific Railroad established the Jump-Off Joe Station in the early 1880's. The name Merlin came from a railroad employee named David Loring after seeing the area inhabited by pigeon hawks also known as merlins. Mr. Loring's imagination is also responsible for naming several other towns as well, including the city of Medford. Postmaster Lanterman changed the name of the post office to Merlin on March 21, 1891. Following Lanterman as postmaster were George A. Guild, followed by his daughter, Mattie. Ruth Lendberg was postmaster from 1930 to 1967, serving seven presidents. Mrs. Lendberg's little green house served as the post office and it still stands with flagpole on Pleasant Valley Road, just down the street from the present day post office.
Merlin had two school districts in 1886: the Jump Off Joe School District had 54 children educated at a cost of $77.00; the Louse Creek School District had 26 pupils with a cost of $63.00. These two districts combined to form Merlin School District #24 in May of 1894. There was a brick school house built in 1912 on the spot where the present day elementary school sits. A bell from an older school was placed in the brick building and when it was demolished in 1963, it was given to the Merlin Community Baptist Church where it hangs today.
Merlin expanded rapidly after the townsite was platted in 1905. There was a grocery store, a three-story hotel, daily train stops, and even a hanging dentist sign guaranteeing no pain. But once again tragedy struck when on the morning of October 24, 1915 a fire destroyed a block of buildings including the post office and the train depot.
There is an interesting letter addressed to Debbie Lard who has done much on preserving the history of Merlin. This letter tells how it was in 1911 traveling to Grants Pass. Long time resident Ted Stiewig tells of a trip to see the Barnum and Bailey Circus in Grants Pass. At that time, Mr. Stiewig was about four years old and lived in Rand, just past Galice. He describes taking Massie's stagecoach at 6:30 in the morning, stopping at Indian Mary's ranch at about 12 noon to change horses, then arriving at the train depot in Merlin at about 2:00 in the afternoon. Since the train didn't arrive until 6:30 p.m., they would stay and have lunch and dinner at Massie's Hotel in Merlin before departing for Grants Pass.
Mr. Stiewig also describes going to Grants Pass with his friends while living in Merlin. After taking the train to Grants Pass and finding entertainment playing the pool halls, they would make sure they had at least 25 cents for train fare left between them so they could "ride the blinds;" that is, they would jump between the cars unseen. One friend would pay so the train would be sure to stop in Merlin on the way back so they all could jump off.
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Josephine County Historical Society
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