With the expansion of the railroad taming the wild west during the early 1880s, growing cities saw the importance of having these tracks run through their emerging towns so they could open up trade and connect with the rest of the world.  Around this time in Oregon’s early history, the Oregon and California Railroad were settling tracks south from Portland and making surveys in the southern part of the state. The growing city of Medford didn’t know it at the time, but that railroad was about to take an important turn in history toward them that would lead to the creation of Medford’s historic James A. Redden Federal Courthouse.

ames A. Redden Federal Courthouse
The courthouse shortly after its opening in 1916. Photo credit: Sally Mayberry of GSA

By the fall of 1883, trains were already running into Grants Pass with the plan for the next stop along the track to be Jacksonville, as it was the county seat and already one of the most important towns in the area. However, plans to go through Jacksonville fell through when the railroad asked them for a $25,000 bonus as compensation for the difficulties the railroad would face in passing over the Applegate Ridge of the mountains. The city refused to pay the bonus, and as a result, the railroad subsequently rerouted the tracks through the center of the Rogue River Valley, where it then proceeded to start a new town.

Thus, Medford came to be — named after the hometown of the railroad engineer David Loring of Medford, Massachusetts. The town grew rapidly, thanks to the rail stop and the environment, which was a rich agricultural and orchard producing climate. As a result of the growing number of residents, the demand for a city post office soon became apparent as the postal facilities’ workload fell short of carrying the burden.

ames A. Redden Federal Courthouse
The courthouse in the 1940s, after the expansion, as noted by the additional windows on the backside of the building. Photo courtesy: Groundspeak, Inc.

Relief came in 1910 when congress appropriated $110,000 for a new U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, with the courthouse addition providing a U.S. District Court presence in the region. Local residents were so excited about the new structure representing their fair city that many sites were immediately offered as potential locations for the future U.S. Post Office and Courthouse of Medford. In the end, a lot was chosen on the corner of Sixth and Holly as it was conveniently only three blocks from the railroad depot. The land was formally dedicated on March 13, 1911, with a payment of $1, after being donated by Bert and May Anderson and W.C. and Flossie Green.

ames A. Redden Federal Courthouse
Joan and James Redden ca. 1963 in the Oregon House of Representatives. Photo credit: Judge James Redden

Work quickly began on the structure and was officially completed in 1916 under the supervision of architect Oscar Wenderoth. It was a stunning example of Renaissance Revival architecture, a popular theme for buildings at the beginning of the twentieth century. In fact, it was such a popular style that an identical building was even constructed in Pendleton, as Wenderoth was responsible for planning many governmental structures during the region’s early growth.

And as the area continued to grow, so did the building. In 1939, the Federal Works Agency designed a major addition for the north side of the building, along with significant interior remodeling. They enlisted the help of Louis A. Simon as Supervising Architect and W.G. Noll as Chief Architect for this project which came at the cost of $230,000. It was a task worth every penny. In the end, it provided additional public and workroom facilities for the post office on the first floor, consolidated court operations on the second floor, and provided additional general office space on the third floor.

ames A. Redden Federal Courthouse
The building celebrated its 100 years in 2016 when this photo was taken. Photo courtesy: Oregon Heritage

Today, the building is the earliest remaining federal courthouse in southern Oregon and is an early embodiment of the federal government in that region. Though it hasn’t been used as a post office since 1966, the building is still being utilized for court operations and general office space. It operated simply as the “courthouse” for years until September of 1996. It was then that the United States Senate enacted a bill introduced by Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield to rename the building for long-serving District Court Judge James A. Redden. But just because the name has changed doesn’t mean that the James A. Redden Federal Courthouse has stopped serving its people. It still stands today as the Medford Federal Building, continuing to remain a functioning symbol of city pride and growth.

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