The tiny bungalow above Ashland’s Lithia Park is called the Raggedy Ann House because author and illustrator Johnny B. Gruelle lived there in the 1920s after he had created the collectible, red-headed rag doll and a series of books about her adventures.
Since 2017, the century-old bungalow has been elevated off the ground and ready to be relocated, but where?
The owners believed they were buying an odd-shaped patch of city-owned land on a corner of Granite Street where the Raggedy Ann House has sat since it was moved from the adjacent property.
Today, the mint-colored bungalow, with a dozen wheels underneath it, is being hauled away from that patch and down sloping Nutley Street to settle into a new spot, at the bottom of its original lot, and finally off city property.
The 100 foot change is a big deal: The owners had to “scramble,” they said, to excavate a new site and move the clapboard structure in 30 days to adhere to an order from the city issued on March 23.
The hurried move to private land also dampers other Ashland residents’ ambitious dreams to set the historic home inside the park, or somewhere in the city, and open it up to the public.
“It’s a sweet addition to the community and let’s see what can happen to it,” said Tom Moulder, who with his wife, Susan, has been paying attention to the fate of the bungalow, which Tom calls the “Johnny Gruelle House,” for more than 40 years.
Moulder, a landscape contractor, would like a museum explaining Gruelle’s presence here. He and his wife, an educator, would also like to get the Oregon Shakespeare Festival involved, “in a meaningful way,” to “connect the arts in Ashland” and engage young people, he said.
What they don’t want: Someone taking the bungalow to another city. “We can’t lose this historic piece,” said Tom Moulder.
Around 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, April 18, a house-moving crew will start navigating a truck as it pulls the 540-square-foot bungalow off its temporary corner and into a new driveway area to owners Mardi Mastain and Robin Donaldson’s backyard.
The move might take two hours.
Afterward, Mastain and Donaldson can breathe easy that the bungalow is no longer under threat of being removed. They plan to preserve the exterior and continue to improve the simple floor plan.
But that won’t settle other controversies.
The bungalow and Raggedy Ann have come to represent more than just a home and a toy.
Some see the bungalow as a refuge for a grieving father. Gruelle crossed the country to reach Ashland after his only daughter, Marcella, 13, died from an infection related to a smallpox vaccine.
Some mistakenly believe the “limp” doll represents Marcella and is an intentional message against vaccinations.
What is true: Gruelle came to Ashland eight years after his daughter’s death. And although he was granted final approval by the United States Patent and Trademark Office for his doll a day after Marcella died, he applied for the patent in May 1915, six months earlier.
His original patent drawings do not have Xes over the eyes, as some people claim, and neither did any version of the best-selling doll.
Gruelle arrived in Ashland in 1923 with his wife and two sons after driving a Larrabee six-cylinder bus, with images of Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy painted on the outside, from his home in Connecticut.
They moved into the bungalow owned by “fellow spiritualist” Emma Oeder, who lived next door, wrote Joe Peterson in “Hidden History of Ashland, Oregon,” who added, “They often held seances together.”
In early 1924, Gruelle completed writing and illustrating a new Raggedy book, his first in four years, “Raggedy Ann and Andy and the Camel with the Wrinkled Knees.”
The famous illustrator also painted murals in a downtown soda parlor and ice cream shop, signed autographs, and hung out with Western writer Zane Grey, who lived in the Rogue Valley.
After Gruelle and one of his sons recovered from serious illnesses, the family saw it as a “sign” to return to Connecticut in 1924, according to Peterson.
Oeder sold the property, which included her house and the bungalow, in 1935 to Nicholas and Rachel Lisle.
In 1948, the property was purchased by Verl G. and Carmel Barnthouse, who later passed it on to their daughter, Margarette Miller. She divided the lot. Her family continues to own Oeder’s former house.
In 1998, Mary and Dick Mastain bought the bungalow and in 2004, their daughter, Mardi Mastain, and Donaldson moved in. They became the owners and made improvements of the small bungalow with a laundry room underneath.
Around 2016, Mastain and Donaldson, who are now both 62, decided they wanted to live on the property forever but needed a single-level home with wide doors and no steps.
“We didn’t want to destroy the bungalow by modifying it,” said Mastain, who made plans with Donaldson to build a new house.
They had the option, according to a city council memo, to “demolish” or “relocate” the bungalow, which was built sometime between 1911 and 1920.
They decided to move the Raggedy Ann House to the lower end of their 8,276-square-foot lot. They paid the city $3,372 for an easement to add a driveway from Nutley Street.
The City of Ashland approved the plans in 2017 and the bungalow was moved out of the way of construction to the temporary spot, the city-owned corner. Construction on the new home began in 2018 and was completed in 2019.
The small, triangular “lawn area,” as the city described the Granite Street corner it owns, is not large enough to be a standalone parcel but could be sold as a lot line adjustment to an abutting property. The only adjacent land is the Mastain-Donaldson property, as noted in the city memo.
Or, as a city map shows, the small lawn area on Granite Street links to city-owned land on Nutley Street that also connects to city-owned land on Winburn Way: A total of 0.75 acres includes a parking lot, seasonal ice rink and the chiller apparatus for the ice rink.
Residents are concerned a developer might want the entire 0.75-acre parcel.
Mastain said she has been paying the city $500 a month to rent the corner lot and she offered to buy it at the city’s appraised amount of $170,000, even though she had hired an appraiser who said it was worth less than half that, at $77,000.
On March 23, Mastain was informed she could not buy the lot at full asking price and would need to move the house within 30 days, or the parks department “would take possession of it,” she said.
City offices were closed over the weekend and a spokesperson was not available to comment.
Ashland historian Terry Skibby said, “The history of Ashland has always been important to the residents of Ashland and others since it was first settled in 1852. Saving historic buildings and sites helps to preserve this. It also supports tourism and our local economy.”
For now, the bungalow will be moved. What else happens to the Raggedy Ann House, Mastain can predict only this: “Once the dust clears, I’m putting up a plaque.”
— Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072