Gold Hill approves name change for Powerhouse Falls

Oregon Geographic Names Board will get final say; decision can take up to 2 years

By for the Mail Tribune
January 14, 2008 6:00 AM

GOLD HILL City Council members granted preliminary approval this week to a Takelma elder's request to rename the Powerhouse Falls in honor of the native people who lived along the Rogue River for thousands of years before being pushed out by white settlers.

The name change was requested by Takelma elder Agnes Baker-Pilgrim who, as a nod to her ancestors, wanted the falls named for the village of Tilomikh.

Baker-Pilgrim, with help from local property owner Steve Kiesling and storyteller Thomas Doty, discovered the site of the ancient village and ceremony using family photographs and interviews stored at the Smithsonian.

In June, she brought back a salmon ceremony to the site for the first time in more than 150 years since her people were either killed or forced to march up the then Applegate Trail to Siletz and Grand Ronde.

While the name can change unofficially almost immediately, the official approval could take up to two years.

Final decision lies with the the Oregon Geographic Names Board, which operates under the auspices of Oregon Historical Society, which meets in April and December.

Carolyn Hixson, recording secretary for the Oregon Geographic Names Board, said the process involves a formal application to the state nam es board, which takes at least 45 days to review a request from the time it next meets.

During the process, time is also allowed for various land owners, tribes and local entities to submit comments on the name change request, "So any entity with an interest is given an opportunity to comment."

If approval is granted by the state, the request is then submitted for review to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which meets monthly and would then have 90 days or longer to render a decision.

Hixson said the process could be completed rather quickly or take up to two years.

Gold Hill Public Works Director Royal Gasso said, if all goes well, the city hopes to get all its "ducks in a row" and see the process completed by July.

To have the falls renamed in time for the salmon ceremony, however, the city can give the go ahead for the common name to be changed, honoring Baker-Pilgrim's ancestors. Baker-Pilgrim expressed a desire during Monday's council meeting to officially rename the falls during the June 14 ceremony.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.