I’ve been struggling a lot with where to go with this blog. While I have been getting out and about some it seems like I never have enough material. I finally decided to start close to home and just go with what I’ve got and try to keep in mind that this is supposed to be a photo blog. It is not a travel blog or a history blog but I am an explorer and scholar at heart so I like to see what I can learn about a place and share that with you along with my photos. Most of the information here comes from the internet and some books I will get around to adding to the bibliography one of these days. While I try to check my facts it is possible I could be lead astray by the carelessness of others. The population figures in this blog, however, have all come directly from the U.S. Census Bureau so I feel fairly confident in that.
I started my visit to Jacksonville at the cemetery which is a great place to commune with nature if you are not afraid of ghosts. The tombstones make for fascinating reading and often tell a lot about the souls occupying the graves. Among my earliest memories of Jacksonville was a 3rd grade field trip to visit the museum (now closed) and having a sack lunch in the cemetery. Prior to that, Jacksonville had just been a place my family drove through to get to the swimming hole and picnic area at McKee bridge or the Turkey farm near Ruch managed by some friends of my grandmother.
When gold was discovered along Jackson Creek in 1851 Oregon was still a very new and largely unsettled territory. The reports that Jacksonville was once the largest city in Oregon may well be true though I have not been able to find any documentation to support them. But, given the times, that is not really saying much. What we do know is that in the 1850 Census only five cities show up in the entire territory, Portland with a population of 653, Milton City at 458, Oregon City at 416, Astoria at 185 and Linn City at 66. So it is not so far-fetched to imagine that the booming gold camp could well have outpaced the farming and trading communities to the north in the early 1850s.
My explorations next took me to the Britt Gardens which once surrounded the home of pioneer photographer Peter Britt. Britt settled in Jacksonville in November of 1852 and became one of it’s leading citizens. His house, sadly, burned down in 1960 but the 4.5 acre property, now a Jackson County Park, is the venue for a series of outdoor summer concerts known as the Britt Festival.
While it is not clear from the information I was able to glean on the internet just when the gold played out in Jacksonville, it does appear that the dust had settled by the time of the 1860 census when, with a year of statehood under its belt, Oregon’s cities were beginning to fall into a somewhat more familiar pattern. Portland leads the pack with 2852 residents. The surprise is little Sublimity in second place (who knew) at 1219. Eugene City falls in line at 1189, Salem at 900, and Oregon City just nudges out Jacksonville with populations of 888 and 879 respectively.
I stopped for lunch at the Bella Union whose cozy garden is always a pleasant and peaceful stop (and the food’s not bad either). It was there that I found this intriguing display of birdhouses and butterfly garden art. I proceeded up the street to explore some of the shops along California Street. It was nice to see flowers blooming in front of nearly every business.
When Jackson County was formed in 1853, Jacksonville was the logical choice for a county seat. Though the currently vacant courthouse was not completed until 1883. By 1880 Jacksonville was thriving as an agricultural and commercial hub with a population of 839 though upstart Ashland has outstripped it in size with 842 residents. Like many western towns, Jacksonville suffered three devastating fires between 1873 and 1884, accounting for the many brick buildings lining its streets today.
But it was the decision of the Oregon and California Railroad in 1883 to route its line 5 miles away from Jacksonville through the heart of the Bear Creek Valley that rang the death knell for this frontier town. At that time, Medford did not exist so it was not a question of competing communities but of geography, the land to the east being flatter and more conducive to railroad building. Enterprising citizens donated land for a depot along the new line and the city of Middle Ford, later shortened to Medford, was born as hotels and businesses grew up around the new transportation hub. By 1890 the new town has grown and drawn citizens away from the county seat and now claims 967 residents to Jacksonville’s 743. Ashland appears to have gotten a shot in the arm from railroad business too as it is now the leading community in the county boasting a population of 1784.
Though Jacksonville managed to hang on to the county seat until 1927 its population continued to dwindle as its neighbors continued to grow. By 1930 Medford had established itself as the Valley’s commercial center with a population of 11,007 while Ashland was beginning to stagnate at 4544, an increase of less than 300 from the previous decade, while Jacksonville had bounced back from a low of 489 in 1920 to 706 in 1930, probably due to low rents available during the depression.
I continued my tour by walking up the street to a beautiful old church I have long admired. I can’t remember if it started as Methodist or Presbyterian though for some reason the latter is stuck in my mind. If there was a sign I missed seeing it. It was especially striking on this spring day with clear blue skies and a blossoming tree in front.
After World War II Jacksonville’s population started a slow but fairly steady climb. In the 1960s it’s well preserved buildings, bypassed by post war prosperity, were declared a historic preservation district. For a while it became a popular site for filming moves, most notably the Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, a 1972 western featuring Robert Duvall as Jesse James and Cliff Robertson as Cole Younger and one of my classmates as an extra.
In the 1970s the first vineyards were planted in the Applegate Valley, the Britt Festival began to attract tourists overflowing from Ashland and in 2010 the town, which has become popular as a retirement destination, had grown to 2785. Its once empty storefronts are now filled with boutiques and restaurants. Perhaps the greatest fear is that it may soon be swallowed up by Medford which has grown to 75,000 and continues to push its suburbs to the west.
I concluded my visit with a little shopping and a stroll through the two block business district on my way back to my car. I’m a little sad that most of the antique stores my Mom and I used to enjoy exploring have been replaced by boutiques and wine tasting rooms but, alas, time marches on.
OK, so much for not having enough material. I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip down memory lane.