Author: Olga Karavaeva
Having started as a gold rush community, Jacksonville’s history has been filled with ups and downs ever since. Today, the whole city is a U.S. National Historic Landmark, with numerous events held throughout the year to commemorate the city’s history and culture. Frommer’s calls Jacksonville “a snapshot from southern Oregon’s past”.
Jacksonville is located in Jackson County, about 5 miles west of Medford, close to the Californian border. The community is nestled in the foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains in the so-called “banana belt” of the Pacific Northwest known for its moderate climate and distinctive seasons.
Brief History of Jacksonville
The gold rush in the 19th century lulled thousands of gold-seekers into the Sierra Nevada in California. Very few got rich, however. Some of those who did not, but were not prepared to give up, moved north where gold was found in 1851 in the area which would first become known as Rich Gulch, and later as Jacksonville.
Jacksonville developed fast and became the 2nd largest city in Oregon and the Jackson County seat. That growth lasted until the 1880s, when the Oregon and California Railroad connecting San Francisco and Portland bypassed Jacksonville. Afterwards, many residents and businesses moved to Medford, the town, which was built around the railroad depot. In 1927, the county seat was also moved to Medford, leaving even fewer reasons for staying in Jacksonville.
Great Depression only contributed to the city’s deterioration, plummeting Jacksonville into what looked like a historic oblivion. The economic situation was so dire, that the remaining residents had to dig up the streets for gold, which still laid there.
The ghost-like state of the city however helped preserve its architecture, as due to neglect and lack of economic incentive most of the historic buildings remained untouched. They were later restored to their 19th century look based on the pictures made by Peter Britt, a photographer who moved to the area in 1852 looking for gold, but eventually devoted his time to photography.
In 1966, the preservation efforts led to the whole town becoming a National Historic Landmark, signifying the return of Jacksonville onto the cultural and commercial map, as one of the historic, cultural and wine industry centers. Today, Jacksonville is a city-sized time-machine, allowing visitors to go back as far as the 19th century, while retaining all the conveniences of the 21st century.
Among Jacksonville’s notable events is the Britt Festivals (named after the above mentioned Peter Britt) that rivals Ashland’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival in its ability to stage creative and entertaining performances. The Festival takes place at the open-air amphitheater, selected due to the acoustic qualities of the surrounding hills.
Another noteworthy event is Victorian Christmas celebrated in the best traditions of the past that allow visitors to take a holiday stroll down the memory lane.