History of Jacksonville
Gold fever, wagon trains, Indian uprisings, epidemics and the settlement of a new frontier are all part of Jacksonville’s heritage. After a wild start as a gold rush town, our story began to quiet down as folks moved to the area to focus on agriculture, banking, and shop-keeping along with raising their families. You will see the names of many of our founders on the buildings in town, and it is in the stories of the people who built them that you will hear our history.
Jacksonville got its start as a gold rush town. Gold was first discovered at Rich Gulch in 1851. As the news spread the area was inundated by gold miners seeking their fortunes. Before then, the area was populated by the Upland Takelmas native American tribe. They had previously had limited interactions with white people outside of the occasional trapper. The influx of white settlers caused increased friction and eventually the native populations were removed from the area.
Jacksonville was originally named Table Rock City because of the view of two mesa about 10 miles away. Renamed Jacksonville once the county was established, it emerged from the mining campsites and thrived to become the county seat and the largest city in Oregon. Settlers found the Rogue Valley to be a desirable place to establish land claims with the hope of earning a living as farmers and ranchers.
Among those drawn to the area was Peter Britt. His search of gold eventually gave way to a passion to chronicle the times. Using his talents as a photographer he captured the lives, the landscapes and the legends of the day. His former estate is now home to the Britt Festival– a summer long concert series.
Another Jacksonville pioneer was Cornelius C. Beekman. He also started his career in gold prospecting, but eventually established Oregon’s first bank. You can hear more about his story on select Saturdays during the summer when you can tour his home. Click here for additional Pioneer Profiles.
Jacksonville was once the largest town in Oregon Territory. That is until the railroad bypassed the town in 1884. Jacksonville faught to remain the county seat, however the boom was over and businesses and residents moved away. Over the next 50 years, most relocated to Medford with its railroad stop.
Most of Jacksonville is now a National Historic Landmark due to the preservation of so many of these buildings. At first it was preservation by neglect due to lack of economic incentive. Then, in the 1960’s folks who appreciated what Jacksonville was banded together to prevent the interstate from coming through town. That was the start of focusing on preservation efforts, leading to the National Historic Landmark designation.
With over 100 structures included in the National Register of Historic Places, now residents are proud to help maintain the town and its history. You can take a virtual tour.
Tours are available from several venues:
Self-Guided: You can download audio narration and maps or use our audio devices from the Visitor Information Center at no cost for four historical self-guided tours. Each tour takes approximately 1.5 hours:
1. Commercial District,
3. Cemetery, and
4. Gold Mining History
Trolley Tour: 45 minute narrated tour providing an overview of Jacksonville’s history.
– Daily June – September
– Fridays – Mondays in May & October
Segway Guided Tour: Combine the contemporary thrill of riding on a Segway Personal Transporter (PT) with an insightful overview of Jacksonville’s historic sites. If you can walk you can ride a Segway PT. Check on details.
There are also schedule tours of the cemetery, Cornelius Beekman House & Beekman Bank on select days. You can find more information on tours on our calendar of events or at the first two websites below.
Source for Regional History Information:
Historical Jacksonville, Inc. www.historicjacksonville.org Tours of Beekman House & Beekman Bank on select Saturdays May – Sept
Friends of the Jacksonville Cemetery www.friendsjvillecemetery.org Cemetery Tours on 2nd Saturdays, May – Sept
Southern Oregon Historical Society www.sohs.org Seasonal Tours and Events at Hanley Farm
Rogue Valley Genealogical Society www.rvgsociety.org