16 miles N of Ashland, 24 miles E of Grants Pass
Jacksonville is a snapshot from southern Oregon's past. After the Great Depression, it became a forgotten backwater, and more than 80 buildings from its glory years as a gold-mining boomtown in the mid-1800s were left untouched. The entire town has been restored to much the way it looked in the late 19th century, thanks in large part to the photos of pioneer photographer Peter Britt, who moved to Jacksonville in 1852 and operated the first photographic studio west of the Rockies. His photos of 19th-century Jacksonville have provided preservationists with invaluable 150-year-old glimpses of many of the town's historic buildings. Where Britt's home once stood, visitors now attend the performances of the Britt Festivals, another southern Oregon cultural binge that rivals the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in its ability to stage first-rate entertainment.
Though thousands of eager gold-seekers were lured into California's Sierra Nevada by the gold rush of 1849, few struck it rich. Many of those who were smitten with gold fever and were unwilling to give up the search for the mother lode headed out across the West in search of golder pastures. In 1851 at least two prospectors hit pay dirt in the Siskiyou Mountains of southern Oregon at a spot that would soon be known as Rich Gulch. Within a year, Rich Gulch had become the site of booming Jacksonville, and within another year, the town had become the county seat and commercial heart of southern Oregon. Over the next 30 years, Jacksonville developed into a wealthy town with brick commercial buildings and elegant Victorian homes. However, in the 1880s, the railroad running between Portland and San Francisco bypassed Jacksonville in favor of an easier route 5 miles to the east. It was at this spot that the trading town of Medford developed.
Despite a short-rail line into Jacksonville, more and more businesses migrated to the main railway in Medford. Jacksonville's fortunes began to decline, and by the time of the Depression, residents were reduced to digging up the streets of town for the gold that lie there. In 1927 the county seat was moved to Medford, and Jacksonville was left with its faded grandeur and memories of better times.
Off the beaten path, forgotten by developers and modernization, Jacksonville inadvertently preserved its past in its buildings. In 1966 the entire town was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and Jacksonville, with the aid of Britt's photos, underwent a renaissance that has left it a historical showcase. Together the Britt Festivals and Jacksonville's history combine to make this one of the most fascinating towns anywhere in the Northwest.
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