Thursday, March 1, 2012
Jacksonville, OR- Standing the Tests of Time
The city of Jacksonville, Oregon, located five miles west of Medford, has a great history. Founded in 1852, as “Table Rock City,” for a short period it was the largest city in the Oregon Territory, as 1000s of young men arrived after the discovery of gold on Jackson Creek. Jacksonville, the self-styled “Queen City of Southern Oregon,” was the county seat, a major factor in the Champoeg convention to establish Oregon statehood, and her leaders were prominent throughout the state.
Then the railroad arrived, in 1883, and bypassed the city in favor of the “new town on the valley floor,” being Medford. Railroads, for obvious reasons, like straight lines and Jacksonville, in a hilly nook of the valley, was too difficult a location (that and they wouldn’t pay the railroad’s “Bribe,” but that’s another story.”
In 1927 big bad Medford “stole” the county seat from old fashioned Jacksonville. Two years later the Great Depression set in and about all Jacksonville had going for it was cheap housing. I once wrote, in the Jacksonville Historic Context, that after 1887 and the arrival of the railroad, for Medford and the other towns along the line, there would be no looking back but for Jacksonville, though they didn’t quite realize it yet, “looking back was all that remained.” A nice turn of phrase, if I do say so myself. Put another way, history IS the economy in Jacksonville and really has been since the end of the WWII. Hal Gard, the ODOT archeologist once told me that “you can’t shake a shovel in Jacksonville without hitting something historic” and that pretty much is still true. Most of the original town plat was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966, in reality before there was much of a process in place about how one actually put a district on the register (the original nomination for the Jacksonville Landmark Historic District is about 5 pages long… a cover sheet and list of addresses).
Jacksonville takes its history seriously, entrusting design review to HARC, the Historic Architecture Review Commission, which has a strong authority over almost all exterior modifications and new construction in the city. Later this month HPLO will be in Jacksonville, for its first Preservation Roundtable of 2012, talking about the perceived challenges associated with early masonry buildings. It’s a perfect place for that discussion, since almost all of Jacksonville’s downtown core along California Street (aka Oregon State Hwy 238) are pre-1900 brick that have been bouncing along with log trucks and the earth below for far more than a century with aplomb. If you happen to be in town, on Friday March 16th stop on by, as I’ll be leading a walking tour between a few stops where property owners will be talking about their buildings in depth with the HPLO group.