Turn your pocket watch back 160 years, and Jacksonville, Oregon, explodes with activity. Gold fever has lured more than 2,000 settlers to the mines, and residents spend those gold nuggets in Jacksonville’s saloons, gambling halls, and shops. A few precious flakes even make their way into the Beekman Bank.
Today, the street is no longer crowded with men in overalls and women in hoopskirts. But when you glance down the main street, you still see the same buildings that were there 160 years ago. “The town has a quiet ambiance about it,” says Larry Smith, director of the Jacksonville Woodlands Association.
Jacksonville grew for 30 years before the railroad came in 1884, drawing the town’s population away, to settle in the valley floor. For decades, the town’s fascinating buildings, character, and past remained uncultivated—until Jacksonville was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1966, making it the perfect travel destination.
Visitors step through time when they stay at the Jacksonville Inn or as they walk through the indoor halls near one of the favorite local boutiques, such as Terra Firma. Each store holds its breath, letting the traveler pass his or her fingers over the old wood or brick. These historical buildings, which line Jacksonville’s main street, have been meticulously restored. Caroline Kingsnorth of the Jacksonville Historical Society says owners have to “jump through a seemingly endless set of hoops in terms of compatibility with surrounding properties.” These requirements may greatly challenge residents and small business owners, but they preserve priceless historical architecture.
Constance Jesser, owner of the Jacksonville Mercantile, faced these challenges when designing the sign to hang outside her store. “It had to be a certain font, it had to be a certain color—but inside the store, we could have done anything,” Jesser says. She and her husband, David, decided to keep the interior “authentic” and decorated it with antiques. Customers can now purchase hand-rolled pasta and Italian balsamic vinegar in an environment similar to one the early Jacksonville settlers experienced when purchasing their flour and salt.
The Beekman House
However, visitors are not limited to businesses along the main street; they can also tour some of the historic Jacksonville homes. One of these is the Beekman House, located on “millionaire’s row”—a row of three buildings that represent the only men lucky enough to strike it rich. While Beekman was the wealthiest of the three, his Gothic Revival–style home is intentionally rather modest. The home is now operated by the Jacksonville Historical Society as a living history site. Members of the society dress like the Beekman family and conduct tours, allowing visitors to experience the home as it would have been when Beekman bought, sold, and shipped gold.
Gold is not Jacksonville’s only treasure; hiking is one of its hills’ lesser-known gems. The town offers 16 miles of trails and 300 acres of protected land, all starting with the original Britt estate. Peter Britt preserved nineteenth-century Jacksonville through his land and his photographs, which became the driving force behind designating Jacksonville a national historic landmark.
However, Britt’s legacy lies with Jacksonville’s extensive trail system. “We got the Britt Gardens started in 1989,” Smith says. “It’s the most successful small-town preservation trail project in the state of Oregon.” Residents rejoice in the ability to step outside and onto the trails. “My favorite hike is the one right outside my door,” says Jesser. “It leads down the Chinese digging trail and then up towards Britt.” Most of the trails had nineteenth-century practical uses, such as the Digging Trail, which was used by the Chinese railroad workers. Some of the more popular trails include the Sarah Zigler Trail, the Jackson Forks Trail, and the Panorama Point Trail. These hikes introduce visitors not only to Oregon’s oldest living Giant Sequoia but also to the site of the area’s first gold discovery and to spring and summer’s vibrant array of wildflowers, some of which are entirely unique to this area.
Smith remembers one warm July night when he took a teenager staying with his family up to see Panorama Point: “It was 11 o’clock, and I saw the moon coming up, and I said, ‘Mario, let’s just go for a hike.’” Smith and Mario walked all the way out to Panorama Point, which overlooks the city. “We sat up there and just reveled in the warmth and the beauty and being able to see so clearly,” Smith says. What they enjoyed was the pollution-free view of Jacksonville as history’s gift—a nineteenth-century town that is perfectly preserved.
Visiting Jacksonville is an experience you can’t find anywhere else. Like so many visitors, when Jesser first came to Jacksonville, she thought, “Gosh, I want to stay.” There aren’t a lot of places with the quiet ambiance of Jacksonville—that perfect blend of heritage and home. The difficulty of keeping this historical site preserved, even while new businesses like the Jacksonville Mercantile move in to fill economic needs, is well worth any effort. Smith comments, “Walking in the evening, with the church steeple, the backlighting—as I walk down Sixth Street—it is amazing.”
By Bryn Clegg
The Britt Gardens Music Festival
Nestled two blocks from Jacksonville is an outdoor theater—an amphitheater that hosts the annual Britt Gardens Music Festival. This world-class music festival goes on for 41 nights—from June through September—and brings in as many as 70,000 people. It features artists in pop, bluegrass, electronica, jazz, rock, country, and classical music. Each season opens with a theatrical performance by Jacksonville Elementary; previous performances include Aladdin, The Trial of the Big Bad Wolf, and The Jungle Book. “Who would have thought?” comments Larry Smith. “From gold mining to music!”