JACKSONVILLE — The Rich Gulch site of the 1851 discovery of gold that led to the founding of this town is being offered for sale to the city.

JACKSONVILLE — The Rich Gulch site of the 1851 discovery of gold that led to the founding of this town is being offered for sale to the city.

The land is comparable to California's Sutter Mill in terms of historical significance, said Larry Smith, a proponent of the purchase. The discovery prompted a gold rush, created the largest city in Oregon at the time and was the biggest strike between California and the Klondike.

"We are moving forward on seeing what we can do as far as grants go," said Smith, who is executive director of the Jacksonville Woodlands Association. The group has more than 20 years' experience in securing grants and has partnered with the city on past land acquisitions.

A monument on Applegate Street near Oak Street commemorates the December 1851 find by packers James Cluggage and John Pool. It's part of the 1.54-acre site being offered to the city on a right-of-first-refusal basis by owners Joel and JoAnn Elias of Kensington, Calif.

Located just four blocks from downtown, the area could be a tourist attraction with outdoor mining displays, a small indoor mining museum in a house on the property and links to other parts of the Woodlands Association's trail system, said Smith. Applegate, South Oregon, West Fir and Oak streets border the property.

"It's well worth keeping for the city," said City Administrator Jeff Alvis. "It started Jacksonville originally."

But the city has little cash to help with the purchase.

"It's not in the budget cycle," said Smith. "But the city could do in-kind stuff such as staff and employee time."

Alvis and Smith have met with Rogue Valley Council of Governments' Craig Harper, who previously assisted in getting two grants through the Trust for Public Lands.

Funding through the state's Parks and Recreation Department may be more problematic, said Smith. The agency generally likes to assist with purchases of open space and the presence of a house may be an obstacle, he added.

The Eliases have used the house every August for monthlong vacations. Reunions were held there for the four Elias children and their families. The couple is now too old to make the annual trip and want the city to preserve the site, said son Paul.

JoAnn inherited the property from her parents, Albert and Alice Becroft Mitchell. Albert Mitchell grew up on the property, but left for California after JoAnn was born. The Mitchells later lived on the property in their retirement.

"The family could have it as a vacation house," said Paul Elias. "But I think the better option is to have the city buy it and take care of it and preserve it as open space. The land still shows evidence of mining."

Besides securing funds, the city would need to obtain an appraisal of the land's value. Under law, the city cannot pay more than the appraised price. Paul Elias said the family hopes the city would be in a position to make an offer early next year.

A search by Cluggage and Pool, sometimes spelled Poole, for water for their pack animals led to the discovery. The pair dug a hole in the gulch hoping it would fill with enough water for the mules. They spotted pieces of color in the bottom that led to the largest gold strike in Oregon.

Today, the land contains mounds that are tailings of soil from mining operations that were conducted during the Great Depression of the 1930s. There are also several piles of rock near the creek bed, signs of earlier mining when rocks were tossed from sluice boxes, said Smith. The site was worked over several times from the 1850s through the Depression, he added.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.