A fire that gutted the 1860 Cardwell house in Jacksonville Saturday wiped out a piece of local history.

A fire that gutted the 1860 Cardwell house in Jacksonville Saturday wiped out a piece of local history.

The house at 630 Cardwell Court was the original home of James A. Cardwell, one of the first pioneers who helped found Ashland and put Yreka, Calif., on the map.

"He was very early and a very significant individual," said local historian Ben Truwe.

Cardwell was one of the Rogue Valley's first orchardists, owned a livery stable in Jacksonville and was a prominent local businessman.

The house, now surrounded by newer homes on a cul-de-sac, was destroyed when a fire apparently started in a back porch, said Chris Arnold, spokesman for Jacksonville Fire-Rescue.

"We've isolated it to a specific area," Arnold said. "Trying to find the actual cause is a bit of a challenge."

The state fire marshal has been called in to investigate the cause, but Arnold said the fire doesn't appear to be intentionally started.

The fire was first spotted and reported by Jacksonville police officer Bill Lupton, who rushed into the house to alert the occupants. The sleeping family of four, who were renting the house, and their pets escaped without injury.

Even though the house has historic significance, the exact date it was built is somewhat murky.

Jackson County records indicate it was built in 1860.

However, Caroline Kingsnorth, president of Historic Jacksonville Inc., said her records indicate the property was purchased by Cardwell in 1868, just after the subdivisions in Jacksonville were established.

The house was built in 1871, then remodeled in 1877, Kingsnorth said.

She said records from that era are not always reliable, but she said it's possible a house did exist on the site as early as 1860.

Cardwell was one of the first settlers to arrive in Jackson County, writing an account of his adventures as he traveled from his home state of Tennessee to Iowa in 1845, then to Oregon in 1850.

Cardwell and 50 men set out on May 1, 1850, with a large wagon pulled by six pair of oxen.

When they were about 400 miles from Fort Dalles, their provisions ran low and they began rationing.

"I saw men who were or had been stout, strong men walking along through the hot desert sands crying like children with fatigue, hungry and footsore," Cardwell wrote. "There seemed to be no wild game and our men were too much travel-worn to hunt for it, and consequently we got none."

Eventually, they encountered a U.S. Army troop that had three large wagons loaded with provisions.

After heading toward Southern Oregon, Cardwell's emigrants found game and also encountered American Indians.

Near Canyonville, they roasted some venison and were settling in for the night.

"One man by name Charley Johnson had a fine piece roasted and sat on one of the wagon tongues leaning back against the box of the wagon to eat his supper when he was shot at by two Indian arrows, both striking in the wagon not more than four inches from his head," Cardwell described. "We all seized our guns and sprang into the dark but could not hear nor see anything of them; was not disturbed any more that night."

Over the years, Cardwell described other encounters with local tribes, most of them bewildered at the number of white men pouring into the valley.

Cardwell helped establish many local communities, including Yreka, according to Truwe.

Cardwell died from "fatty degeneration" on April 16, 1890, at the age of 67, according to the Ashland Tidings.

His estate remained in dispute until 1910. He was survived by his wife, Caroline, and nine children.

Larry Smith, a local historian, said his mother's cousin owned the Cardwell house in 1955.

"The house itself did not seem like a house from 1860," he remembered. "It seemed more like 1910."

He said the present owner, Todd Zitzner, restored the house.

"After Todd got done with it, it was spectacular," Smith said.

Neighbors were dismayed to see the historic house destroyed.

"This was a really sad thing to happen in our neighborhood," Dianne Moore said.

She said she was first alerted to the fire when her dog, Bodie, began barking.

With her poor eyesight, Moore looked across the street and had a difficult time understanding what she was seeing.

"It looked to me like hundreds of orange lights in the trees," Moore said.

Those orange lights turned out to be the fire, which engulfed the house.

"I don't think there's much worth saving," she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.