The restoration of a Jacksonville home uncovers artifacts

When Jacksonville resident Carol Knapp began digging a new foundation for her century-old home, little did she know she'd find pieces of history in the earth waiting to tell their story.

Bits of fine china, an old comb, a tin opium box lid, a bone toothbrush handle. All weave a tale of the people who once lived on a patch of ground that's now the 300 block of South Oregon Street.

"It's not so much a particular thing that strikes you as it is finding these little bits and pieces and imagining what the people were like who were here," said Carol Knapp.

Contractor Jay Treiger, who specializes in historic renovations, has dug 31/2; to 4 feet deep on the back side of the home so he can install a French drain and build a foundation to prevent dry rot that now plagues part of the house.

"I just thought it would be a shame to lose a part of history if there's a way to help preserve it and learn a little bit more about the area," Knapp said. She received a city historic preservation grant to help plan the work.

"It's really cool that Carol made a consistent amount of effort to contact people and have an archaeologist work with her and find how best to approach this," said Chelsea Rose, who has worked on archaeology projects in Jacksonville.

Rose volunteered her services and has found Southern Oregon University students who will help catalog the pieces.

The year the house was built remains uncertain, with some traditions saying as early as 1867. The 600-square-foot home definitely dates from the 1890s and can be seen in pioneer Peter Britt's photographs. Over the years, the house grew to nearly 900 square feet.

Early history and images suggest that Chinese miners camped or had shanties in the area.

"It's right behind First Street and Rich Gulch, where a lot of the first mining was going on," said Rose.

Workers were unearthing random bits until they hit one corner with a much heavier concentration, suggesting an old well or outhouse. Digging has been halted in that area to allow for more thorough examination.

Discoveries range from minute glass and china pieces to older clay marbles, glass marbles, keys, rice bowls and a children's toy plastic iron that Knapp estimates came from the 1950s. Animal bones, likely discarded by cooks, also have emerged. Those can be analyzed at the University of Oregon, Rose explained.

"We can find out if it's pork, beef or lamb and what kind of cut they were eating, which will reveal how they were doing financially," said Rose. "In tighter years, you'd expect more neck roasts and stew cuts."

Rose says artifacts from Knapp's home now number in the upper hundreds and they will be taken to an SOU archaeology laboratory. After analysis, they will be returned to Knapp, who plans to display some of them.

Knapp had learned a bit about her home, which she bought in 1978, from a woman who lived there during the 1890s as a young child. Gertrude Easterling, who died in 1998 at the age of 108, was the daughter of Otto Biede, the town's tinsmith.

Easterling told Knapp about her father crafting design work for the front porch and recalled seeing scorched doors, indication of a fire. Later, when working in the attic, Knapp came across scorched timbers along with a lot of old bricks she suspects remained from a dismantled chimney.

Jacksonville Historic Preservation Officer L. Scott Clay praised Knapp's handling of her newfound treasure.

"It's a very respectful sort of stewardship approach to managing her property," he said.

"Anything subsurface that is 75 years or older is supposed to be reported to the state Historic Preservation Office," said Clay. But he suspects many backyard projects don't get reported.

Rose, a graduate student in anthropology at Sonoma State University, plans to write an article on the discoveries and the house's history.

"The big, flashy houses get a lot of attention," Rose said. "The little houses reflect the families and working class and they often get overlooked."

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboom8929@charter.net.