Owing to disastrous fires in downtown Jacksonville prior to the 20th century, the only wooden building that remains from the town's gold-rush days is the Cornelius Beekman Bank.
The Rogue Valley's first commercial hub came together swiftly in the mid-19th century, and the buildings were packed tightly together, according to Friends of the Jacksonville Cemetery docents Diana Reynar and Ellen Martin.
The docents lead history tours the second Saturday of each month at the Historic Jacksonville Cemetery, and Saturday's tour highlighted some of the town's earliest fires, the equipment used to fight them and victims buried in the cemetery who could not escape them.
From those ashes came codes in the mid-1870s requiring all commercial buildings in the town be made of brick. As fire season takes shape in Southern Oregon, here's a look back at some of Jacksonville's first calamities.
February 1867 — Linn & Hall Lumber Mill
California and Oregon streets
What began as a kiln fire at the mill destroyed more than 5,000 board feet of lumber, according to the Feb. 16, 1867, Oregon Sentinel newspaper. It occurred at a time when leather buckets carried by volunteers and a hook-and-ladder wagon were the town's best tools to attack flames, but it wasn't enough, according to Reynar and Martin. The fire spread so rapidly that none of the lumber could be saved, and all the firefighters could do was stand back.
April 1873 — United States Hotel fire
125 E. California St.
A volunteer bucket brigade was outmatched by a blaze described in the April 3, 1873, Morning Oregonian newspaper as Jacksonville's "most destructive fire that has ever occurred." Within 15 minutes after the fire started it headed east into town, doing more than $50,000 worth of damage (some $980,000 in 2017 dollars) at a time when few had fire insurance.
July 1874 — Pioneer storefront fire
100 block of Oregon Street
Two blocks and an entire row of old frame structures — including some of Jacksonville's original pioneer buildings — were destroyed near the southeast corner of Oregon and California streets the first week of July 1874. An old newspaper report recalls "burning buildings which lighted up the town in all directions in less than five minutes after the alarm." With the blaze out of control, the bucket brigade could only help locals salvage items from the stores.
December 1884 — New State Saloon fire
California and Third streets
On New Year's Eve, a fire that began at the saloon destroyed a block of businesses, including the post office and two homes. By this time the bucket brigade had a more formally organized volunteer fire company, which also functioned as a fraternal organization. The crew had a pump wagon, but it failed on them after an inexperienced volunteer forgot to attach a filter.
September 1888 — David Linn Furniture Mill fire
200 block of Main Street
Two houses and tenement buildings that made up the town's Chinese quarter were wiped out Sept. 11, 1888, after fire sparked at a planing mill and furniture store owned by David Linn. The block has become the site of archaeological excavations since about 2013, with artifacts ranging from porcelain rice bowls to liquor bottles.
July 1899 — Jackson County Jail fire
216 N. Fifth St.
Though historians don't consider it one of Jacksonville's major fires, three inmates died while lodged in the county jail July 12, 1889. In a bit of historical scandal, the county's sheriff was supposed to have been at the jail when fire broke out, but instead he was at a nearby saloon. Of the three who died, G. "Frank" Warner and Newt Cook are buried in unmarked graves in the cemetery's pauper section. The third inmate, Harry Hoover, was buried in Michigan at his widow's expense, according to a Medford Mail clipping.
— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.