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Britt House reconstructed for 3-D walk-through

JACKSONVILLE — Thanks to technology Peter Britt’s house is ready for tours even though it was lost in 1950 to a fire.

Britt photographed the early days of Southern Oregon’s settlement and was also a pioneer horticulturist.

Emily Paige Taylor created the 3-D walk-through while she was a student at Southern Oregon University, where she received a bachelor’s degrees in history with a minor in anthropology.

Using 3-D modeling to interpret historical structures that are no longer standing will help visitors understand what life was like, especially in places that get many visitors such at the Brit Gardens, said Taylor.

“The house was really positioned for activities, especially the photographic wing,” said Taylor. “It had two very large skylights. It was his studio as well as his home. There were enough bedrooms for everyone to have their own. There was plenty of space for everyone. With all the skylights they could have easily had indoor plants.”

Foundations of the house are visible in the Peter Britt Gardens located adjacent to the Britt Music Festival grounds on South First Street. Volunteers restored much of the garden area earlier this decade.

Originally, Britt lived in a cabin on the land. But when his wife, Amalia, and her son from her first marriage joined him, he created the first part of the a two-story structure in 1860. The couple later had two children, Emil and Mollie.

In 1880, an addition was built, including the first-floor kitchen, a living room, parlor and conservatory and the second-floor photography studio. Both the studio and conservatory had skylights. A second addition was added above the kitchen around 1912 after Peter Britt’s passing in 1905.

The first floor was roughly 3,050 square feet, and the second floor was about 2,600 square feet. There was also a basement and an attic.

Changes to the house were made as the family grew larger, their wealth increased and as Britt pursued both photography and horticulture.

Taylor estimated she spent about 100 hours to create the Britt walk-through using the modeling program SketchUp. The software is intended for architects, but historians utilize it when studying buildings.

Taylor did similar work on the 1905 Swedenborg House located at SOU as her capstone project. She currently studies in a joint doctoral program in U.S. and Public History at Loyola University in Chicago.

Chelsea Rose, a research archaeologist, and Katie Johnson, a lab manager and archaeologist with SOU’s Laboratory of Anthropology, urged Taylor to undertake a similar project on the Britt House. Unlike Swedenborg, where plans existed from a 1980s rebuild, Taylor had to rely on archaeological data gathered by the lab, Britt’s own photographs and the Library of Congress 1933 Historical Building Survey that included photographs of the home’s interiors.

“I still think I would like to add to the project, to do some texting,” said Taylor. The model has smooth finishes, but she said she wants to add details to wood and paint surfaces.

“There were a lot of photographs of the interior because Peter Britt was a photographer,” said Taylor.

Shots of the house's exterior with gingerbread features also fascinated Taylor.

“The style of the house was kind of like American Gothic Revival,” said Taylor. “I haven’t seen anything like it standing in Jacksonville today.”

Eventually history fans will be able to virtually walk through the home. Rose said SketchUp does not lend itself readily to web viewing, but that the lab is working to secure an open access digital platform.

“I’d read a lot about the house,” said Rose. “Being able to basically go inside and walk upstairs virtually was a way to experience and humanize the Britt faintly in the 1860s and 1870s. Jacksonville is known as a national historical landmark, so it is really cool to know how to make parts of the town accessible and bring them back to life for locals and tourists alike.”

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.