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Jacksonville history will be at your feet

Town history will be at the feet of visitors when the Jacksonville Boosters install their “A Path Through Time” project — 12 to 14 etched granite slabs telling of the town’s development embedded in the sidewalk in front of City Hall, the former county courthouse.

“Our vision is to create a project that will draw the public to the courthouse and also provide educational content,” said boosters member Jo Stimson. “We just are trying to tell a story. It’s not a complete story. We hope that people will research it on their own.”

Jacksonville’s City Hall isn’t just any municipal building. Built in 1883, it was given to the city in 2012 and restored for use in 2016. It was formerly home of the Southern Oregon Historical Society museum. The panels will be in the sidewalk facing Fifth Street between C and D streets.

The short histories will be written by a committee then reviewed by town historians Larry Smith and Carolyn Kingsnorth. A sample entry that was provided to Jacksonville City Council told of development in town from the 1980s to current times, recounting formation of the Jacksonville Woodlands Association, restoration of the Britt Gardens and historic preservation efforts in about 50 words.

The focus will be more on events rather than individuals or buildings in most cases. The descriptions will be little snapshots, portraying historical eras and occurrences, said Stimson, such as the decline and subsequent revival of the town.

“Things came to a standstill when the railroad decided to go through the valley,” said Stimson. “Then Jacksonville’s coming back to life and people realizing they had a historic town that time had sort of bypassed, when people realized what a gem that Jacksonville was.”

Panels will begin with the discovery of gold in the 1850s, which led to the founding of the town. One panel will reference the ordinance that required brick buildings in the business district after several fires swept through the town. The results are structures such as the U.S. Hotel and the Masonic Hall that are still standing today. Other topics will include Peter Britt’s gardens and photography, the historic cemetery, Chinese settlements and construction of the courthouse.

Besides the slabs, an upright interpretive panel will give details about the courthouse and list project donors. The boosters have solicited bids from local contractors for both the inscribed granite slabs and the installation work, but no firms have been selected. The boosters got approval for the project from council in January.

Installation is budgeted at $30,000, and over three-fourths of that amount has been raised. That includes donations from individuals, the Boosters Club and the Booster Club Foundation, and a $3,000 grant from The Kinsman Foundation of Milwaukie. Applications have been made for other grants. Work should be finished by the end of the year.

The granite slabs will be 4 inches thick and 48 inches long by 18 inches wide. Sidewalk panels that measure 30 by 60 inches will be removed and the slabs centered in those openings over tamped and graded earth, then surrounded by concrete to the perimeters. The slabs will have a rough surface so they will not be slippery during inclement weather, Stimson said. The letters will be about an inch tall.

Stimson got the idea when she visited Astoria, where she discovered thin strips of granite inlaid in sidewalks in a new park with single sentences about that city’s history.

“Not everyone goes to the visitor’s center and gets the brochures,” said Stimson.

Visitors already can view more than 75 historic town photos inside City Hall during working hours in a collection curated, printed and installed by City Councilman and professional photographer Ken Gregg.

Donations of can be made by check to the Jacksonville Boosters Foundation at P.O. Box 1061, Jacksonville, OR 97530 and are tax-deductible. Information on both the club and the foundation can be found at jacksonvilleboosters.org.

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

The United States Hotel in Jacksonville is pictured shortly after its completion in 1881. Built on the site of an earlier hotel of the same name which burned in 1873, the hotel was operated by Mme. Jeanne DeRoboam Holt. Legend has it that she married brickmaker George Holt with this hotel project in mind. At the right are the salesman's sample rooms of the rival New State Hotel. Southern Oregon Historical Society photo No. 05879