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Jacksonville, Oregon: A Gold Rush Town with Charm

As greed sours, the number of ghosts that can be found soar.

Jacksonville, Oregon, once known for its great quantities of gold during the gold rush, is now left to ruin in ghost inhabited buildings or captivating tourist attractions that let you experience what the gold rush was all about. However, this is not how it all started. Originally named Table Rock City due to the two mesa mountains within close proximity, Jacksonville began its early years with two unlikely suspects.

Jacksonville Gold Mining

Once a booming gold camp, Jacksonville is now a lovely town with vibrant tourism based on its wonderful mining history.

In January of 1852, John R. Poole and James Cluggage were on their way transporting goods for their company Jackass Freight, a two-man pack mule business. As the two men made camp, they headed to the nearby gulch to water their mules.

They began to dig a hole with the idea to fill it with enough water for their mules to drink. As they moved the dirt around, they noticed small pieces of what looked like gold in the dirt. The two had inadvertently discovered one of the biggest gold strikes in Oregon history.

They soon began to study the area and discovered placer gold throughout gravels as well as other types of deposits. They named the area Rich Gulch and continued their efforts all the way to Jackson Creek. Both men registered their land claims to the area, laid out a town site and soon became very wealthy members of Table Rock City.

 

The Town of Jacksonville Booms

 

Miners from all over came to Jacksonville which soon became the seat for the county and even outgrew other settlements in gold rich parts of northern California and Oregon.

Such a large migration of people in a short time, and all desperate for gold, is bound to lead to trouble. Previously populated by the Upland Takelmas Native Americans, conflict between the natives and the white settlers quickly became a source of strain for the small town.

Among these were the health concerns such as the epidemic of smallpox in 1868, the flood of 1869 and regular fires in the town made life in Jacksonville very difficult. However, none of that stopped the miners from seeking their fortune.

In fact, the search for gold was so important to the town that various major gold strikes were made in area giving way to a banker, C.C. Beekman, who became very wealthy but not for mining. His bank, was the first to charge clients for storage and the privilege of banking instead of interest.

It is widely believed that the Beekman Bank handled over ten million dollars’ worth of gold at the time. That is the equivalent to 300 million dollars today, a true testament to the richness of Jacksonville.

Where is Jacksonville, Oregon

 

Whiskey, Gambling, and Gold

 

Also with the development of a miner community came certain issues that were widely accepted. With the lack of an effective police force, crime was prevalent as was violence. This was especially true in areas of social gathering such as saloons and gambling halls.

Along with the general violence that was prevalent in this old mining town, there was the added issue of racial conflicts.

Jacksonville was more diverse than most mining towns and there were people from all walks of life. It was the first city in Oregon to have a Chinatown, established by the Chinese labor that came in to work in the mines.

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Jewish entrepreneurs, German merchants, Mexican packers, and sometimes Native Americans, all made up the heart of this newly minted city. All this diversity gave way to merchants in food, textile, and many other industries. At the height of popularity Jacksonville became known as a pretentious town where only the wealthy lived.

Jacksonville was the ¨big city¨ of the area, and while other gold discoveries were being made all throughout Southern Oregon during the early days, Jacksonville remained the hub of mining activity in the region.

Oregon gold mining

Hydraulic mining was common in Jacksonville. It used huge water monitors to blast away at overburden and uncover the rich gold deposits.

 

Mining Slows as the Years Move On

 

This however was not to last long as the good years were beginning to wind down. The gold was getting harder to find and less and less people were staying to mine it.

In 1883 the Oregon and California railroads bypassed Jacksonville all together putting the final nail in the coffin of the once thriving mining camp. By 1900, the town population which previously was several thousand was down to only 900 people. Most of these were merchants and business owners that were clinging to the final hope of survival.

An attempt was made to repair loss of income with an initiative for a local branch train line so that merchants could seek out buyers as well as improve local commerce. However, that never happened and the booming metropolis that was Jacksonville disappeared in the minds of fortune hunters and left in its place what many consider a ghost town.

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The Ghosts of Jacksonville

 

To this day, there are accounts of ghosts inhabiting the city. Two of these ghosts come from the Helms family. A wealthy family at the time, the spirit of August Helms, and elderly woman who witnessed many murders and suicides can be heard crying throughout their family home.

Along with her, the presence of a little girl has been sighted. She died during the smallpox epidemic of 1868 and can be seen at the bottom of the stairs crying, refusing to leave her childhood home.

 

Jacksonville Today

 

Jacksonville is a town that boomed quickly and sustained itself for many years, a testament to the richness of the hills surrounding town. As mining slowed the population declined.

Although there are still some miners looking for gold in Jacksonville area even today, the height of gold mining has long since passed.

The energy that remains there from the days of the gold rush can still be seen when you walk the streets of Jacksonville. Far from being a ghost town, there are approximately 2,800 residents in Jacksonville today. The towns close proximity to I-84 and Medford have helped to keep it alive and thriving.

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