238 Special: Traveling Oregon Highway 238
Oregon's Highway in Gold Country
September 1 2012By Peter Murphy
On a recent historic trolley tour in Jacksonville, the conductor melodiously chattered about filigreed families and their gingerbread homes, resolute people and the allure of gold. It was the gold, after all, that lured a lot of people to Jacksonville in the 1850s.
Jacksonville sits astride Highway 238 at about milepost 34. Founded after the discovery of gold in 1851, it soon became a
magnet for 49ers who turned north from the precious metal discoveries in California. It wasn’t just Caucasians who came
north, but also Chinese immigrants who moved north from San Francisco. In fact, discoveries in 2004 confirmed Jacksonville
was home to the earliest Chinese settlements in Oregon.
Gold drove the early economy until it waned. The railroad bypassed the young town, adding to its misfortune, and then
fires took their toll. The C.C. Beekman House, however, survived these curses from the 1870s. Cornelius C. Beekman, a pioneer banker, built it and moved in his family. His is the only clan ever to call it home. It’s said that in the late 1880s, folks knew this to be one of the fine homes on “millionaires row,” but its frugal architecture belies the owners’ opulence from his success as a banker. Every so often the Beekman House is used for living history activities put on by the Jacksonville Heritage Society.
Today, Jacksonville has risen from the ashes. The town’s decision to construct its buildings from brick left us a legacy of
early miners that you can see along Highway 238 in Jacksonville today. Those brick buildings make up the bulk of what’s now a National Historic Landmark. The district includes many wooden structures that still stand within the oversight
of the Jacksonville Fire Department.
A national outdoor music stage is a more recent legacy. Britt Festival performances take place in the home of Peter Britt, an early photography pioneer. His estate lies within walking distance of where gold was first found. The banter of the latest Britt musician dances along Jacksonville’s sidewalks. “Going to the show?” This night, Tedeschi Trucks Band and its soul-country-funk fusion were on tap.
The portal to this pastoral drive through the foothills of the Coast Range is a visual delight. Leaving Jacksonville, the highway twists and winds northbound toward the lush Applegate Valley, nourished by the Applegate River and its feeder streams.
The same waters that slaked the thirst of miners and woodsmen now nourish a new natural bounty, the fruit of the vine. Pioneer vintners have transformed the valley. Dozens of vineyards and wine tasting rooms fill the landscape—Valley View, Cricket Hill, Cowhorn, Sanctuary One, Troon, Schmidt Vineyards, Serra and Wooldridge Creek, to name a few.
At milepost 25, dozens of paragliders drop in on Longsword Vineyards to celebrate after a breezy flight from a nearby mountaintop. Many of these fliers were training for the 2012 National Rat Race Paragliding Competition in the Applegate Valley, held just down the road at Fiasco Winery. Longsword winemaker, Matthew Sorenson, welcomes them at the landing zone. His family started winemaking here in 1999. Sorenson ditched the big-city lifestyle of Indianapolis for the chance to strike it rich in Southern Oregon. Longsword’s first vintage was 224 cases. The winery now produces 2,300 cases. “It’s the best place in the world to grow wine grapes,” Sorenson says.
Near milepost 16, the Applegate River Ranch House peeks out onto the serene river of the same name. It’s just as suited for wedding party revelers as it is a serene romantic dinner for two. The Pioneer Bridge crosses the river there, a graceful span of steel against the natural surroundings.
There are a few more interesting roadside treasures just a bit farther up the road. About milepost 11 sits a remnant of history—a small-scale train that hauled freight to market on an iron rail. The abandoned locomotive was a mechanical mule for loggers and is now a silent tribute to an era gone by. Next to it is a long-abandoned shack with the word “antiques” above the door.
Oregon’s Highway 238, from Jacksonville to Grants Pass, is a drive through a land of colorful bounty and emerald hills. The region that once yielded rich yellow nuggets is still a magnet for modern adventurers.
Things to do on Hwy 238 Jacksonville to Grants Pass
- Art Along the Rogue, Grants Pass, October 6-7
- Wine tasting at one of the region’s wineries
- Hellgate Jet Boat Tours, Grants Pass—May-September