You can almost imagine the horse-drawn wagons trudging down its narrow cobblestone streets. The horses tied up in front of the Jacksonville Tavern. Kids throwing jacks in front of the toy store. Ladies in upstairs windows of the old hotel, fluffing their petticoats and making themselves pretty for the night. The bank on the corner buzzing with activity. How big was that nugget anyway?
Jacksonville is a throwback to a time when all that glittered was indeed gold. In the early 1850s, speculators flocked to Jacksonville to make the small spectacle of gold found in the aptly named Rich Gulch a yet bigger spectacle. Timetravel back to that era is easy here with the town’s hundred buildings or so on the National Register of Historic Places.
Jacksonville’s history is still coming out of the ground. In 2004, while excavating for a sidewalk project, the Oregon Department of Transportation unearthed relics of what local archaeologists say was part of an early Chinatown in the Jacksonville area. These immigrants had made their way from the Canton province to San Francisco in most cases, and headed to Oregon to dig on claims, work in kitchens and send money back to their families in China.
Today, the soil produces apples, peaches, olives and grapes in an undulating agricultural arc around the historical buildings and estates of Jacksonville. On three sides, the town is hilled with its western flank coveted rolling terrain for wine growers, cyclists and runners.
The first evening for us in Jacksonville means checking in to the historic Reames House, a handsome nineteenth century Queen Anne-style house at the west end of downtown. It has two suites upstairs, one downstairs, a large kitchen and covered front and back porches—perfect for taking in the crisp air of an autumn afternoon.
In the fall, or any non-Britt Festival summer concert day when the town’s population doubles to 4,500, nineteen percent of its people identify themselves as being of German descent, an equal number claim English roots, another eleven percent Irish, and four percent Scottish and Italian. There is just one Tanzanian of Greek descent named Platon Mantheakis.
Mantheakis has helped manage the Jacksonville Inn for decades since leaving his aunt’s Greek restaurant in Eugene in the ’80s. The inn’s dark wood and small red lamps cast little pools of light over white tablecloths and dimly climbed the damask vintage wallpaper—a bistro and a speakeasy at once.
Downstairs is a cellar with almost as many bottles as people in Jacksonville, an oenophile’s basement. Wines from Oregon, California, France, Spain, Germany, Italy and Greece are well represented among its shelves.
We finished the night comparing French and Oregon Pinots. Let’s face it, the first sip or two is the only one that has true objectivity in it before you’re simply drinking a nice red.
In summer and fall, you can count on predominantly clear and warm days in Jacksonville. If you’re of the exercise persuasion, get up early enough to beat the heat. Out behind the Britt Festival grounds lie the Jacksonville Woodlands trails, a network of fifteen trails and eighteen miles beginning on a butte with the auburn branches of madrone trees creating a supernatural public art installation. This network includes the original Rich Gulch, where men dug into the hillside with hope and aplomb.
Funny how the site of reckless prospecting can later become a common treasure for all. (There’s hills among them thar gold mines!) We ran for an hour, winding up and through the woodlands, stopping occasionally at interpretive signs to take in fresh air and local history.
Inside a historical building in town, something good is happening at Good Bean Coffee Company. There are homemade bagels and scones, and the coffee is not of the bitter variety that has become the popular palate.
“I’ve had New York bagels, and these are better, I think,” offered one barista. Since leaving the City (more than a decade ago), where I lived only a few blocks from the voraciously sought H&H Bagels, I’ve never been too far from this sort of debate. After the first bite of Good Bean’s bagel, I was inclined to agree with the barista, though my sense of taste is often manipulated by hunger.
Down the street from the Good Bean is Scheffel’s Toys, an old-fashioned toy store that reminds our kids that not everyone grew up playing Mine Craft with their eyes peeling off a computer screen. The owners have proven for decades that yesterday’s toys can compete with tomorrow’s gadgets.
After having a particularly itchy substance from the kids’ prank set dumped down the back of my shirt, though, I began to crave its digital incarnation instead.
Farther afield is the Applegate Wine Trail–eighteen wineries that, by and large, specialize in non-Pinot noir varietals. Follow the tasting trail to tempranillos, sangioveses, viongniers and vermentinos.
What used to be one of Jacksonville’s first kindergartens is now a bustling biergarten in a beautiful renovation of the 1908 brick schoolhouse. Frau Kemmling’s Schoolhaus Brauhaus is off the main street but on the right strasse for German food. Its waitstaff, dressed in the traditional dirndls, serves hearty spätzle and schnitzel, and dumplings and wurst. German-style beers pilsner, dunkel, hefeweizen, and doppelbock are served in steins alongside pints of Oregon craft brews.
The Britt Festival is at least a two-day affair for any sanctioned visit to Jacksonville. The Britt hosts so many top musical acts that, for people whose taste spans musical genres, it’s easy to find consecutive performances that cover the family’s tastes almost any weekend. We’ve chosen a weekend that will take us from Mavis Staples’ Motown to John Hiatt’s strummed Americana and back to Michael Franti’s pop-soul-reggae.
In the course of these three acts, we’d experience a lot of humanity. Staples and Hiatt bring in couples in their fifties and sixties, wine drinkers who mostly sit and applaud respectfully throughout the night. Up on stage, Staples wailed in her gospel rasp, “I won’t turn around!” and then her iconic “I’ll Take You There” from 1972. Hiatt closed the night in his gargled and witty “Slow Turning” and imploring us to “C’mon baby, drive south.”
No visit is worth its weight in gold without a run or cycle out Stage Coach Road. A gentle climb west of town, it’s here that you pass vineyards and olive orchards and gain a majestic morning view. If you look closely on a clear day, you can almost see the line forming outside of Mustard Seed Cafe back on North 5th Street.
Hire someone to hold a place in line for you and your party on weekends at the café—the breakfasts and the service are worth it. There’s a five-dollar lighter menu for those who expect to spend the rest of the day riding the trolley, and the sausage and green chili scramble for those of us who need it for the night’s Franti jump-and-shout commune.
Perhaps the best aspect of Jacksonville has nothing to do with music, food or geography. It’s the one town where parents can let their kids roam Mayberry free. They can go to Doc Griffin Park and get wet in the water spouts or find some trouble to get into by walking around with five dollars in their pockets.
On a hill on Jacksonville’s northwest side is another element of intrigue for kids and adults. The Jacksonville cemetery is a well-kept piece of local history. The dead interred here speak volumes. The cemetery is divided into seven sections by religion and fraternal orders. There are sections for Jews, Catholics, Free Masons, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows founded in England to commit acts of charity, the Improved Order of Red Men, a pre-Revolutionary offshoot united by the American flag and against the Union Jack; independent Germans; and a separate section devoted to dignitaries from the city of Jacksonville who fell outside of these groups. Every October, some of the deceased come back to life in Meet the Pioneers, a reenactment by local residents.
The legends continue through history and into the night as barefoot Michael Franti takes the stage at the Britt Festival. The prior night had summoned us in print shirts, grey hair, shifting and clapping in unison. Franti’s people are younger, eyes wider and dancing as if writing invisible messages in the smoke above their heads—everyone bouncing in a collective plea that can be heard through the old bricks of its historic buildings, vibrating in the auburn-limbed madrones of the woodlands and up to Jacksonville’s oldest residents in the cemetery on the hill—“Hey, hey, hey. No matter how life is today. There’s just one thing that I got to say. I won’t let another moment slip away.”
|Where to Stay||What to Do||Where to Eat||Where to Drink|
|Country House Inns||Run the Jacksonville Woodlands||Gogi’s||South Stage Cellars|
|Touvelle House||Wander the Cemetery||Frau Kemmling||Applegate Wine Trail|
|Elan Guest Suites||Do the Britt Festival||Mustard Seed Cafe||Dancin Vineyards|
|Jacksonville Inn||Jacksonville Inn||Applegate Valley Vintners|