Pioneer Profiles – June 2017
Saloons and the spirits who linger there will be a recurring theme in Historic Jacksonville’s “Haunted History Walking Tours” this summer. Therefore, stories of beer, whiskey, and early Jacksonville saloons seem an appropriate subject for our June “Pioneer Profiles.”
Gold rush Jacksonville reputedly had as many as 36 saloons when “entrepreneurs” as well as miners arrived in Jacksonville following James Clugage’s and James Poole’s discovery of gold in the winter of 1851-52.
Less than two months after they publicized their Daisy Creek gold claim, Appler & Kenney, packers from Yreka, had opened a tent trading post catering to the “eruption of miners” that rushed to the Rogue Valley. By summer, over 3,000 prospectors were claiming and excavating every creek bed in the region.
Appler & Kenney’s “bazaar” was located approximately where Scheffel’s Toys now stands at the corner of California and Oregon streets. It maintained a minimal stock of tools, clothing and tobacco, and a liberal supply of whiskey, per A.G. Walling’s History of Southern Oregon—“not royal nectar, perhaps, but nevertheless the solace of the miner in heat and cold, in prosperity or in adversity.”
W.W. Fowler constructed the community’s first building near the head of Main, the only street in the embryo city. It was a canvas-topped log house, probably a store or saloon. Mining camps tended to last only as long as the promise of gold, so it’s unlikely Fowler would have invested that kind of money in a place to live.
According to Walling, “Saloons [soon] multiplied beyond necessity; monte and faro games were in full blast, and the strains of music lured the ‘honest miner’ and led his feet into many a dangerous place, where he and his money were soon parted.” By March of 1852, Miller’s & Wills’ “round tent” was the miners’ destination of choice on any Sunday, their “day of rest.” The tent was a combination of saloon and gambling hall. Monte was the principal game dealt. It was easily understood and patronized by seventy-five percent of the population.
With the influx of miners, a marked change also took place in the social structure as gamblers, courtesans, and con men of every kind followed—“the class that struck prosperous mining camps like a blight.” Their favorite place of activity was one of the most notorious landmarks in the early mining community—the El Dorado Saloon. By late spring or summer, this wooden structure occupied the current site of the Masonic Hall at the corner of California and Oregon streets. It fronted on Oregon and extended 100 feet along California Street. Stories of murders, prostitution, gambling, theft, and the like surround the El Dorado until its demise by fire in 1874.
Flanking the El Dorado was a conglomeration of frame shops, sheds, and outbuildings including an express office, a cigar and tobacco shop, a barber shop, a “house” of unidentified use, and a bakery. As early as the mid-1850s, the Table Rock Bakery, located in a small wooden frame structure, not only sold baked goods but also provided space for a butcher shop, groceries, and supplies. In 1860, Herman von Helms and John Wintjen razed their old wooden building and constructed the brick Table Rock Saloon.
The saloon was also Jacksonville’s first museum. Von Helms collected fossils and oddities to attract a clientele that stayed for his lager. For many years the saloon functioned as an informal social and political headquarters, home to business deals, court decisions, and even trials. It still serves social, political, and business gatherings as the GoodBean coffee shop.
Across Oregon where the Orth Building now stands, were at least two more saloons. The Palmetto Bowling Saloon was in operation no later than 1853, providing weary prospectors with a lively combination of recreation and relaxation. It was sold in November of that year along with its assemblage of mirrors, tables, benches, lamps, decanters, and stove and renamed the New England Bowling Saloon. Neighboring it was the two-story Classical Revival-style Holman House, later renamed the Beard House. Supposedly built in 1852, it also housed the original Eagle Brewery, later renamed the City Brewery and operated by Viet Schutz, one of the many German-speaking settlers. It’s mentioned as early as March of 1852. Lodged somewhere in the midst of this high spirited atmosphere was an old hospital building and physician’s and surgeon’s office. Given that most medicines of the time tended to have high concentrations of alcohol, opium, or cocaine, they should have fit right in.
When John Orth razed all of these properties in 1872 to make way for his modern two-story brick building, the Democratic Times lamented the loss of the City Brewery in particular, commenting that the building had been “devoted to almost every purpose except printing a newspaper and serving God.” The Times subsequently rectified the former omission, taking offices in Orth’s new brick building.
However, by 1856 Viet Schutz had constructed the largest brewery in Jacksonville on west California Street just below the current Britt Gardens. In addition to the brewery, it featured a bar and an elaborate dance hall. In 1874, prominent attorney Colonel Robert Aubrey Miller, wrote the following:
Oh! Dear Walter, I like to recall
The pleasure we had at Viet Schutz hall.
The fun that we had I’ll never forget
Nor will I ever those days regret….
A second Eagle Brewery named after its predecessor was in operation as early as 1856 two blocks south on Oregon Street. Joseph Wetterer, a native of Baden, Germany, had acquired the property and by 1857 added the Eagle Saloon. And in existence no later than the Eagle Saloon was the New State Billiard and Drinking Saloon, a long-lived Jacksonville drinking establishment located for many years at the corner of California and South 3rd streets where Redmen’s Hall now stands.
By 1858, the Franco-American Hotel was operating at the southeast corner of Oregon and Main streets where the Jacksonville Inn cottages are now located. It soon became the leading hotel, bar, and stage stop in Jacksonville, noted for its “table d’hôte.” It attracted a regular clientele of miners, residents, and travelers. It was one of many hotels, and virtually every hotel had a bar.
In 1863, Cornelius Beekman moved his banking and express office to the northwest corner of California and 3rd streets. The Express Saloon then occupied Beekman’s former location, kitty-cornered across the street. The saloon closed in 1868 but was soon replaced by another saloon, the Pioneer Bit House. Following the 1874 fire that destroyed much of the south side of California Street, another saloon and variety store occupied the space.
From 1864 to 1871 a saloon known as the Bella Union existed on the site of the current Bella Union Restaurant and Saloon. Operated by Prussian native Henry Breitbarth, it offered its customers billiards and liquors.
By the 1890s, the building currently housing Scheffel’s Toys at the corner of California and North Oregon housed the Marble Corner Saloon, presumably named for the marble factory located across Oregon Street at the time. Featuring a marble-tiled entry, the saloon served city patrons until well into the 20th Century.
Other saloons, bars, and breweries have come and gone in the interim, many of them victims of prohibition.
But now Jacksonville has become the “Gateway to the Applegate Wine Region” with wine and beer tasting rooms and saloons proliferating and most restaurants having a bar. Among them are the current Bella Union Restaurant and Saloon, South Stage Cellars, Quady North, Daisy Creek Winery, the J’ville Tavern, Boomtown Saloon, Beerworks Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Inn and wine shop, the Schoolhaus Brewhaus, La Fiesta, Back Porch Bar & Grill, and Gary West, plus local wine tasting rooms and wineries like DANCIN Vineyards and Caprice Winery within a mile of town.
The more things change, the more they stay the same….