The Jackson County Courthouse which stands proudly at 206 N. 5th Street was constructed in 1883-1884 and served as the seat of county government until 1927. The two-story building is a wood frame structure made of brick and stone, constructed on the former site of Jacksonville’s Masonic Lodge. The building is in the “Italianate,” style, designed by G.E. Payne of Ashland to the specifications by the County Commissioners at the time. Famed brick mason George Holt laid the stone and brick. Historians note that when it opened, it was described as the “crowning glory of Jacksonville.”
The Courthouse was used primarily for County business, including recordkeeping, issuing marriage and other licenses, administering the public schools, paying bills and for County-wide trials. Unlike its use today, several famous trials, conducted in the second floor courtroom, drew a good deal of attention and crowds. Court trials, both civil and criminal were held, including one for the 1885 Louis O’Neil trial, for which O’Neil was convicted of murder. In 1927, the courtroom hosted its final trial, another criminal trial for the three DeAutremont brothers, convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of three railroad employees.
In 1926, after county employees voted to move county operations to the burgeoning town of Medford, the courthouse essentially sat idle until the 1950’s. At that point, it was repurposed as the County Museum, operated by the Southern Oregon Historical Society. SOHS maintained the property, including the adjoining County Jail Building, dubbed the Children’s Museum,” until folding all museum operations in 2009 and moving all museum archives into storage. After SOHS vacated the premises, the building was temporarily cared for by a newly-established non-profit, the Jacksonville Heritage Society, which officially formed in March, 2010. Later renamed Historic Jacksonville, Inc., one mission of the new organization was seeking a long-term tenant to occupy the property. Although JHS had hoped for Britt Festivals to purchase the property, that goal was abandoned when the Jackson County Commissioners gifted the entire Courthouse complex to the City of Jacksonville.
In city hands, the Courthouse sat vacant…this time for four more years while the Jacksonville City Council determined its next and highest best use. With stalwart efforts and the vision of Mayor Paul Becker and City Administrator Jeff Alvis, the courthouse has been repurposed and transformed back to its original purpose—government offices. Although the exact use for the second floor is still unknown, the Mayor envisions transforming it into some form of a performing arts venue. Utilizing the upper floor will require installation of an elevator, funding for which is now available thanks to the sale of the former city office building, the Miller House. Upon close of escrow of the former city office building, around $380,000 was realized, more than adequate to cover installation expenses.
To make the Courthouse-to-City-Office project possible, the city utilized a municipal government funding mechanism called “Urban Renewal,” borrowing nearly $1 million. Initial project funds were used for seismic and interior upgrades. Using city staff and acting as its own contractor, Administrator Alvis calculates that the city saved upwards of $100,000. Major expenses included the aforementioned seismic retrofit to improve earthquake resistance at a cost of $210,000, a full $90,000 less than first estimated. An additional savings of $176,000 was also realized for installation of new mechanical, plumbing, electrical and other improvements. Both Alvis and Becker will tell you that many of the most expensive upgrades are out-of-view, hidden under floors and within brick walls!
A Grand Opening celebration and tours of the new city offices are planned soon, according to Mayor Becker! Please look for an announcement on our website at www.jacksonvillereview.com and on our Facebook page as well as on the city website at www.cityofjacksonvilleoregon.com.