Noted as a historical showcase, and named in honor of President Andrew Jackson and the town’s namesake county, the Gold Rush town of Jacksonville has been designated as a National Historic Landmark Community. Located in the foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains, this old west town has over 90 original brick and wooden buildings that date back to the 1850s.
The cemetery is located on approximately 30 acres on top of a hill overlooking downtown Jacksonville, its residential areas, and the Rogue Valley beyond. The original acreage was part of a government land grant given to J.N.T Miller who later sold portions of it to various organizations to be used as their sections in the cemetery.
The first burial in the cemetery occurred in October 1859 and, actually, before the cemetery was officially open for business. Margaret Love was allowed to be laid to rest as her son John, a prominent businessman, was given special permission by the city to bury her. Plots were advertised as being available for purchase starting in December of 1859 and the cemetery was officially dedicated in 1860, the same year the City of Jacksonville was incorporated. As you walk the cemetery grounds you will note some dates of death earlier than 1859, however. In most cases these were remains that were removed from other locations and reburied in the cemetery at a later time.
The older parts of the Jacksonville cemetery are divided into seven large sections based on religion or affiliation with a fraternal organization. They include the Jewish and Catholic Sections, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, Independent (German), and Improved Order of Red Men. The seventh and largest Section is the City of Jacksonville’s portion which has been added to over the years.
Within the City Section you will find another unique feature to the cemetery and that is a Potter’s Field. This area is located on the north side of the main cemetery and contains the remains of blacks, whites, Native American Indians, Hawaiians, possibly Chinese, and others. A Chinese mortician from San Francisco removed the remains of several Chinese graves in the 1920s as custom requires that they be buried in their homeland. In 1996, a large monument honoring the 133 people buried in the “Potter’s Field” was erected. The known names of the deceased appear on the monument, others simply appear as unknown or infant.
Many pioneers are buried here – men, women and children who made their way to Oregon, leaving behind their homes, most belongings, family and friends. It was a very difficult trip and was not an easy life after arriving at their destination. Many of the pioneers to this area had a hard time of it. Epidemics such as measles, diphtheria, smallpox and various “bilious fevers” swept away whole sections of families. Some of the earliest Jacksonville settlers were “ruffians” who had been kicked out of California cities. Some harbored sympathies with the southern rebels in the Civil War and plotted mischief or worse against the few Federal soldiers stationed in the area or their free-soil neighbors (now that the Indians were gone). Both sides in that horrible conflict likely brought guns to town, just in case. There are also over 350 Veterans buried in the cemetery with the oldest dating back to the war of 1812.
Jewish merchants, most recent immigrants from Germany via the California gold fields, made their way to southern Oregon when gold was discovered near Jacksonville in 1851 – making it for a time the territory’s “most populated and most important commercial trading center.” Three of the pioneers lived out their lives in Jacksonville, the last dying in 1902. Stella Levy, the last direct descendant of a Jewish pioneer family, died at the age of 75 in 1936 and is buried in the Jewish section of the Jacksonville Pioneer Cemetery.
Most found a better life and some even became quite wealthy. There are farmers, ranchers, merchants, lawyers, judges, woodworkers and builders, doctors, teachers, newspaper editors, men of the church. Many of the names of the pioneers buried in the cemetery are quite familiar today as names of streets and communities. Others are recognized as names on historic homes or businesses while others leave a legacy of artistic accomplishment.
The Jacksonville Pioneer Cemetery is a popular tourist attraction and guided tours are provided. It is still very much a part of modern Jacksonville as it was back in 1859. The cemetery is registered as part of Jacksonville’s National Historic District status, as well as with the Oregon Commission on Historic Cemeteries.