Britt gardens project gears up for next phase

Sponsors are excited that the first phase of work on the Peter Britt gardens restoration will begin in a couple of months after four years of planning, and an archaeologist is eager to dig at the pioneer's home site.

"We're going to try to find some structural features," said Chelsea Rose, staff archaeologist at Southern Oregon University, who monitors the project for historical artifacts. "I'm really excited to see if we can't find part of the wine cellar that was under the house. It may be too deep. There's a lot of fill on top."

Jacksonville Boosters, the project organizers, had to modify plans for the garden to protect the home site for future investigations.

"They found the site of Peter Britt's original cabin and where the Ivy House was located," said Carolyn Kingsnorth, a member of the Jacksonville Boosters. "We'll be doing quite a bit less digging. The cabin was dug into the hill. That's what we are protecting, putting a walk around it."

Rose and students conducted a dig at the site during the town's sesquicentennial celebration in September. That work uncovered artifacts and pointed to areas for further exploration. Oregon's State Historic Preservation Office is reviewing a permit request that would allow further excavation during January.

"Mainly our work is in areas that we feel are the most sensitive, that will be impacted the most by construction, primarily around the house foundation area," said Rose. "A person from (Jacksonville) Public Works might help with a little backhoe."

Oregon law requires archaeological oversight when work takes place on public land. Rose will target areas around the 1852 cabin, which became the house's kitchen in the 1880s.

Britt's elaborate gardens and his house, which burned in 1960, were located on 7.5 acres that Jackson County turned over to the city in May. Work planned for this spring will provide increased trail access, create a space for social gatherings and upgrade electrical systems.

Revised plans for garden development were approved by the city's Historic and Architectural Review Commission last week. City officials want to put out a request for bids on the first phase in early January, award a contract in February and see work begin soon afterward.

Kingsnorth said she hopes all work can be completed before the Britt Festival begins in June, but expects that enough would be done to at least allow access to the festival grounds.

"Ideally we'd like to have this phase done (by June), but that's dependent on whether we come across any additional archaeological discoveries," said Kingsnorth.

"I don't anticipate anything that will stop the show," said Rose. "We are very pleased the city and the landscape engineer and the boosters club are all on board with the archaeology."

State grants will cover much of the first-phase work, including a $98,000 Parks Department recreation trails award and a $13,000 Oregon Heritage Commission grant. The boosters have committed more than $15,000, and the city will provide $10,000. Other grants and in-kind donations total $18,000.

Replanting of the garden won't begin until a third phase after deer fencing is erected during the second phase.

"It's not only going to appeal to community members, but it will also attract people interested in gardens and history, and it will be a great classroom for kids," said Kingsnorth.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at

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