Jacksonville embraces concept of Britt gardens restoration

JACKSONVILLE — Efforts to restore pioneer photographer Peter Britt's gardens took a step closer this week after the City Council approved an agreement that would transfer a portion of the Britt Festivals' grounds to city ownership.

The agreement must still be signed by Jackson County, which owns the property, and the Britt Festivals' board of directors.

"It's really a commitment to work together and be good partners," Britt Festivals Executive Director Rick Hood said Wednesday. "The agreement doesn't commit Jacksonville to any specific plan, but talks in concepts about maybe something here or something there."

The festivals' lower garden area that is bounded by Highway 238 and First Street would become a city park under the agreement. The land includes stone walls that were once the foundation for the house owned by Peter Britt, who died in 1905.

The Jacksonville Boosters Club hopes to reconstruct the formal gardens and an Italiante stone fountain. It also hopes to build an open-air, wrought-iron emulation of the original Britt house and make other improvements.

Arborists have been studying the gardens and some of the writings of Britt, penned in his native Swiss-German, to determine what to plant in the restoration effort, according to Carolyn Kingsnorth, Boosters president.

Once completed, the park would provide another draw for tourists to Jacksonville.

Under the agreement, Britt would be able to use the park for events and develop structures on the land, such as a welcome center, office space or rehearsal space, but there are no firm plans for development, Hood said.

Other groups and individuals would be able to use the park for events, such as weddings.

City officials hope the agreement will pave the way for grants to help in the restoration. Boosters Club organizers hope to have the project underway in time for Jacksonville's sesquicentennial next year.

Mayor Bruce Garrett and council members Chris Gilman, Donna Schatz and Paul Becker approved the agreement, while Dan Winterburn and Linda Meyers voted against it.

"It seems to me like we have all these pet projects around town. You can't have them all," said Winterburn. "I don't see a plan that is beneficial to the city. There are no plans yet. They just want to do what they want to do. They are talking about building structures and offices up there. That's not going to help our city, as I see it."

"It's going to be minimal costs for the city. It sounded good to me," said Becker. "There's a feeling from some that we should get some money out of Britt, but all over the country symphony halls, orchestras, and entertainment venues are under tremendous pressure."

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