Emil Britt died in 1950, but his birthday tree, now over 200 feet tall, is celebrating its 150th birthday.

Emil's birthday tree is 150 years old

He called it his birthday tree, and for good reason. His papa had planted it on the day he was born.

Emil Britt arrived on March 22, 1862, eight months after his 43-year-old father, Peter, married his childhood sweetheart, Amalia Grobb. The couple named their baby Peter Emil, but from the beginning the boy was simply Emil.

For a man who was always experimenting with unusual plants at his hilltop Jacksonville home, choosing a tree to commemorate his first and only son's birth must have been easy. Knowing how tall and long-lived they could be, Peter chose a sequoia.

Legend says that Peter obtained the tree while on a visit to Crescent City, in a trade of an old buffalo gun he had acquired.

Planting the seedling had to be difficult. This was the end of the winter of 1861-62, a time when the entire West Coast, including the Rogue Valley, was drowning under some of the worst floods in its recorded history.

The beginning of March had seen at least a foot of snow still on the valley floor, and by the end of the month only half of it had melted away. When it came to the surrounding hills, the Jacksonville newspaper suggested readers "choose any quantity of snow you may desire."

It's ironic that Emil was born into some of the worst weather that Jacksonville would ever see because Emil was destined to become perhaps the longest-serving weatherman Oregon has ever seen.

His father was an official weather observer from the 1870s, but in 1891, Peter turned his work over to Emil. For the next 58 years, Emil compiled a daily report of Jacksonville's meteorology and never missed a day.

When Emil died in 1950, the bureau posthumously honored him as "one of the deans of the cooperative observer service," sending a medal to his sister and praising his "unselfish and devoted service."

The Oregonian newspaper also praised Emil for his "generous and wholly voluntary assistance, essential to the keeping of the meteorological record. ... We mark with regional pride the name of Emil Britt of Jacksonville."

But there is more to Emil's life than weather. He spent more than a quarter-century on Jacksonville's City Council, much of the time as mayor. He was first elected as part of a slate of candidates who were in favor of a water system for Jacksonville and a concrete dam that we now know as the Jacksonville Reservoir.

In 1880, he was rendered nearly speechless when he was allowed to shake the hand of Rutherford B. Hayes, the first U.S. president to visit the Rogue Valley.

A year later, he was written up in a California newspaper as the lucky photographer's son who found an 1854 gold coin in the family's garden.

In 1921, he was on the executive committee for the founding of an earlier version of a Southern Oregon historical society, and in the following years he held many offices with the Southern Oregon Pioneer Association.

For each and every one of his 88 years, Emil Britt could look out from the house his father had built and see his ever-growing birthday tree.

Now 150 years old, the sequoia still stands — as if to say, "Happy Birthday, Emil, I'm still doing fine."

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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