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SOULA work at Peter Britt Gardens

SOULA archaeological research leads to historic designation for Britt Gardens

Seven months after the Southern Oregon University Laboratory of Anthropology was awarded a grant to analyze the Peter Britt Gardens, the site was accepted into the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service. 

The Southern Oregon University Laboratory of Anthropology conducts archaeological research throughout southwest Oregon, allowing students to gain practical experience toward their anthropology major and the Cultural Resource Management certificate. SOULA works with the Coquille Indian Tribe, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Medford District Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Oregon State Parks, Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), Jackson County and the Southern Oregon Historical Society.

Peter Britt settled in the Rogue Valley in 1852 and is best known for his early photography and agricultural innovations that helped spur the wine and pear industries in southern Oregon. He documented southern Oregon and its residents, and is credited with taking the first photograph of Crater Lake.

He created a formal garden on his property that was a cherished community space and a popular tourist destination. In 1960, 55 years after Britt’s death, his house and the connected garden burned down. 

Oregon’s State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation nominated the site to the National Register of Historic Places at its June 2019 meeting. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the register is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.

Before the inclusion of the Britt Gardens Site, only nine individual properties in Jacksonville were listed in the register.

SOULA initially excavated the 4.5-acre Britt Gardens in 2010 and 2011, before funding dried up and prevented the hundreds of findings to be fully studied. However, the city of Jacksonville and the state Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation approved a $15,000 grant to continue SOULA’s anthropological research in August 2019, as part of an effort to reconstruct the historic site. The committee awarded 17 other similar grants.

SOULA’s research uncovered Peter Britt’s original log cabin on the property. According to Mark Tveskov, the director of SOULA and an associate professor of Anthropology at SOU, the cabin site is “rare and highly significant, as it is one of the earliest known cabin sites yet discovered and professionally excavated in the State of Jefferson.” The cabin was the initial home Britt lived in when he came to the Rogue Valley in 1852, before he began construction of a larger home in 1856.

As the reconstruction of the gardens continued, SOULA teamed up with the Hannon Library to digitize over 100 artifacts from the site. Of the 2,064 prints created by Peter Britt, 776 can be found on the Southern Oregon Digital Archives. SODA was created by the Hannon Library in the early 2000s with grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Oregon State Library.

Peter Britt Gardens was added to the National Registry of Historic Places last month, making it the 10th Jacksonville location to be added and the first addition since March 2000. “It is rare for archaeological sites to make this distinction, so we are all happy that the nomination made it all of the way through,” said SOU research archaeologist Chelsea Rose.

Listing in the National Register is the first step towards eligibility for National Park Service-administered federal preservation tax credits that have leveraged more than $45 billion in private investment and National Park Service grant programs. Britt Gardens hosts the Britt Festival, an outdoor music and performing arts festival.

Story by Blair Selph, SOU Marketing and Communications student writer

Excavation by SOULA at Britt Gardens site

SOU Laboratory of Anthropology receives grant to complete Britt project

(Ashland, Ore.) — The Southern Oregon University Laboratory of Anthropology has received a grant of about $15,000 from a division of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department to analyze and report on artifacts unearthed during 2010-11 digs at Jacksonville’s Peter Britt Gardens.

Britt GardensThe excavations by SOULA were conducted as the city of Jacksonville prepared for a restoration project on the 4.5-acre Britt Gardens site. But funding dried up and the archeological findings were never fully studied to develop a detailed picture of life at the 1800s homestead.

“We are thrilled to receive the Preserving Oregon grant,” said Chelsea Rose, a research archeologist with SOULA. “The Britt Gardens Site is one of the most important archaeological resources in southern Oregon, and this funding will allow us to analyze and interpret the thousands of artifacts from the Britt homestead and share our findings about this fascinating family with the local community, tourists and interested scholars.”

The grant is one of 18 that were awarded this summer by the state parks’ Oregon Heritage division for historic and archeological projects throughout Oregon. Each was approved by the state Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation.

Peter Britt historical photo

Peter Britt

About 30,000 artifacts were recovered during the excavations nine years ago. Britt – an early Rogue Valley settler – was a painter, photographer and horticulturist whose photos of Crater Lake were instrumental in creation of the national park in 1902. The SOULA excavations included the site where Britt built a log cabin upon reaching Jacksonville in 1852.

“Everyone always asks archaeologists what our favorite find is,” Rose said. “Mine came from the Britt Gardens Site – two glass plate photograph negatives with images on them.

“This grant finally gives us the opportunity to tell the story of these artifacts, and hundreds of others, and what they can reveal about the lives of the Britt family and their experience in 19th century Jacksonville.”

The grant will pay for artifact analysis, site mapping, illustration and photography of the excavation project, and compilation of a detailed report on archeological findings. SOULA is also working with the university’s Hannon Library to create a digital artifact collection that will feature more than 100 artifacts from the Britt site.

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SOU Archaeologists Discover Original Peter Britt Cabin: One of The Earliest Known Pioneer Cabin Sites in the State of Jefferson

(Ashland, Ore) The Southern Oregon University Laboratory of Anthropology (SOULA) announced the discovery of Peter Britt’s original log cabin at the Jacksonville City Council meeting at 7:00 p.m Tuesday (Oct. 19) night. Select artifacts from the archaeological excavation were on display during the meeting. Peter Britt built the log cabin on the hill overlooking what is now Jacksonville when he came to Oregon in 1852. According to Mark Tveskov, the director of SOULA and an associate professor of Anthropology at SOU, the cabin site is “rare and highly significant, as it is one of the earliest known cabin sites yet discovered and professionally excavated in the State of Jefferson.” Britt used this cabin as his primary residence until 1856 when he began work on a larger home. The discovery was made during recent archaeology work done in the Britt Gardens, in conjunction with the Jubilee Week, September 20th -24th, 2010. SOULA archaeologists worked with SOU students and volunteers from the Southern Oregon Historical Society on the excavations. Analysis of the hundreds of artifacts recovered from the two-week excavation is ongoing at SOU.

Peter Britt was an early settler in the Rogue Valley and is best known for his early photography and his agricultural innovations that helped spur the wine and pear industries in southern Oregon. Peter Britt documented Southern Oregon and its residents during the dynamic frontier period, and is credited with taking the first photograph of Crater Lake. The project is part of a park restoration plan by the City of Jacksonville. Historians have researched and identified many of the traditional Britt plantings, and the city is updating the park to restore the gardens to their Britt era splendor.
The Britt homestead burned down to its foundation more than 50 years ago. Archaeologists dug more than 40 holes across the site, and will use this data to investigate how the Britt family lived and used the landscape over time. Artifacts recovered from two “trash pits” on the site will allow archaeologists to compare changes in the Britt Family diet over time, and personal items such as toys, pipes, and jewelry, will help illustrate the daily lives of the family.
SOULA will continue to work on the site during park reconstruction, and will use data recovered from the September excavations to target key areas such as the 1852 cabin. The Britt homestead is one of the most significant historical sites in southern Oregon due to the lasting contributions of Peter Britt to the industry and culture of the Rogue Valley. According to SOULA archaeologist Chelsea Rose, who is leading the project, “Investigations into well known historical figures such as Peter Britt can be particularly rewarding as archaeologists can use existing documents such as photographs, diaries, and oral histories in conjunction with archaeological findings to obtain information on specific aspects or events in the person’s life.”
For more information, contact Mark Tveskov at 541-552-6345 tveskovm@sou.edu or Chelsea Rose at 541-261-3087 chelseaErose@gmail.com .
About Southern Oregon University Laboratory of Anthropology
The Southern Oregon University Laboratory of Anthropology conducts archaeological research throughout southwest Oregon. Our work in the field and in the lab allows students to gain practicum experience towards the anthropology major and the Cultural Resource Management certificate. Consequently there is an applied orientation to our work, and each project is conducted in collaboration with federal and local agencies and Indian Tribes.  We currently have ongoing research projects with the Coquille Indian Tribe, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Medford District Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Oregon State Parks, Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), Jackson County, and the Southern Oregon Historical Society.