A Virtual Walk Through Jacksonville History

Stop 21: John Orth House

 

Our next stop, the John Orth House, is just across South 3rd Street.

John Orth House, 2014. Photo Credit: Ian Poellet. Source: commons.wikimedia.org

This two-story Italian Villa style home was constructed in 1880 for John Orth, Jacksonville’s most successful early butcher. The Orth family had occupied a simple wooden home on a portion of the 105 West Main Street site for the previous 15 years. In 1872 Orth had erected an impressive two-story brick commercial building on South Oregon Street which still bears his name and will be our next stop. Now it was time to accommodate his growing family in a similarly appropriate manner.

As early as 1861, the corner of South 3rd and W. Main streets had belonged to one of Jacksonville’s first merchants, J.A. Brunner, where he built a “private residence.” Prior to that it had housed a “stable” and several outbuildings and sheds. Max Muller (Stop #13) acquired the property in 1863, occupying it for two years before selling it to Orth.

John Orth. Photo Source: SOHS # 24987
John Orth was born in Bavaria in 1834. At the age of 18, he emigrated to the U.S. and settled in Cincinnati where he learned the butcher’s trade. In 1856, he came to Oregon via the Panama Isthmus. He lived in Eugene for about a year before relocating to Jacksonville and becoming the town’s most prominent butcher, noted for “his remarkable business ability and intelligence.”

Orth’s acumen not only allowed him to construct both an impressive commercial building and home, he also acquired a 276 acre farm “two miles east of Jacksonville…on the Ashland road” where he raised stock for his butcher business. In addition, he was influential in public affairs, serving several years on the Jacksonville City Council, and a term as county treasurer.

 

In 1863, Orth had married Ellen Hill (also known as Eleanor Jane or Helen), the daughter of an Irish immigrant. The couple had nine children. However, the first two, both sons, died in infancy. Ellen’s grief was so intense that she spent some months in the state mental institution. As a result, she treasured her family—two more sons and five daughters. Perhaps Orth built the house as a gift to Ellen. A notice in the April 16, 1880, Democratic Times newspaper announced his intention to build “a spacious two-story family residence on the site of the old as soon as the weather settles.” By June C.H. Williams was making brick for Orth’s house. Ellen Orth. SOHS # 13423

John Jr., Flora, Henry, and Josie Orth. SOHS #12585

Orth House, 1890s. SOHS # 1524.

The finished house is a 20’ by 60’ rectangular block. David Linn was the contractor and carpenter, George Holt the brick mason. A veranda welcomes you to the main entry which opens to a long side hall and stairs to the second floor. Rooms are “train car” layout, accessed in sequential order. In the original design, the ground floor housed a parlor, sitting room, dining room and kitchen with inset porches off the dining room and kitchen.

Orth House Staircase. 1971, HABS
The public rooms had punched tin ceilings. Four bedrooms occupied the second floor with balconies above both ground floor porches. The house had no fireplaces. It was heated by wood burning stoves with the stove flues built into the brick walls. Internal modifications have since been made to accommodate bathrooms and other contemporary needs.

Orth moved the family’s original wooden home to a lot he had purchased at the corner of South 3rd and Fir streets where it served as a rental property. John died in 1890, Ellen in 1896, but family members occupied what we know as the Orth House well into the 1930s.

 

Sources Cited:

Gail E.H. Evans, Jacksonville Historical Survey, April 1980/

The Portrait and Biographical Record of Western Oregon, Chapman Publishing Co., Chicago, IL, 1904.

Democratic Times, April 16, 1880.

Historic American Buildings Survey Inventory Data Sheet prepared December 1965 by Mrs. Dwight L. Houghton,
Medford, OR.

Marion D. Ross, “Jacksonville, A Oregon Gold Rush Town,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 12, No. 4 (December 1953).


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