A Virtual Walk Through Jacksonville History

Stop 31: Helms House

We don’t have to walk very far for our next stop. It’s directly across the street.

Helms House. Photo Source: Xlentcrap-blogger.

The Victorian Italianate style Helms House at 310 South Oregon Street in Jacksonville was built in 1878 by Table Rock Saloon owner Herman von Helms (although the “von” was probably his own addition to imply descent from royalty).

Herman von Helms
Photo: SOHS #23540

A 24-year-old Helms had arrived in Jacksonville in 1856, three years after immigrating from Holstein, Germany. His life in Jacksonville was nearly synonymous with the Table Rock Billiard Saloon, initially the Table Rock Bakery, but we’re saving that story for an upcoming stop.

The earliest recorded owner of this corner lot at South Oregon and Pine was William Hesse, from whom Helms had purchased an ownership interest in the Table Rock Bakery in 1858. Helms appears to have occupied a small log cabin on the site prior to purchasing the lot in 1866. That cabin was the home where he brought his new bride.

Augusta Englebrect Helms
Photo: SOHS #23547

Helms married Augusta Englebrect in 1862, the day after they first met. He was nearly 30; she was 17. Augusta was a native of Hamburg, Germany who had settled with her parents in Yreka the year before. The marriage had been arranged by the Southern Oregon and Northern California German communities.

Both the business and the marriage apparently prospered. The couple had nine children, and in 1878, Helms was successful enough to have the current large 2-story house built. In the fall of that year, a local newspaper reported it as being “one of the most elegant residences in town.” The exterior was described as “Austrian with a strong French influence.” The central entrance is flanked by French doors that open onto small balconies and the balustraded porch supports a second-floor balcony. Like many other homes of the time, the original structure was incorporated into the new residence becoming the kitchen and pantry.

Helms House, 1883. Photo Source: The West Shore, August 1883.

Helms had all of the household furniture packed in from Crescent City. Outstanding pieces included an organ, horsehair upholstered parlor furniture, Dresden lamps, and a unique sleigh bed.

Helms Family. Photo: SOHS #779.

Minnie Helms’ Headstone
Jacksonville Cemetery
Photo Source: Carolyn Kingsnorth

Of the couple’s nine children, only five survived to adulthood, not uncommon in pioneer families. Three daughters died in epidemics; a fourth was murdered by her sister’s estranged husband. The first daughter to die, Minnie, was less than two years old. She was supposedly buried on the front lawn in 1868, but when the new house was constructed, her bones were moved to the Jacksonville Cemetery. However, subsequent occupants have experienced the ghosts of Minnie running up and down the stairs and of Augusta grieving her loss.

The family owned the house until 1926. That year, Harry, the youngest child, and the last member of the family to live in Jacksonville, put the house on the market. It appears that he simply packed his suitcases and walked away, leaving the furnishings intact, including rugs, rare dishes and porcelain, and the pictures on the wall. A mirror from the Table Rock Saloon was still hanging in a bedroom. We have no idea what circumstances prompted him to abandon his background and an entire lifetime of memories.

Helms House in January Snow. Photo Source: Historic Jacksonville, Inc.

 


Sources Cited

Evans, Gail E.H. State of Oregon Inventory of Historic Places, “Helms House.”

“Helms Family Becomes Integral Part of Early Jacksonville,” Table Rock Sentinel, May 1981.

The West Shore, August 1883.

The Democratic Times, September 6, 1878; November 15, 1878.

Jackson County Deeds, February 20, 1866.

 


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