A Virtual Walk Through Jacksonville History

Stop 33: Table Rock Billiard Saloon

The next stop on our Jacksonville walking tour is just next door at 155-165 South Oregon Street, the Table Rock Billiard Saloon, now home to Good Bean coffee.

Photo courtesy of Carolyn Kingsnorth.

For over 50 years the name Helms was synonymous with the Table Rock Saloon, first Herman von Helms, then his son Ed. But For the first 20+ of those years, Helms had a partner, John Wintjen, and their business was originally a bakery, not a saloon. So let’s see if we can sort out the record.

Table Rock Bakery, 1856 Lithograph. SOHS #0086

John Wintjen, a native of Hanover, Germany, arrived in Jacksonville no later than 1855. By 1857, a 33-year-old Wintjen was a co-partner with C.H. Miller and William Hesse in what was known as Hesse’s Table Rock Bakery. Located in a small false-fronted, clapboarded wood structure on the site of the current Table Rock Billiard Saloon building, it was one of Jacksonville’s earliest bakeries. The Table Rock Bakery not only sold baked goods; it also provided space for a butcher shop, groceries, and supplies. Within a year, a 26-year-old Herman von Helms, a native of Holstein, Germany, had acquired Hesse’s share of the shop and probably Miller’s. That marked the beginning of a partnership that lasted for more than two decades.

 Sketch of Wintjen and Helms Brick Façade. Source: SOHS

Business was obviously profitable. In 1860, Helms and Wintjen purchased the cigar and tobacco stand between their bakery and the El Dorado Saloon, razed both buildings, and erected the current arcaded one-story brick structure. Completed late that year, they leased the north portion of the building to M.A. Brentano who operated a cigar, tobacco, and grocery store there for over 15 years.

Then in 1874 the dreaded alarm for fire was sounded. The bakery’s neighbor at the corner of Oregon and California streets, the El Dorado Saloon, one of Jacksonville’s earliest enduring establishments, “lighted up the town in all directions,” and soon engulfed neighboring wooden buildings on California Street. Helms’ and Wintjen’s brick structure was instrumental in preventing the fire from spreading to Oregon Street structures.

Soon after the demise of the El Dorado, the Table Rock Bakery appears to have reinvented itself as the Table Rock Billiard Saloon. Although the Table Rock Saloon sign was not painted on the building until the early 1880s (possibly after Brentano closed up shop), J.W. Byrd reported in the Yreka Union in 1877 that “Our old friend Helms has a fine saloon, the Table Rock, which he keeps in tip-top style. His liquors are good and his cigars No. 1; he has a fine cabinet of curiosities which will well repay an inspection.”

Wintjen retired in 1880. Under Herman von Helms oversight, the saloon became an informal social and political headquarters, home to business deals, court decisions, and even trials. Perhaps that’s why a quart of whiskey donated by Helms was one of the items place in the cornerstone of the new 1883 Jackson County Courthouse. (See Stop #1.)

Herman Helms behind bar in saloon. SOHS #1941.

Furnishings included an English style pool and billiard table, twice the size of those today, which had been sent around the Horn and packed by mules into Jacksonville from Eureka, California. Reports also indicate that the saloon offered a superior free-lunch counter.

A highlight of the saloon was Helms’ “Cabinet of Curiosities,” Jacksonville’s first museum, which contained a valuable collection of pioneer relics. Helms advertisements would invite people to visit his museum, then “stay for his fine lager.” An early inventory list included the first piece of gold found in Jackson County, Indian relics including a bow and arrow said to have been used by Captain Jack of the Modocs in his early-day raids, a mastodon tusk found on the Applegate, pioneer firearms, freaks of nature, and an extensive mineral and coin collection.

Table Rock Saloon’s “Cabinet of Curiosities.” SOHS #29481.

According to tax records, Wintjen and Helms remained partners until Helms’ death in 1899. Management of the saloon was then taken over by Helms’ older son, Ed, who successfully operated it until his retirement in 1914. No reason was given for its closure that year other than the fact that its license was due to be renewed.   Its closure was widely lamented, with the local newspaper noting, “The place is one of the pioneer landmarks of Jackson County, and its four walls shelter a relic history of the days when the Rogue River Valley was young to man, and Jacksonville was at the height of its glory.”

When the saloon closed, that “relic history,” Helms’ “Cabinet of Curiosities,” boasted a collection of artifacts valued at $50,000. It encompassed “every possible manner of relic…mutely telling pages in the early history of Jackson County.” Many of those relics became part of the core of the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s initial collection.


Sources Cited

Evans, Gail E.H. State of Oregon Inventory of Historic Places, “Table Rock Bakery.”

1855 Census for Jackson County, Oregon Territory.

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

Democratic TimesJacksonville, May 19, 1877.

“Local Items,” Oregon SentinelJacksonville, June 27, 1879.

“Here and There,” Democratic TimesJacksonville, March 18, 1887.

“Historic Bar to Close Oct. 19,” Medford Sun, September 22, 1914.




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