It was in early November 1852, when 33-year-old Peter Britt arrived in Jacksonville pushing a two-wheeled cart full of photographic equipment. He selected a home site on this very hillside, with its magnificent view, to build a small log cabin for shelter. After trying his hand in gold mining and failing to find anticipated riches, Britt turned his attention to what he knew best: photography. To be a proper photographer, Peter needed a decent studio and a better home. With improved finances, Britt built a plain, one-story building. During an early remodel, Britt added decorative 'gingerbread' trim introducing the fashionable new 'cottage gothic' architectural style. A few years later he added more living space by building a second story and moving his studio to the top story. Years later, in 1883, another two-story wing was added. By then, Britt's opulent home boasted spacious living quarters, and wine cellar, solarium, and two sky-lit studios on the second floor.
Fieldstone steps and terrace walls, a bubbling fountain and goldfish-filled pond added a touch of romance to the park-like grounds surrounding the Britt house. several out-buildings, including a carriage shed, water tower, dog house, and winery, were located close by.
Britt's surviving children, Mollie and Emil, continued to live in the ornate Victorian
house after Peter's death in 1905. They kept their father's studio as a museum. Emil died in 1950 and Mollie died in 1954. The old estate was eventually turned over to Southern Oregon College in Ashland.
In 1914 Mollie and Emil discovered fire issuing from the roof of their home. Quick response by the Jacksonville Fire Department saved the residence as well as the Britts' priceless belongings. This was the first in a series of fires that would eventually consume the home.
In 1957, a flue fire sparked a blaze that damaged about fifty percent of the historic Britt home. Peter's photographic studio was destroyed. High winds fanned the flames and firemen had difficulty getting hoses through dense shrubbery and hedges of the overgrown Britt garden. Most of Britt's photographic equipment and many valuable antiques had been removed by the Southern Oregon Historical Society for safekeeping.
Disaster struck again, however, on March 16, 1960, when another fire swept through the Britt home bringing the 100 year-old house to final ruin.