Peter Britt was an extraordinary man of vision and accomplishment. His curiosity, motivation and experimental nature, matched with a keen business sense, allowed him to merge broad-ranging interests into a wide assortment of successful endeavors.
Britt is best known as a pioneer photographer. For nearly half a century, from the early 1850s to 1900, he took remarkably expressive photographs of people, activities, and landscapes, in Southern Oregon. With his camera lens, he captured the diversity and detail of everyday life of Jacksonville. He left for future generations a rich pictorial history of a very real frontier community.
Arriving in Jacksonville in 1852 at the beginning of the Gold Rush, this 33 year-old Swiss immigrant tried his hand at prospecting and mule packing. In time, he branched into horticulture and wine making, beekeeping and meteorology. He became a rancher and orchardist, financier, and family man. When he died at age 86 in 1905, Britt was one of the wealthiest, best-known and most highly respected men in Southern Oregon.
It was November, 1852, when Britt arrived in Jacksonville pushing a two-wheeled cart filled with photographic equipment. According to local lore, he had $5 in his pocket. He selected this hillside, with its magnificent view, to build a small log cabin for shelter. By 1856 Britt
had parlayed his $5 grubstake into a small fortune by hauling foodstuff and mining tools from California to Jacksonville. With his improved finances, Peter built a "cottage gothic" style two-story house on this very hillside. Britt's fine home unfortunately burned in 1960.
An avid gardener, Britt surrounded his home with ornamental shrubs and exotic trees. In 1862 Britt pnted (sic) a giant sequoia redwood to honor the birth of his son, Emil. The tree still survives and is thought to be the oldest giant sequoia in Oregon. To keep his garden watered, Britt installed an innovative irrigation system fed by a mile-long ditch drawing water from Jackson Creek. The old Britt Ditch is now the Sarah Zigler Interpretive Trail. In addition to the botanical gardens near his house, Britt encouraged the growth of a timber stand of Douglas fir. This forest can be enjoyed today by strolling the Jacksonville Woodland Trails that meander through Britt's former estate.
More than 150 years after a nearby broke Swiss immigrant arrived in a muddy mining camp, Peter's legacy lives through the pictures he took, the gardens he planted, and a vital agricultural heritage he helped foster.