Josephine County is located in southwest Oregon on the California border. Most of the
historic sites are in Grants Pass and the Illinois Valley. The latter sites, associated with
the Gold Rush of the 1850's, are obscure and difficult to find.
The 1852 discovery of placer gold at Sailor Diggins brought the first settlers to
the Illinois Valley which was then in Jackson County, Oregon.
On January 22, 1856, the Oregon Territorial Legislature carved Josephine County out of
the western portion of Jackson County. According to tradition the Legislature named the
county for Virginia Josephine Rollins, daughter of Lloyd Rollins who discovered gold in Josephine
Creek in 1851. Miss Rollins, born in Illinois, lived in Oregon only a short time before moving on to
Colusa, Sonora and
finally Sonoma. She maintained that "as far as I know, I
was the first white woman in that part of Oregon."
Sailor Diggins, renamed Waldo, was the original county seat but only for a year. The county
seat was relocated twice based upon transportation routes. In 1857, Kerbyville became the
county seat because of its situation on the main route from California to the gold fields.
After the railroad was built through Grants Pass, it became the county seat in 1886.
Waldo no longer exists. Kerbyville was briefly renamed Napoleon, then it became Kerby,
then it became a ghost town suburb of Cave Junction. Grants Pass remains the county seat.
The Oregon Caves Chateau is a National Historic Landmark.
You can learn more about Josephine County at the
Josephine County Historical Society,
512 SW Fifth Street, Grants Pass.