Josephine County
Josephine County Courthouse - Grants Pass Oregon.jpg
Wolf Creek Tavern.jpg
The Wild & Scenic Rogue River (48205898602).jpg
From clockwise: Josephine County Courthouse, the "It's the Climate" banner in downtown Grants Pass, Miller's Chapel in the Oregon Caves National Monument, the Wolf Creek Tavern, the Rogue River from Hellgate Canyon
Josephine County Courthouse in Grants Pass
Map of Oregon highlighting Josephine County
Location within the U.S. state of Oregon
Map of the United States highlighting Oregon
Oregon's location within the U.S.
Coordinates: 42°22′N 123°34′W / 42.36°N 123.56°W / 42.36; -123.56
Country United States
State Oregon
FoundedJanuary 22, 1856
Named forVirginia “Josephine” Rollins
SeatGrants Pass
Largest cityGrants Pass
 • Total1,642 sq mi (4,250 km2)
 • Land1,640 sq mi (4,200 km2)
 • Water2.2 sq mi (6 km2)  0.1%%
 • Total88,090
 • Estimate 
88,346 Increase
 • Density50/sq mi (20/km2)
Time zoneUTC−8 (Pacific)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−7 (PDT)
Congressional districts2nd, 4th

Josephine County is one of the 36 counties in the U.S. state of Oregon. As of the 2020 census, the population was 88,090.[1] The county seat is Grants Pass.[2] The county is probably named after a stream in the area called Josephine Creek, which in turn is probably named after Virginia “Josephine” Rollins, who was the first white woman to settle and live in the county. Josephine County comprises the Grants Pass, OR Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is included in the Medford-Grants Pass, OR Combined Statistical Area.


The discovery of rich placers at Sailor Diggings (later known as Waldo) in 1852 and the resulting gold rush brought the first settlers to this region. Several U.S. Army forts were maintained in the county and many engagements during the Rogue River Indian War (1855–1858) took place within its boundaries. In 1851, a group of prospectors moved to the Illinois Valley and made the first discovery of gold in Southern Oregon. In this group was Floyd Rollins and his daughter, Josephine Rollins Ort, after whom the county is named.[3] On January 22, 1856, a bill was passed by the territorial legislature separating what is now Josephine County from Jackson County. The bill made Sailor Diggings (later known as Waldo) the county seat.[4] It was the nineteenth, and last, county created before statehood.[citation needed]

In 1885, the county seat was relocated to Kerby, where the county's first jail was built.[5] In 1885, the Oregon Legislature adjusted the boundary between Jackson and Josephine County, making Grants Pass a part of Josephine County. This was done primarily to have a railroad head within the new county.[6] In June 1886 the voters of Josephine County considered three towns for the new county seat. These were: Kerby, Wilderville and Grants Pass. Grants Pass won with 116 votes out of the 716 ballots cast.[6][7]

In the 1920s, the county improved its tourist facilities.[8] In 1922, the Grants Pass Cavemen booster club was created, where members dressed in furs and wielded clubs at events. Events organized by the club ranged from simply blocking traffic, to bidding on the construction of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge (at a cost of 23,756,000 deer hides), to initiating politicians into their club including Mark Hatfield and Thomas E. Dewey during his 1948 presidential campaign. Russian newspapers used images of the Grants Pass Cavemen to show 'how the rich "cavort" in America.'[9] Although bridges had been built across the Rogue River by the 1920s, ferries were still used to convey people and cars across. The first Grants Pass bridge was destroyed by a flood in 1890.[10] The first newspaper in Josephine County was the Argus, which began publication on March 13, 1885. It lasted only a few months, but the Grants Pass Courier began three weeks later.[11] The Illinois Valley News published in Cave Junction started in 1937 and is still a paper of record in Josephine County publishing every Wednesday. In 1897, the first legal hanging took place in Josephine County. Lemson W. Melson[12] confessed to the murder of Charles Perry while the noose was around his neck.[13]

Ethnic history

Although several tribes of Native Americans lived in the area from which Josephine County was created, most of their members had been moved to the reservation at Grand Ronde by the end of the Rogue River Indian War. Soon afterwards all Indians in southwest Oregon, with the exception of a few small bands, were moved to the Coast reservation (later known as the Siletz Reservation).[7] Josephine County was also the home to a large Chinese population. Most had come to the area to work gold claims purchased from whites no longer interested in working them. Even though they could not own land, they had to pay a tax to mine gold, and were usually relegated to inferior claims.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 1,642 square miles (4,250 km2), of which 1,640 square miles (4,200 km2) is land and 2.2 square miles (5.7 km2) (0.1%) is water.[14]

Adjacent counties

National protected areas


Historical population
Census Pop.
2021 (est.)88,346[15]0.3%
U.S. Decennial Census[16]
1790–1960[17] 1900–1990[18]
1990–2000[19] 2010–2020[1]

2000 census

As of the census[20] of 2000, there were 75,726 people, 31,000 households, and 21,359 families residing in the county. The population density was 46 people per square mile (18/km2). There were 33,239 housing units at an average density of 20 per square mile (8/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 93.90% White, 0.27% Black or African American, 1.25% Native American, 0.63% Asian, 0.11% Pacific Islander, 1.17% from other races, and 2.68% from two or more races. 4.26% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. 18.5% were of German, 14.3% English, 10.4% Irish and 9.3% American ancestry according to Census 2000. 95.6% spoke English and 2.8% Spanish as their first language.

There were 31,000 households, out of which 26.90% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 54.40% were married couples living together, 10.40% had a female householder with no husband present, and 31.10% were non-families. 25.40% of all households were made up of individuals, and 12.10% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.41 and the average family size was 2.85.

In the county, the population was spread out, with 23.10% under the age of 18, 6.50% from 18 to 24, 23.20% from 25 to 44, 27.20% from 45 to 64, and 20.10% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 43 years. For every 100 females there were 94.60 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.10 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $31,229, and the median income for a family was $36,894. Males had a median income of $30,798 versus $22,734 for females. The per capita income for the county was $17,234. About 11.30% of families and 15.00% of the population were below the poverty line, including 21.10% of those under age 18 and 6.80% of those age 65 or over.

2010 census

As of the 2010 census, there were 82,713 people, 34,646 households, and 22,498 families residing in the county.[21] The population density was 50.4 inhabitants per square mile (19.5/km2). There were 38,001 housing units at an average density of 23.2 per square mile (9.0/km2).[22] The racial makeup of the county was 92.4% white, 1.4% American Indian, 0.8% Asian, 0.4% black or African American, 0.2% Pacific islander, 1.5% from other races, and 3.2% from two or more races. Those of Hispanic or Latino origin made up 6.3% of the population.[21] In terms of ancestry, 26.3% were German, 15.6% were Irish, 15.5% were English, 5.5% were Italian, and 5.5% were American.[23]

Of the 34,646 households, 25.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 49.2% were married couples living together, 11.0% had a female householder with no husband present, 35.1% were non-families, and 28.3% of all households were made up of individuals. The average household size was 2.34 and the average family size was 2.82. The median age was 47.3 years.[21]

The median income for a household in the county was $38,035 and the median income for a family was $48,180. Males had a median income of $38,675 versus $27,926 for females. The per capita income for the county was $21,539. About 13.5% of families and 17.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 27.3% of those under age 18 and 9.1% of those age 65 or over.[24]



Census-designated places

Unincorporated communities


Most of the commercial activity during the territorial period centered on gold mining and the supply of provisions to miners. Miners had been active in the Rogue and Illinois valleys since 1851. By the late 1850s, however, gold mining was beginning to decline and population dwindled as well. In 1859, gold was discovered along the Fraser River in British Columbia and numerous people left Josephine County to search for valuable claims there.

Josephine County shares the Rogue Valley and Applegate Valley wine appellations with Jackson County. The U.S. government owns the majority of the land within the county boundaries, with the Bureau of Land Management owning 28% of the lands within the county boundaries, most of which are Oregon and California Railroad lands, and the Forest Service owning 39%.

Grants Pass is now the departure point for most Rogue River scenic waterway guided fishing and boat trips, one of the destinations being Hellgate canyon. The Illinois River, one of the Rogue's tributaries, has also been designated a scenic waterway.


Initially, freight was brought into Josephine County by pack train. As the trails improved, freight wagons were used. Stage coaches were the primary mode of transportation until 1914, when auto stages took over, halving the time from Crescent City to Grants Pass from 24 to 12 hours.[25]

In 1883, the Oregon and California Railroad reached Grants Pass, in Jackson County at the time.[26] The first through train from Portland, Oregon arrived in Grants Pass on Christmas Eve of 1883. Due to delays in completing a railroad through the Siskiyou Mountains, the first train from California didn't arrive until 1887. Josephine County was served by the Oregon and California Railroad.[27] In 1923, commercial flight in Josephine County began when airplanes began taking off from the American Legion Air Field. The airfield has since been replaced by an industrial park.[28]


Josephine County has been among the most consistently Republican counties in Oregon with regard to Presidential elections. In 1964, it was along with Malheur County one of two Oregon counties to give a majority to Barry Goldwater.[29] This is the county in Oregon to have gone the longest without voting for a Democrat in a presidential election; the last Democratic candidate to win the county was Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936,[30] and the solitary Democrat since 1900 to win an absolute majority was Roosevelt in 1932 (though, in 1916, the county was won by Charles Evans Hughes by just four votes). Prior to the 1890s, Josephine was a generally Democratic county as the Rogue Valley and adjacent areas, like the San Joaquin Valley in California, had considerable anti-Union sympathies.[31]

With the exception of a small area in and to the east of metropolitan Grants Pass that lies in the Second District, Josephine County lies within Oregon's 4th congressional district, which also includes the more liberal Eugene metropolitan area and has thus been represented by Democrat Peter A. DeFazio since 1987. Within the Oregon State Senate, Josephine County is split between the 1st District (northwestern half) represented by Republican Dallas Heard, and the 2nd District (southeastern half) represented by Republican Herman Baertschiger, Jr. In the Oregon House of Representatives, Josephine County is split between four districts. The northwestern part adjacent to Curry County lies in the 1st District represented by Republican David Brock Smith, while a small area in the northeast is in the 2nd District (extending into Roseburg, Douglas County) represented by Republican Gary Leif. The majority of Josephine County, including the core of Grants Pass, lies within the 3rd District represented by Republican Carl Wilson, while outlying areas of the city and rural areas eastward to Jackson County are in the 4th district represented by Republican Duane Stark.

In 2004 Democrat Dennis Kucinich spoke publicly while campaigning in Josephine County, making appearances in both Grants Pass and Cave Junction. Robert Kennedy made a campaign stop in Grants Pass in late May 1968 at the conclusion of a whistle stop campaign tour by train originating in Portland. Kennedy spoke to a crowd of several hundred in a supermarket parking lot on the site of the former Southern Pacific passenger station which had been demolished some years previously just a week before his assassination in California on June 5, 1968.[32]

United States presidential election results for Josephine County, Oregon[33]
Year Republican Democratic Third party
No.  % No.  % No.  %
2020 31,751 61.48% 18,451 35.73% 1,439 2.79%
2016 26,923 60.42% 13,453 30.19% 4,184 9.39%
2012 23,673 58.83% 14,953 37.16% 1,612 4.01%
2008 22,973 54.63% 17,412 41.41% 1,664 3.96%
2004 26,241 62.07% 15,214 35.99% 820 1.94%
2000 22,186 60.40% 11,864 32.30% 2,683 7.30%
1996 16,048 49.98% 11,113 34.61% 4,950 15.42%
1992 13,003 38.75% 11,007 32.80% 9,549 28.45%
1988 15,876 58.21% 10,646 39.04% 750 2.75%
1984 19,470 69.38% 8,539 30.43% 53 0.19%
1980 16,827 63.89% 7,116 27.02% 2,393 9.09%
1976 10,726 50.81% 9,061 42.92% 1,323 6.27%
1972 9,911 58.55% 5,090 30.07% 1,926 11.38%
1968 8,456 57.64% 4,351 29.66% 1,864 12.71%
1964 6,918 50.13% 6,857 49.68% 26 0.19%
1960 7,387 57.57% 5,419 42.23% 25 0.19%
1956 7,967 62.10% 4,863 37.90% 0 0.00%
1952 8,200 70.36% 3,353 28.77% 102 0.88%
1948 5,004 58.27% 3,290 38.31% 294 3.42%
1944 4,010 54.52% 3,214 43.70% 131 1.78%
1940 3,964 57.18% 2,888 41.66% 80 1.15%
1936 1,992 33.45% 2,840 47.69% 1,123 18.86%
1932 1,757 33.80% 3,060 58.87% 381 7.33%
1928 2,625 71.31% 959 26.05% 97 2.64%
1924 1,756 53.91% 650 19.96% 851 26.13%
1920 1,606 62.22% 819 31.73% 156 6.04%
1916 1,660 46.20% 1,656 46.09% 277 7.71%
1912 305 13.68% 702 31.48% 1,223 54.84%
1908 967 47.47% 732 35.94% 338 16.59%
1904 914 60.89% 327 21.79% 260 17.32%


In May 2007, all libraries in Josephine County were closed due to lack of county government funding. In September 2007, committed community members formed Josephine Community Libraries, Inc., a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization. On December 20, 2008, the Grants Pass library opened again. On September 5, 2009, the Illinois Valley library was reopened. On November 7, 2009, the Williams library was reopened. With the reopening of the Wolf Creek branch on December 19, 2009, all four library branches in Josephine County were restored. Josephine Community Libraries, Inc. (JCLI) is a nonprofit, nongovernmental library system serving the 82,000 residents of Josephine County. In May 2017, citizens placed a measure on the ballot to permanently fund the libraries, which passed by 53 percent of the vote. For 10 years, the libraries were supported by generous donations and the heroic contributions of more than 360 volunteers annually. Now, JCLI is committed to a seamless transition of library services to the newly formed library district and is working to support the district effort until the anticipated transition is completed in 2018.[34]

See also


  1. ^ a b "State & County QuickFacts". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved April 10, 2022.
  2. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Archived from the original on May 31, 2011. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
  3. ^ Sutton, p. 6.
  4. ^ Sutton, p. 10.
  5. ^ Sutton, pp. 15–17.
  6. ^ a b Sutton, p. 18.
  7. ^ a b Edna May Hill (1976). "Josephine County Historical Highlights". Josephine County Library System & Josephine County Historical Society. pp. 73, 74.
  8. ^ Sutton, p. 65.
  9. ^ Sutton, pp. 59–61.
  10. ^ Sutton, pp. 59–74.
  11. ^ Sutton, pp. 59–76–78.
  12. ^[bare URL PDF]
  13. ^ Sutton, pp. 59–79.
  14. ^ "2010 Census Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. August 22, 2012. Retrieved February 26, 2015.
  15. ^ "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Counties: April 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021". Retrieved April 10, 2022.
  16. ^ "U.S. Decennial Census". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved February 26, 2015.
  17. ^ "Historical Census Browser". University of Virginia Library. Retrieved February 26, 2015.
  18. ^ Forstall, Richard L., ed. (March 27, 1995). "Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900 to 1990". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved February 26, 2015.
  19. ^ "Census 2000 PHC-T-4. Ranking Tables for Counties: 1990 and 2000" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. April 2, 2001. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 26, 2015. Retrieved February 26, 2015.
  20. ^ "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 31, 2008.
  21. ^ a b c "DP-1 Profile of General Population and Housing Characteristics: 2010 Demographic Profile Data". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on February 13, 2020. Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  22. ^ "Population, Housing Units, Area, and Density: 2010 - County". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on February 13, 2020. Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  23. ^ "DP02 SELECTED SOCIAL CHARACTERISTICS IN THE UNITED STATES – 2006-2010 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on February 13, 2020. Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  24. ^ "DP03 SELECTED ECONOMIC CHARACTERISTICS – 2006-2010 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on February 13, 2020. Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  25. ^ Sutton, pp. 86.
  26. ^ Sutton, p. 201.
  27. ^ Sutton, pp. 92–94.
  28. ^ Sutton, pp. 99.
  29. ^ David Leip Presidential Election Atlas
  30. ^ Geographie Electorale
  31. ^ Menendez, Albert J.; The Geography of Presidential Elections in the United States, 1868-2004, pp. 284-286 ISBN 0786422173
  32. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: Oregon Collegiate Broadcast System. "Oregon 1968 - RFK Campaign Train". Youtube. R.W. Rynerson. Retrieved June 5, 2016.
  33. ^ Leip, David. "Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections". Retrieved April 11, 2018.
  34. ^ "Josephine Community Libraries". Retrieved June 7, 2010.

Coordinates: 42°22′N 123°34′W / 42.36°N 123.56°W / 42.36; -123.56