Cave Junction is located in the Illinois Valley, where, starting in the 1850s, the non-native economy depended on gold mining. After World War II, timber became the main source of income for residents. As timber income has since declined, Cave Junction is attempting to compensate with tourism and as a haven for retirees. Tourists visit the Oregon Caves National Monument, which includes the Oregon Caves Chateau, a National Historic Landmark, as well as the Out'n'About treehouse resort and the Great Cats World Park zoo.
The first gold in Oregon history was found in the Illinois Valley, as well as the largest gold nugget (17 pounds). In 1904, more than 50 years after prospectors had started combing the valley for gold, an 18-year-old named Ray Briggs discovered what the newspapers at the time called "the most wonderful gold discovery ever reported in Oregon history." While hunting along Sucker Creek, he discovered gold lying on the ground. He staked a claim and called it the "Wounded Buck Mine," which produced 1,777 ounces (110 lbs) of gold. The "mine" was a small vein of gold 12 to wide, long and deep.
As the gold mining in the Illinois Valley played out in the 1860s and 1870s, the residents diversified into ranching, fishing, logging, tourism and agriculture. In 1874, Elijah Davidson found a cave while on a hunting trip, and is now credited with discovering the Oregon Caves. In 1884, Walter C. Burch heard about the cave from Davidson, and staked a squatter’s claim at the mouth of the caves. He charged one dollar for a guided tour. According to his advertisement in the Grants Pass Courier, this included camping, good pasture and "medicinal" cave waters. Burch attempted to acquire title to the land, but abandoned the idea a few years later.
President William Howard Taft established the Oregon Caves National Monument on July 12 1909, to be administered by the U.S. Forest Service. In 1923, the Forest Service subcontracted the building of a hotel and guide services to a group of Grants Pass businessmen. By 1926, the monument had a chalet and seven two-bedroom cabins. Traffic into the caves led to a community developing at the junction of the Redwood Highway and the branch highway to the caves (now known as Oregon Route 46). Cave Junction, originally known as Cave City, was established in 1926 on land donated by Elwood Hussey. In 1935, a post office was applied for and was named "Caves City", however postal authorities disapproved of the name, partly because "City" implied the place was incorporated. Among the other names suggested was "Cave Junction", which was adopted by the United States Board on Geographic Names in 1936 with the post office being renamed the same year. The locality was incorporated as Cave Junction in 1948, and is the only incorporated area in the Illinois Valley.
In 1950 Cave Junction had a population of 283, which increased to 248 in 1960 and 415 in 1970. The city population's primary growth period occurred in the 70's, with an average annual increase of 9.9 percent. Its growth was also quick in the 1960s, increasing at an average of 6.8 percent annually. Growth slowed in the 1980s when the population increase averaged only 1.7 percent annually. The rate fell further between 1990 and 1998, averaging 1.6 percent which was less than the state and county averages.
In 2002, the Florence and Sour Biscuit fires converged, creating the Biscuit Fire. This fire threatened Cave Junction, Kerby, Selma and a number of Northern California communities. Ultimately, the Biscuit Fire lasted120 days, burned in southern Oregon and northern California, and destroyed four homes and nine outbuildings in the Cave Junction area. In 2003, a wildfire destroyed a home in Cave Junction. In 2004, a downed power line caused a fire that briefly threatened over 100 homes and forced 200 people to evacuate, with one person apparently dying of stress related to the fire.
There were 603 households out of which 28.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 39.8% were married couples living together, 14.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 40.8% were non-families. 33.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 20.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.26 and the average family size was 2.87.
In the city the population was spread out with 26.8% under the age of 18, 7.7% from 18 to 24, 21.9% from 25 to 44, 21.9% from 45 to 64, and 21.8% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 85.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 79.8 males.
The median income for a household in the city was US$17,161, and the median income for a family was US$22,500. Males had a median income of US$20,893 versus US$16,333 for females. The per capita income for the city was US$10,556. About 23.6% of families and 28.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 35.8% of those under age 18 and 11.9% of those age 65 or over.
Cave Junction is 35.9% Democratic, and 62% Republican. Residents range from very liberal, to strongly right-wing to survivalists. The city has 13 employees, with an average wage of $35,799, the largest categories of employees are Sewerage and Water Supply, with four employees each. In total, Cave Junction's monthly employee outlay is $35,799, or $465,384 a year. Josephine County Sheriff volunteers man a sub station in Cave Junction, and the Sheriff's Office has plans to begin a pilot program in the City Hall building, staffed by volunteers, that will include three temporary holding cells and the ability to take incident reports.
Starting in the early 1850s, gold mining was the main source of income in the Illinois Valley. As the gold mining played out in the 1860s and 1870s, the economy diversified into ranching, fishing, logging, tourism and agriculture. In the years after World War II, timber became an increasingly large part of the counties finances. There were 30 lumber mills operating in the valley after the war, but by the late 1980s the number had dwindled to just one.
Because of President Roosevelt's creation of the Siskiyou National Forest, and the reversion of Oregon and California Railroad lands to federal government control, by 1937 the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management were in charge of 70% of the land in Josephine county, and a large part of the Illinois Valley. Because this decreased the counties potential tax base, the government shared money earned from timber sales with the county, and payments in lieu of taxes from the federal government became a large part of its tax base. In 1989, Josephine County received $16,756,000 in various federal payments, by 1999, the payments had fallen to $9.6 million.
Due to these budget cutbacks, Southern Oregon has tried to use tourism not as a means unto itself, but to attract small businesses and retirees. The movement of California retirees in particular has helped the economy grow. Although jobs have been created as a result, they are usually of the low-paying variety. Today the principle industries are tourism, timber and agriculture. Since about 1960 the community has evolved into a center for wine, retirement, tourism, and small businesses. One timber mill remains in Cave Junction, Rough & Ready Lumber Co., located six miles (10 km) south of town. As of September 2007, Rough & Ready has plans for a $5 million biomass plant to replace their existing wood-fired boiler, because market forces have increased demand for dry timber.
One organization in Cave Junction that has attracted notice for working to improve the Illinois Valley economy is The Illinois Valley Community Development Organization (IVCDO). In 2006, Cave Junction was awarded the Great Strides Award by the Northwest Area Foundation for the IVCDO's efforts to reduce long term poverty. The IVCDO was created in 1974, and in 2004 it started a partnership with the National Park Service, creating 40 seasonal and year-around jobs managing the Oregon Caves Chateau. The project uses local produce, food products and wine at the Chateau, and the proceeds are directed back into the local community.
Cave Junction has a number of points of interest, including a museum, a zoo, and a resort consisting of treehouses. It also has a number of historic sites, many related to gold mining, as well as an Oregon State Park and a National Monument, all located in the greater Cave Junction area. Since the late 60s to early 70s, hippies have become a force in the community, and a newspaper and two radio stations also serve this area.
Cave Junction's main point of interest is the Oregon Caves National Monument, which is a area of hiking trails and caverns. Located at the end of a "stomach churning" drive along State Route 46, there are limestone caves discovered in 1874 by a hunter and his dog. At the caves, there is a 23-room chateau that was built in 1932.
Each year Cave Junction features an ArtWalk that occurs on the second Friday of each month, except during the winter, with the city's businesses exhibiting various types of visual art such as pottery, iron art, music and fire dancing. The ArtWalk adds significantly to the Illinois Valley's image and increases tourism and the local economy. According to surveys conducted in 2006 by the Arts Council of Southern Oregon, the city sees a 30-50% increase in sales and visitors during the event. Attendance is approximately 150-200 people, with roughly 15% coming from outside the community. Local artists, including students of Lorna Byrne Middle School, participate while local businesses, including thrift stores and art galleries, serve as hosts.
Located about Southeast of Cave Junction, in Takilma, Oregon, is the home of the Out'n'About Treehouse Treesort, a multi-treehouse resort run by Michael Garnier using "Garnier Limbs." Garnier developed the Garnier Limb, which is a one-and-a-half-inch-thick bolt surrounded by a cuff, both made of Grade 5 steel, and is able to support . The treesort has nine treehouses, three with bathrooms. Garnier had to fight the government for almost ten years before gaining the right to house guests in his nine treehouses.
Great Cats World Park is located a few miles south of Cave Junction. As of 2007, it has 32 cats, of 17 different species, including cougars, leopards, jaguars, lions, Siberian tiger cubs, a fishing cat, and an ocelot. Other attractions include the It's a Burl handcrafted wood gallery and the Kerbyville Museum, both in Kerby, Oregon. Cave Junction's Wild River Brewery serves one of the smallest communities of any Oregon brewery. Founded in 1975 as the Pizza Deli, a microbrewery was added in 1989. In 1994, the name Wild River was adopted and a Wild River restaurant and pub was opened in Grants Pass.
The Illinois Valley is the coolest and wettest of the three valleys in the Rogue Valley American Viticultural Area. In the late 1960s and early 1970s a new group of Oregonians started experimenting with growing grapes and making wine. Initially this group wasn't very successful, but 40 years later Oregon is considered a prestigious growing area. Southern Oregon's climate is higher and often warmer than better known wine producing valleys Napa Valley to the south and Willamette Valley and Columbia Valley to the north. The Illinois Valley has dry, warm summers and cold nights which make it well suited for pinot noir, in sharp contrast to the hotter and dryer Rogue and Umpqua Valleys. Several vineyards and wineries are located near Cave Junction, including Bridgeview Vineyards, Foris Vineyards Winery, and Bear Creek Winery who are all discussed in Fodor's 2004 book "Oregon Wine Country.
Cave Junction is the home of Bridgeview Vineyards, one of the largest wineries in Oregon. Bridgeview is noted for their chardonnay, pinot gris and pinot noir. At the 2000 American Wine Awards, Bridgeview's 1998 Bridgeview Oregon Blue Moon was selected as the best pinot noir under $15. Their 85 acre estate in the Illinois Valley is planted in the European style of dense six-foot row and four-foot vine spacing. Bridgeview also has an 80 acre vineyard in the Applegate Valley.
Foris Vineyards Winery is also located in the Cave Junction area. Established in 1986, Foris is known for there Gewürztraminer, chardonnay, pinot noir and merlot and had its 2006 Pinot Blanc voted "best of show" white at the World of Wine Festival near Gold Hill, Oregon. They also produce Foris Cave Bear Red, the sale of which is used to support the Oregon Caves Chateau renovation. Foris was founded by Ted Gerber who fell in love with the Illinois Valley when visiting friends there in 1969. In 1971 he began studying Oregon's climate for the past 30 years and decided that the weather and soil in Oregon could grow quality grapes. He purchased 15 acres near the former gold mining town of Holland, Oregon and added 80 more acres in 1975 in what is now the site of Gerber Ranch and Foris Winery. The early years saw failed crops and the wrong grapes planted in the wrong areas, changes in the wine market also forced various changes over the years. Today's crops prove that the Illinois Valley is a viable place to grow grapes. As of 2007, Foris Winery produced 48,000 cases of wine, making it the 14th largest bonded winery in Oregon.
In the winter of 1968, hippies began moving into the Illinois Valley as part of the back to the land movement, notably into Takilma, Oregon, an unincorporated community located southeast of Cave Junction. Signs stating "We do not solicit hippy patronage" soon appeared in the windows of Cave Junction businesses. Despite this, the hippies stayed and became a force in the community. They founded the Siskiyou Community Health Center, the Dome School, the Illinois Valley Fire District's Takilma station, the Siskiyou Regional Education Project and the Jefferson Baroque Orchestra.
The Takilma People's Clinic was started in 1973, bringing the first new doctor to the Illinois Valley in years. The 1987 Longwood fire forced the clinic, now called the Siskiyou Community Health Center, to move into Cave Junction. It has since spawned sister clinics in Grants Pass and Roseburg. The Dome School opened in 1975 as an alternative to public education. It educates about 35 preschool through fifth-grade children each year, and runs a federally funded summer program for at risk children. The Illinois Valley Fire District's Takilma station was organized in the late 1970s and worked the firelines during the 1987 Longwood fire. The Jefferson Baroque Orchestra was formed in 1994 by Takilma resident Jim Rich, and is now in its 14th season, with performances in Grants Pass and Ashland.
Many of the hippies were activists from California universities. They created Takilma's environmental organization, The Siskiyou Regional Education Project, in 1982. It now has offices in Grants Pass and Portland. A 1996 proposal for a prison near Cave Junction and Takilma brought the two communities together, but environmental issues still create a divide between them.
The Cave Junction area had a pirate radio station. Hope Mountain Radio broadcast out of Takilma until repeated interference from government agents caused them to shut down. The station began broadcasting legally on the internet, although this caused their costs to go up and necessitated fundraising activities. As of January 2007, Hope Mountain Radio broadcasts 24 hours a day with an all volunteer staff.
Two individuals linked to Illinois Valley High School (IVHS) have been inducted into regional halls of fame. In 2004, Sam Hutchins became a member of the Wild Salmon Hall of Fame for creating the non-profit Oregon Stewardship Program. Begun in 1992 to teach Illinois Valley High School students about wild steelhead in the Illinois River, by 2004 the program had been expanded to 25 schools and 1,500 students. In 2007, IVHS wrestling coach Ursal “Jay” Miller was inducted into the Oregon Chapter of The National Wrestling Hall of Fame & Museum.
Arthur B. Robinson is the head of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, which is located about seven mile (11 km) outside of Cave Junction. Also, Mike Millard, author of "Jihad in Paradise: Islam and Politics in Southeast Asia" and "Leaving Japan: Observations on the Dysfunctional U.S.-Japan Relationship," was a 1965 graduate of Illinois Valley High School.