Unknown Stories Pt 3: Jacksonville 11-year-old negotiates land deal

JACKSONVILLE, Ore. – Back in 1994, a land deal was made to purchase a scenic hillside next to Jacksonville’s cemetery from the City of Medford.

What’s surprising, is that the deal was negotiated by a Jacksonville Elementary 6th grader.

“What helped me is that, at that time, I was 6’6″ so, what I am now, just a little skinnier,” Brian Mulhollen said.

Mulhollen was just 11 years old at the time. He said it wasn’t just his height, but his confidence that led up to the decision. “I wasn’t afraid to ask for what we really wanted. Yes, they saw me as a 5th and 6th-grade student. However, they also saw how important this was to preserve the land and make the trails what they are today.”

The beautiful hillside next to the Jacksonville Cemetery could easily be filled with houses and complexes, but a kid got in the way. You can read the whole story on a plaque that now sits at the entrance to the Old Catholic Wagon & Quarry Trails, now dedicated to Mulhollen.

The sign also includes a picture of former Medford City Manager Andy Anderson posing with Mulhollen and another 6th grader, John Robert.

“And you’ll see in that picture how Andy Anderson is just smiling himself silly because two 10, 11-year-olds came in to negotiate a land deal!” said Mulhollen’s former teacher, Larry Smith.

To learn how an 11-year-old was able to secure a huge part of Jacksonville’s landscape, we asked the guy who was there when it was just a crazy thought in a kid’s head. Smith said it all started on foggy, Saturday morning, he and Mulholen loved to go for hikes.

“This particular morning I came walking up here, the Catholic Wagon Trail that was here was put in the 1860s. It wasn’t quite as nice as this. It had been overgrown. And we got up here to the crest of the hill, and we were walking along. And I’ll never forget, Brian said, ‘Who owns this?’ It just so happens I had already looked it up on the tax records, I said ‘The City of Medford owns it.’ And he looked at me and, I’ll never forget what he said. ‘How do we get it?’”

According to Smith, Mulhollen came to him after school and said, “I’ve got an appointment with Andy Anderson with the City of Medford.” Smith said he got the appointment all on his own.

“They had no idea an 11-year-old boy was coming in to negotiate this land deal,” Smith said.

25 years later, Smith still remembers the day perfectly, and so does Mulhollen.

“Mr. Anderson was very inviting, treated us not like kids,” Mulhollen said. “We were there to talk about a conservation land deal and we were really grateful for being treated that way.”

Smith said the deal was all Mulhollen’s doing, he just “facilitated.” “I’ve known Brian since the 4th grade so I knew he could pull this off,” Smith said. “I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought, I just let him do it.”

According to Mulhollen, Smith often gave him “ideas.”

Shortly after Mulhollen met with the city manager, Anderson presented the idea to the city council. According to Smith, councilors thought to look back on how much they had purchased the land for 100 years prior.

“$1,040 almost 100 years ago,” Smith said. “So they said, ‘Okay, just sell it for that price.'” The 10 acres of land was worth about half a million dollars in 1994, according to Smith.

Though Mulhollen was able to secure the deal for quite a bargain, $1,040 is a lot of money for a 6th grader. Mulhollen was able to pull together a financial package where the city of Jacksonville would contribute $540, a private citizen donated $250, and his group, ‘The Children of Jacksonville,’ raised another $250 from T-Shirt sales.

Securing the land deal means you won’t be seeing any houses or complexes being built on that 10 acres of land.

“I’m extremely proud,” Mulhollen said. “If we didn’t have this, Jacksonville would not have been the same place.”

The 10 acres of woodlands bordering the Jacksonville Cemetery, adjacent to the Peter Britt Gardens, is now owned by the City of Jacksonville and maintained by the Jacksonville Woodlands Association, which Larry Smith just so happens to run.

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