About This Place
Kerby is an unincorporated community in Josephine County, Oregon, United States, north of Cave Junction on U.S. Route 199, Zip code 97531. Although the current population of the Kerby area reported by the US Census is 400, it is often listed in tourist guides as a ghost town, because of the number of historic buildings left from its days as a gold-mining town. Kerby came into existence between 1854 and 1857.
Kerby was named for James Kerby (or Kerbey, as he sometimes spelled his name). The community was founded during the heyday of Josephine County gold mining and went through numerous name changes (and various spellings) in its early years. When Josephine County was established on January 22, 1856, a new county seat was to be chosen in the next county election. The original county seat was a place called "Sailor Diggings" (which was eventually renamed Waldo). One of the polling places listed was called "Kirbey's Ranch". James Kerby and Samuel Hicks, partners in a general mercantile and supply business, probably founded the town of "Kerbeyville" for the county seat race, and the town was selected in the election of June 1857, beating out Grants Pass. Grants Pass became the county seat in 1886.
An act of the territorial legislature of December 18, 1856 changed the name from "Kirbeyville" to "Napoleon", possibly because of the association of Napoleon with the name Josephine. The new name was not popular and a bill was introduced in the next legislature that would change it back. The bill passed the House but was then held up in the Senate judiciary committee. Though the county commissioners used the name Napoleon for a short time, they reverted to calling the place Kerbyville in about April 1860. The name Kerbyville was used officially for many years despite the failure of the legislature to restore it. The name was finally changed to Kerby for the sake of simplicity.