by Grace Blanchard
Kerby has been known as "Kerbyville," "Kirbyville," "Kerbey" and "Napoleon." The different versions of the name are due to a lack of spelling proficiency, even to the spelling of one of the founders, James Kerby's, own name. The name Napoleon may have resulted from Dr. D.S. Holton's (the other founder) admiration for the French Napoleon, or merely because of the association of Napoleon with Josephine, the emperor's wife and also the name of our county.
Dr. Holton was a powerful man in early county politics and was able to have the town's name changed from Kerbyville to Napoleon by an Act of Legislature on December 18, 1856. However, the name was never popular with local residents and was quietly dropped from use within a few years and shortened to the present, Kerby.
When gold was discovered at Sailor Diggins (Waldo) in 1852, the gold rush to the Illinois Valley began. James Kerby (or Kerbey) arrived in 1854 and settled a Donation Land Claim on May 15, 1855. Also in 1855, Dr. Holton founded the town on James Kerby's land claim, calling the new town, Kerbyville. The action of founding and naming the town at this time probably came about in order to take part in the race for location of the county seat. The election was held in June of 1857. Kerbyville was chosen over the first county seat, Sailor Diggins. In 1886, another election moved the county seat to Grants Pass.
A post office was established in September of 1856, given the official name, Kerby and with James Kerby (Kerbey) selected as postmaster. That post office is still in operation, the oldest office in continuous operation in Josephine County.
In the early days of Kerbyville, the hotels were the most important buildings. They were the overnight stage stops between northern Oregon and the Pacific Coast. Fire usually destroyed these two-story buildings after a number of years of use. The last hotel was the Union Hotel, later the IOOF Building (Independent Order of Oddfellows) on the west side of the highway. The nearby Masonic Building was built in 1912. For many years Frank Floyd's Barber Shop occupied the lower floor. The Masonic Hall was built in 1916. Lodge rooms were upstairs and a general merchandise store filled the lower floor.
Much of the social life of the community was built around the fraternal lodge orders, the American Legion after WWI, the Granges and schools.
Josephine County: The Golden Beginnings
Oregon Online Highways - Kerbyville Museum
Josephine County Historical Society