Pieces of the Past

The Beekman House, originally the home of Jacksonville's first banker and his family, is loaded with items dating from the gold-rush era. Local historians say it's the only home in Jackson County accessible to the public that has kept such items intact since it was first occupied in the 1870s.

"(Cornelius Beekman) was a very frugal man," says Jacksonville historian Larry Smith. "He kept everything."

Many items were moved from a residence just down California Street when the family first occupied its new two-story house, Smith adds.

Beekman came to town in 1853 as an express messenger carrying gold, parcels and letters to Yreka and Crescent City, Calif. He later started buying gold from miners, set up a bank and became involved in land purchases and other ventures.

No other family has ever lived in the house — from its initial occupancy to the time when occasional public tours began in the 1960s — and it contains thousands of family relics from the gold-rush era and beyond. The house and its contents reflect how it appeared in the summer of 1911.

"There's a dress dummy, Mrs. Beekman's sewing machine, books they were reading, the old stereoscope to look at images that were sent back from some of their travels," says Carolyn Kingsnorth of the Jacksonville Heritage Society, which has subleased the house from the Southern Oregon Historical Society and will open it to the public on a schedule to be announced.

A hand inventory done when the heritage group took over includes more than 200 pages with 25 items per page, says Kingsnorth.

When Beekman died at age 87 in 1915, the family moved to Portland but continued to use the home as a summer residence until 1936. Daughter Carrie Beekman used it during infrequent visits until her death in 1959.

There are photos of the family over the piano and above the fireplace, a phonograph, Haviland china on the dining room table, a waffle iron in the pantry, and the piano where Carrie gave lessons to Jacksonville children.

"You've got a wonderful old pie safe and old ice box complete with signs to put out on how many blocks of ice were needed on a particular day," says Kingsnorth. "There's a little stand with a blue dish that Carrie was given on her 16th birthday for people to leave calling cards when they called on her."

Beekman's house was the first in town with electricity and running water indoors, according to documents at SOHS's Research Library. There's an original lightbulb in a socket in the kitchen that had to be unscrewed so that an early toaster could be plugged in, says Kingsnorth.

"You have water pipes running through the woodstove in the kitchen," says Kingsnorth. "That's how Beekman figured out to get hot water into the bathroom."

While an interpretive sign outside the house says it was built in 1877, an SOHS file has documents with building dates listed from 1873 to 1881.

Preservation of the home and its contents has challenged the community over the years.

With no remaining heirs upon Carrie's death, the University of Oregon inherited the house and in 1961 advertised an auction of its contents and plans to sell.

The Siskiyou Pioneer Sites Foundation fought the proposed disposal, halted the auction and was able to arrange a lease from the university to Jackson County. The group then opened it up for the public.

In 1965 the county purchased the property for $15,500 and five years later paid the State Board of Higher Education $10,303 for the home's contents. After the purchase, SOHS took over management.

Reductions and eventual elimination of county funding for the historical society led to less frequent openings, and in 2009 tours stopped.

Jacksonville residents rallied again last year with the formation of the heritage society, which also has leased the Beekman Bank, the Catholic Rectory and the former County Courthouse complex from SOHS.

An opening of the home is scheduled for the afternoon of Easter Sunday, April 24.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

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