Jackson County officials have announced plans to transfer ownership of several historical buildings to the city of Jacksonville.
The property transfer would include the Jacksonville Courthouse, the Beekman House, the Beekman Bank and the St. Joseph's Catholic Rectory. Those buildings currently are managed by the Southern Oregon Historical Society under a lease agreement with the county.
According to a press release sent late Tuesday afternoon from Jackson County, the deal has been discussed and agreed to by the county, the city of Jacksonville, SOHS and the Jacksonville Heritage Society, which has been managing the properties for SOHS.
"A transfer will help ensure that these buildings enjoy appropriate maintenance and preservation, which has been a high priority for Jackson County," the press release said.
SOHS has been struggling with its finances for years, following passage of a state ballot measure in 1997 that rolled all county-related levies into one county tax rate and gave counties authority to allocate that money as they choose. Jackson County officials promptly tapped into the approximately $1 million in historical preservation funding and by 2007 had ceased providing any funds to the historical society.
SOHS officials argued that the county had illegally grabbed funds that were designated for historical preservation in a 1948 voter-approved levy, but after a long legal fight, the two sides settled and the regular funding stream was cut off.
Historical preservation advocates said lack of funds for both SOHS and the county meant that the maintenance of historical properties was being neglected. The Jacksonville Heritage Society was formed largely to ensure that the historical buildings were taken care of.
In the press release, Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan said the new arrangement would be in the best interests of the buildings and the city of Jacksonville, which is designated as a National Historic Landmark.
"Jackson County is confident that the city of Jacksonville will make the best public use of these buildings that are inside its city limits," Jordan said in the release. "In addition, the buildings share close ties to a community which is very much interested in their preservation for historical purposes."
The Jacksonville Courthouse, which served as the original Jackson County Courthouse and, most recently, the Jacksonville Museum, was built in 1883. The Beekman House was built between 1870 and 1876, the Beekman Bank was built in about 1863, and the Catholic Rectory was built in about 1868.
If the transfer is completed, Jackson County would amend its lease with SOHS to remove the properties being transferred to Jacksonville. An archive building in White City would be the only remaining building in the current lease with SOHS.
In Jacksonville, the U.S. Hotel would remain in the lease until it is sold, with potential proceeds from the sale going to both SOHS and Jackson County.