Jacksonville receives Collins' artifacts

Heirlooms of renowned resident could be displayed
Among the folk art Collins collected are these bone carvings from New Brunswick of small human figures with moveable arms and legs.

JACKSONVILLE — A tableau of belongings from the parlor of the late Robby Collins, who was instrumental in helping to preserve the historical core of the town, is being shared by his heirs for potential display by the city.

Jacksonville is considering moving City Hall into the lower floor of the 1883 Jackson County Courthouse and may have historical displays there. The city took possession of the building from Jackson County last year.

"The hope is that the city will move into that building," said Barbara Heyerman of Ashland, one of Collins' nieces. "If that comes to pass, it would be great if some of these things could be shared with the public."

Heyerman, her sister Julia Collins Siporin, of Eugene, and brother David Collins, of Monte Sereno, Calif., have turned over the heirlooms to the city, which has stored them at the courthouse. In the event the city no longer wishes to keep the items, they are to be returned to Collins' heirs.

"When I heard about this I thought, 'Wonderful,' " said Mayor Paul Becker, who knew Collins.

Jacksonville owes a significant debt to Collins for helping the downtown core be designated a National Historic Landmark in the 1960s, said Becker. He would like to see that effort honored.

"He pulled all that off. I don't know how he did it," said Becker of a time when historical preservation was just emerging.

Most of the heirlooms came from Collins' parlor, although some are from other rooms in his house on South Third Street, now South Stage Cellars' tasting room.

A Eugene Bennett painting of that house and another Jacksonville house Collins lived in earlier are included. There's also a 6-by-8-foot 1800s map of the United States, his desk, chair, rugs, a wooden coat rack and a lot of small things that were on his desk.

"There's a wooden bench like a pew that he loved to sit on when he read," said Heyerman. "He used a red plaid coat fall, winter and spring. If you saw Robby walking around town, you'd see him in that coat."

Collins liked to collect folk art, said Heyerman. Bone carvings from New Brunswick include a set of small human figures with moveable arms and legs.

An electrical device with a rheostat said to improve a person's health has clips to send current through the body.

"As kids we never wanted to try it out," said Heyerman.

After Collins died in 2003, the items were given to the Southern Oregon Historical Society. But as the society downsized its collection, it returned the items to the family because they have no local provenance.

Heyerman spoke with Jacksonville history enthusiasts Larry Smith and Carolynn Kingsnorth, who suggested the city might be interested.

Some of Collins' larger antiques are still at South Stage Cellars, including a cupboard, a grandfather clock and an armoire.

Relocation of city offices to the courthouse is still in the study stages, said Becker. The city is studying what work would be needed on the courthouse to help it withstand an earthquake and how much it would cost. It's also looking at the second floor's load-bearing capacity.

Becker said historical displays might line a wide corridor on the main floor, with city offices on one side and perhaps leased space on the other.

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

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