An 1870s cabin built from hand-hewn logs and fashioned without nails is a familiar landmark on Highway 238 in the Applegate Valley.

An 1870s cabin built from hand-hewn logs and fashioned without nails is a familiar landmark on Highway 238 in the Applegate Valley.

It's also closed to the public most days — a sign of the times as many little historical societies across Jackson County struggle to keep their doors open.

"Financially, we can't afford it," said Barbara Niedermeyer, secretary-treasurer of the Applegate Valley Historical Society. "We still have a few funds, but it's getting less and less."

Niedermeyer said she's only able to open the museum a few times a year on a hit-and-miss schedule.

The historical societies used to get their funding under a 1948 levy passed by voters to preserve local history. Then, measures 47 and 50 passed in the 1990s, consolidating all special levies into Jackson County's general fund budget, meaning the county had control of the money.

The Southern Oregon Historical Society sued the county on behalf of all the historical societies for their share of the levy, which brought in some $2 million every year. A settlement agreement provided money for a few years, but that ended in April.

As part of the settlement, the county no longer has a legal obligation to support the historical societies.

Commissioner John Rachor said he feels for these small historical societies and wondered if anything could be done to help them.

"I sympathize with their plight, but I don't know if we can do anything about it," Rachor said.

He brought the issue before the Board of Commissioners Tuesday, getting a rundown on the long history of levies and the lawsuit.

County officials still get calls from the public accusing the county of taking the money from the historical societies.

Rachor said he wants the county to continue to look at ways to generate more money for the societies, possibly through a voter-approved heritage district.

Many of the smaller historical societies squirrelled away money to tide them over, but now are discovering their bank accounts are dangerously low.

"When we get down to a point where we have only a month or two of operating funds, we'll make a hard decision," said Jim Collier, president of the Trail Creek Tavern Museum. "We'll stay open as long as we can."

The end could come very soon. A $23,000 savings account, accumulated during better financial times, is now down to just $2,000, he said. The museum needs about $3,000 annually for expenses, which include electricity, insurance and maintenance.

The museum has attempted fundraising efforts, but they have generated only a small amount, he said.

Collier said the all-volunteer museum is open from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. In the winter, from October to April, the museum is open from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on weekends. If a group calls and requests a tour, the museum can open any day of the week.

Collier said he figures the museum has actually saved the county some money.

In its day, the tavern was infamous for rowdy behavior and frequent calls for help to the sheriff's department.

Since the museum has moved in, Collier said, sheriff's deputies no longer have to patrol the area as much.

Sam Evensizer, chairman of the board for the Woodville Museum in Rogue River, said his organization still is running on money left over when it received a small donation and fundraising events bring in a little money.

A fundraising effort led to the building of a blacksmith shop at First and Oak streets, with the grand opening scheduled for 1 p.m. June 4. Evensizer said the museum is on the lookout for a small forge for the shop.

Evensizer said the museum will need to find a way to get more money to operate in the coming years.

"We will probably survive another three years," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email dmann@mailtribune.com.