JACKSONVILLE — An increasing rate of interest is being paid to the 154-year-old Beekman Bank after its vault appeared to shift in the last year.
Medford historian Ben Truwe says old pictures indicate the vault had less of a lean and the surrounding wall had less cracking than they do now. The far left corner of the walk-in vault, where one of two safes inside the building reside, slumps lower than its three counterpart corners.
Truwe and Jacksonville historian Larry Smith inspected the vault Tuesday, armed with a level and accompanied by Carolyn Kingsnorth, president of Historic Jacksonville Inc., and Jacksonville city Buildings Superintendent Tom Glover.
"When I look at pictures at home, the wooden frame along the doorway lines up with the stones. When I look in person, they don't line up the same anymore," Truwe says, placing his level on one of the shelves in the vault.
The bank is the oldest wooden building in town and was built in 1863 by Cornelius Beekman, who began buying gold in Jacksonville in 1856. More than $10 million in gold crossed over the bank's counter until it closed in 1912. Remaining "gold pokes" are still on site, unclaimed by their depositors.
Beekman, who died in 1915, directed that the bank become a museum in his will. His son, Ben, turned it over to the Oregon Historical Society, which later gave it to the Southern Oregon Historical Society.
The society gave it to Jackson County but retained ownership of the artifacts. The building fell into city ownership in 2012.
Kingsnorth says a city engineer inspected the vault last year and decided it was "probably OK."
Truwe says Beekman, well into his 80s when he closed the bank, likely wouldn't have been able to use the safe if such settling had occurred at that time.
"There are cracks that are showing up and you can barely open the safe inside the vault because it's leaning so much that you really have to wrestle this door open," Truwe says.
"I don't believe that Beekman, at 80 years of age, was wrestling that door open every day."
Glover, who marvels at the condition of the bank overall, suggests it's not entirely unlikely.
"You've got to remember this guy went to Yreka two times a week on a mule," he quips.
"People were a lot tougher than they are today."
Glover says while the city is tasked with "keeping it dry" and ensuring any issues are addressed, funding is limited for additional inspections such as possible ground penetrating radar that could look for hollow spots under the bank.
Glover acknowledges concerns about old "glory holes," makeshift mines created by residents looking for gold during the Great Depression of the 1930s, but says digging beneath a bank seemed unlikely in any era.
"If someone was foolish enough to be digging under a vault, they had to have been a bank robber," Glover says.
Smith says the local library is rumored to have a map drawn in the 1970s based on the memories and photos of old-timers. A handful of glory holes, Smith says, have collapsed into the earth since the early 1980s.
"One fell in across the street against the mercantile building — took quite a few loads of granite to fill it up — and there was another near the Mexican restaurant when the whole street collapsed in, I think it was '84," Smith says.
"The one by the post office that collapsed, there had been a big mine where the parking lot is now."
Smith says Truwe's concerns alone are reason to inspect the vault further.
"If Ben Truwe is concerned about something, it's something we need to worry about," Smith says.
"The city doesn't seem to have too much concern, but remember this thing is heavy and putting a huge amount of weight on those rocks underneath. It's leaning a certain way and if it goes, it'll take the building next door down with it."
Having alerted at least one neighbor to the vault situation, Truwe remains unamused by the lack of concern.
"I guess I'm a horrible alarmist," he quips.
"What we have at this point are a lot of assumptions," he says. "But the hard data tells us that the vault is out of level now. It has likely occurred since the building presumably closed for good in 1915 when Beekman was gone, and that if the vault settles further or comes down, it's going to cause some serious issues."
Reach Medford freelance writer Buffy Pollock at firstname.lastname@example.org.