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'Treasure hunt' turns up historical books

One of Jacksonville’s first doctors has returned to the public eye after a collection of his books was returned to the shelves of the Beekman Bank at Third and California streets.

“I noticed a trend. A lot of them were signed Chas B. Brooks. I thought, ‘Who is this?,' ” said volunteer Gayle Lewis, who was involved in bringing back to the bank 119 volumes that had been in the possession of the Southern Oregon Historical Society.

The bank was open this summer on a regular basis for the first time this decade so visitors could see the artifacts and layout of a 19th century frontier bank. Town entrepreneur, leader and banker Cornelius C. Beekman had specified that the bank become a museum when he closed it in 1912.

The books may have been removed in 1986 when the bank was painted. They then apparently sat on a shelf in the SOHS Medford Research Library and may have been examined just one time, by Medford historian Ben Truwe. They were never entered into the SOHS collection catalog.

Historic Jacksonville now opens the bank for tours. It is owned by the city but previously belonged to Jackson County and was operated by SOHS. Lewis volunteers with both SOHS and Historic Jacksonville, which is the community's historical organization.

“They were set aside and stored on a shelf. They were a mystery. I had about eight boxes,” said Lewis. “I went through every book and did some research. It was like a treasure hunt.”

Lewis examined each book at least four times. Many had owner’s signatures inside the covers, and medical books were signed by Brooks. Some of those also bore the signature of Charles Crane.

Crane would later become the 13th surgeon general of the U.S. Army and was an attending physician when Abraham Lincoln was shot. He originally came West in 1852 to serve with a battalion.

Lewis speculated that Crane and Brooks must have met in Jacksonville and that Brooks purchased some of Crane’s medical volumes, as Crane’s name is crossed out. Another medical book bears the stamp of a book dealer in Kentucky, the state where Brooks received his medical training. He came to Jacksonville in 1853.

Brooks and Beekman apparently shared space in another building on California Street before the bank was built in 1863. Brooks later moved to The Dalles. He may have left the collection with Beekman as newer texts had updated medical knowledge, said Carolyn Kingsnorth, president of Historic Jacksonville.

Lewis posted a query about Brooks on Ancestry.com, and Sandy Bisset of the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center Library in The Dalles subsequently did most of the research that uncovered his story, Lewis said.

Brooks became a peacemaker when he took down a petticoat raised on the flagpole at the post office in 1855 during the Rogue Indian Wars, Bisset learned. Women of the town had objected to being left unprotected from attacks when men went to the fields. Some men then apparently raised the petticoat to half-staff to ridicule the women, but Brooks ended the strained situation.

Among the medical books is an 1843 Gray’s Anatomy, a book on midwifery once owned by an Amity, Oregon, doctor, and “A Dictionary of Practical Surgery” from 1848.

While more than half the volumes are medical, there are also books on foreign languages, hymnals from First Presbyterian Church, a series from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the 1870s that relates where crops are grown and innovations that had worked, and a legal book with correspondence between the U.S. government and Germany on the status of U.S. residents who returned to Germany and faced potential conscription.

“There’s a lovely little gift book to a man here,” said Lewis. The leather-bound volume was given by a sister in New England to a brother apparently to console him due to a death. A volume published during the Civil War includes an apology for the poor cloth binding and cover used, as leather was in short supply, Lewis related.

In addition to the books, visitors to the bank can see gold scales, stationery, ink wells and other objects. They can also walk into the bank’s vault, which still contains prospectors' gold pokes, small leather pouches used to hold gold dust.

“This is such a valuable museum. This is essentially the oldest bank in the Pacific Northwest,” said Kingsnorth. “It was more than the bank in many ways. It was the hub of the town. The stage stopped here.”

The public can view the books and other artifacts in the bank over the next two weekends during Jacksonville’s Victorian Christmas celebration. The bank will be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and a $3 donation is asked for admission.

— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Tim Balfour, executive director of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, reads from a book recently returned to the Beekman Bank. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]