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New Jacksonville museum studied

City looks at creating a new museum and GPS-guided tours
Jacksonville is looking at creating a new museum in Old City Hall, along with GPS-guided walking tours of the history-rich town. [MT file photo]

Jacksonville is looking into what might be needed to turn the 1881 Old City Hall at Main and Oregon streets into a museum building.

City Council last week approved the action, which followed research and a report by Councilor Ken Gregg on what it would take to bring back museum features to the historical gold rush town.

Gregg envisions the Old City Hall as being one of three museum parts. The other two would be citywide, GPS-guided walking tours of historical structures and locations; and a website to view history and stories about the town.

“The whole concept about the museum is that it’s not something that can be contained in bricks-and-mortar buildings,” said Gregg. “The whole city is like a museum without walls. Its main features are in the buildings and structures and other areas like the gold-mining spaces in the woods.”

Plans for museum management and development are in the early stages, with the possibility of nonprofit Historic Jacksonville Inc. reorganizing to oversee a museum, said Gregg. The nonprofit maintains the city-owned Beekman House and Beekman Bank under a contract. The group also provides tours and events and hosts a website with historical information.

City financial involvement in a museum likely would be minimal, said Gregg. Besides allowing use of Old City Hall, it would pay insurance and utilities for the building with approval from City Council.

“In moving forward on this are we obligating ourselves to any sort (of) dollar amount?” asked Councilor Andrea Thompson at the Aug. 2 meeting.

At this time, the city will just be making sure the building would work for museum purposes, replied City Administrator Jeff Alvis. After that, a budget might be developed for city involvement with the project if councilors agreed.

City officials will work with the planning department to determine whether the proposed use is consistent with zoning codes for the area. An engineer or architect might be hired to evaluate the building, Alvis said.

Gregg has estimated costs for converting the building based on guidelines offered by the National Park Service for older structures. The estimate covers restoration and repairs, accessibility for the disabled and other museum requirements.

Exterior work including walls, doors, windows, entry and landscaping was estimated to cost $105,000. Interior work on ceilings, walls, lighting and the bathroom was estimated at $145,000. Another $21,000 in expenses is projected for furniture, display cases, story board panels and folding chairs for events.

A free app called ECHOES, which employs smartphones, allows the devices to receive audio or text descriptions of a historical site when the GPS in the phone senses the location. For $375 annually, ECHOES would provide a museum with data on site usage, which could help with planning, said Gregg.

Different types of tours are envisioned, including a grand tour of the most notable historical element; subject-based tours such as homes or businesses; time-based tours; distance-based tours; and an America With Disabilities Act-oriented tour. Visitors also could randomly explore, and their phones would notify them when they are at a historical feature.

A website would not only provide information on the town’s history and people but also practical information on when sites are open and other items to help visitors.

Historic Jacksonville Inc.’s website offers information already and might be incorporated into a museum site, said Gregg, who serves as webmaster for the site. Website development, including branding, is estimated at $10,000 to $20,000. Yearly maintenance could run up to $2,000.

Grants are anticipated to be the major source of revenue for museum startup and operation, said Gregg.

Alvis said the town’s urban renewal district might be a source of funding. Other sources might be the town’s lodging tax allocation and an increase of the parks and recreation charge on utility bills. Corporate sponsors would also be sought.

A director would be needed for the museum. Carolyn Kingsnorth, president of Historic Jacksonville Inc., said one possibility might be a combined position with the city, which may consider an events employee to handle rentals of the upstairs space in New City Hall.

“We are a volunteer organization, so we would not be in a position to manage it,” said Kingsnorth. “It would need some restructuring. It’s something that would need to be done very much in coordination with the city and maybe some organizations, maybe the chamber of commerce.”

Old City Hall was in continuous use from its creation in 1881 until last year, when City Council sessions were moved to New City Hall, the former Jackson County Courthouse.

A rear portion attached to the building houses the Applebaker Fire Hall, which has the town’s first fire engine, as well as displays. In between is an area that was used as the town’s jail. The fire hall would be incorporated into any museum, said Gregg.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.