Beekman Bank still revealing secrets


    Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune <br><p>Ben Truwe will be leading tours through the Beekman Bank in downtown Jacksonville.{/p}

    JACKSONVILLE — Secrets and mysteries of the Beekman Bank will be explored by regional historian Ben Truwe during evening candlelight tours of the 1863 building through Saturday.

    Truwe, who serves as a docent for bank tours during summers, has uncovered some of Beekman’s past, but much research remains to be done, he says. While waiting to conduct tours, he spent time going through items in the bank, looking in drawers and opening cabinets.

    “I was very surprised to find an actual gold nugget in the bank which just apparently fell out of a crack somewhere,” said Truwe. “So, after 100 years, the bank is still revealing its secrets.”

    Tours will take place at 7, 8 and 9 p.m. Jan. 3-5. There is a limit of 12 participants per tour, reservations are required, and the $5 charge will benefit preservation and maintenance of the bank, located at 110 W. California St.

    In the 1950s, Cornelius Beekman was an express rider who in later decades became one of the town’s most prominent businessmen. Besides banking and gold handling, Beekman was involved in real estate, insurance and mining. He was also town mayor, a candidate for governor and a University of Oregon regent.

    Among the mysteries Truwe will explore are:

    • How did Beekman manage to ship gold safely from Jacksonville to San Francisco without ever being robbed?
    • How did his bank survive a fire while all other wooden buildings surrounding it were destroyed?
    • Beekman ordered large quantities of opium. Was he a drug dealer?
    • Supposed happily married, why was there a ring in his safe with the inscriptions “Lois to Beek?”

    “I found stuff no one had noticed before. There are lots of clues left just in the wear patterns, the erosion of woodwork,” adds Truwe. Wear in one direction indicated movement patterns by Beekman and his partners in the bank, he said.

    Soot marks in the vault tell Truwe where Beekman put his lit candles. Truwe recommends guests bring their own flashlights, as the candlelight will not allow great illumination of objects that may warrant more inspection.

    “The Beekman Bank we see today was not the Beekman Bank as he operated it,” said Truwe. “There was a lot of clutter. It was sanitized.”

    Truwe is not sure of all the modifications made, but partitions now in the bank do not appear in photos from the time it was in use.

    Beekman closed and locked the bank in 1912. When he died in 1915, Beekman’s will specified that the bank be preserved as a museum. Beekman Bank is owned by the city of Jacksonville, and Historic Jacksonville Inc. runs tours at the bank.

    A couple of inventories have been done of the bank’s contents since 2015. His son, Ben, did one in the 1930s. Another was done in the 1940s when a considerable amount of the contents were taken to the Oregon Historical Society in Portland, Truwe said. Southern Oregon Historical Society also has boxes of papers from the bank.

    The back room is decorated as an office, but the inventories describe it as a junk room. According to a 1910 Mail Tribune article, then-County Clerk Justice Dox was sleeping there when he was awakened to perform a wedding in the middle of the night, as the groom needed to go to work in the morning.

    Beekman owned a nipping press, a device that allowed copies of correspondence to be made by wetting thin sheets of paper and placing them on new but dry originals under pressure. The wet paper would pick up some of the ink. Beekman bound copies of much of his correspondence into “letter books,” which were subsequently taken to Portland.

    Truwe has spent time going through the copies at the Oregon Historical Society. Beekman letters transcribed so far can be found at http://truwe.sohs.org/files/beekmanletters.html.

    For more information and to make reservations, call 541-245-3650 or email info@historicjacksonville.org.

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

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