History lovers sad at closure of SOHS

Bright yellow with orange trim, Robert Pool’s turn-of-the-20th-century house has turned a few heads during its restoration.

The 53-year-old Jacksonville resident insists the colors on the Thomas J. Kenney house are authentic, revealed to him when he pulled some old boards away.

“Not everything was gray and dreary back then,” he said.

Pool, who also restored the Waverly Cottage in west Medford, is a lover of history and hopes the Southern Oregon Historical Society will take a fresher, more energetic approach as it tries to find its way out of a financial hole that is forcing the closure of its public museums for six months starting Sept. 7.

“I don’t see them generating any energy over there,” said Pool, a Jacksonville resident referring to the nearby Jacksonville Museum. “When you walk through it is dead.”

The historical society’s money problems began after it lost all of its county support in 2007 as part of a lawsuit settlement.

Lithia Motors, a tenant in SOHS’s History Center in Medford, will move out in October, ending a lease that generated $150,000 annually. A $600,000 line of credit taken against the center in the old J.C. Penney building almost is depleted.

In a town known for its history, residents and visitors to Jacksonville bemoan the loss of a historical society that provides a link to the past and helps stimulate a local economy that thrives on tourism.

“I think it stinks,” said resident Faye Haynes, 59. “I think it’s going to affect some people with children and families because it is a very important part of Jacksonville.”

Haynes said she and her children and grandchildren have fond memories of the Children’s Museum.

Leslie Cross grew up in Jackson County and holds many fond memories of trips to the museums.

“Jacksonville is very near and dear to our hearts,” said the 41-year-old Damascus resident, who was walking the town with her husband and two children Monday. “My husband and I had our honeymoon here.”

Cross said it isn’t a surprise to her that the Historical Society needs to close down, saying she didn’t think there was enough planning.

Her husband, Jay Cross, said, “When I was a kid here we came a lot of the time. We came with our school on field trips.”

The 43-year-old said he’s heard of other historical societies that are struggling through these difficult economic times.

Terri Gieg of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce said the closure of museums will be a blow to Jacksonville and could hurt tourism.
“My heart was broken,” she said. “I loved those buildings and I loved the history.”

How much of an impact the closures will have on tourism is difficult to say, said Gieg. “I think it will diminish the fun and excitement of experiencing a historic town.”

But Jacksonville is resilient, enduring downturns before, and there are audio tours and trolleys that will give visitors the flavor of the past, she said.

Gieg said she is hoping the Historical Society figures a way out of this dilemma.
“We have to be innovative,” she said. “We have to look at new ways to deal with this.”

Terrie Martin, president of the society’s board of directors, said that during the six-month closure, a plan will be devised that can set the Historical Society on the road to recovery.

She encouraged local residents and visitors to Jacksonville and the History Center to check out the displays at the society’s museums while they’re still open.

“This is the last time for people to see these things for the next six months,” she said. “The Children’s Museum is going to be sorely missed.”

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

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