Thanks to Archives Manager Bill Maxwell and the Bank of Stockton, San Joaquin’s past is kept safely tucked away in the bank’s archives. The history of our colorful county can be told through the several thousand photos, documents and artifacts stored here. The archives include more than 30,000 photos spanning 150 years, some dating back to the 1850s. “It is [exceptional] for a bank to have this sort of collection,” adds Maxwell.
As a historical gem itself, the bank is the oldest to still operate under its original charter from 1867 in California, according to Maxwell. Many of the memorabilia found in its archives are bank related, but also include letters, newspapers, ledgers, flags and old bones dug up at construction sites, among much more. The bank began collecting photographs in 1990 with the purchase of local photographer Leonard Covello’s collection, which included prints from numerous other pioneer photographers including Batchelder, Spooner, Wells, Logan, and others, totaling more than 20,000 photos and negatives. The bank has since extended its collection tremendously, creating a computerized catalogue and making it available to the public with the help of historians from University of the Pacific, and of course, Maxwell. The collection has expanded through community donations, in addition to Maxwell’s own findings. “I find all sorts of treasures on eBay and at estate sales,” he adds, “I am always on the hunt for old stuff!”
Although he earned a degree in Politics from University of California Santa Cruz, history has always been his strongest subject. Two weeks after graduating college in 1975, the fourth generation Stockonian began working in a book store and eventually bought The Bookmark on Pacific Avenue, adding his name to the store. This is where he became interested in local history. “When in the bookstore, people kept asking about books on local history.” While trying to meet the demand, he adds, “I discovered all these history books going all the way back to the 1800s. That peaked my interest in the rich past of San Joaquin County. There are millions of stories in the naked city of Stockton.”
From books to photographs, and all sorts of artifacts in between, the archives help tell many powerful stories. One that sticks out to Maxwell is the story of unemployed Civil War veterans who had marched on Sacramento. When they headed toward Stockton the sheriff met them and escorted them to Banner Island (now home to the Stockton Ports Baseball field), fed them and sent them on a barge to San Francisco. This is just one of many historic layers being peeled back to uncover our past. As the Bank of Stockton approaches its 150th anniversary, Maxwell hopes the community will continue to join in the efforts to preserve our common history.