Firefighters opened a large safe deep in a basement at a California university, which contained documents dating to the school's founding in 1851.

Christopher Callahan, president of the University of the Pacific, California's oldest chartered university, said officials became curious they found a 5-foot-high safe was found at the Stockton school's Burns Tower.

"We were cleaning up and down in the basement," Callahan told KOVR-TV. "I went down there and I see this safe, a very old safe in the corner, so what's this about?"

The school contacted Stockton's Fire Station 4 for help breaking into the safe, which officials said was believed to have been sealed for about 50 years.

The crew said members were concerned about damaging the unknown contents, so they refrained from using cutting torches and instead pried the safe open with a hydraulic rescue tool -- commonly known as the jaws of life.

Callahan said the safe contained documents detailing the origins of the school, including hand-written journals from 1851, the year the university was chartered.

"The University of the Pacific is the first university ever chartered by the state of California, and these are the original documents," Callahan said.

The documents found inside the safe also included a 1962 diploma printed on animal skin.

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Callahan said in a Facebook post that the documents had been "thought to be long lost." He said they will be preserved and may eventually go on public display.

"This is like a gold mine, we are just so excited," Callahan said.