Today, we’ll be hosting an open house at the home Nels and Emma built in 1887. It made the National Register of Historic Places last year. More details on that are available here.
In honor of Sesquicentennial Plus One, I’m devoting the Speaking of Idaho blog to my family’s history during August.
Nels and Emma raised five boys and one girl in the family home. Their daughter, Agnes Just Reid, and her husband Robert Reid raised five boys there. The house has been unoccupied since 1976, when Agnes Just Reid passed away. Douglass Reid, fourth son of Agnes and Robert, owned the home and kept it untouched for about 35 years after his mother’s death. Shortly before Doug passed away in 2012, he donated the property to the Presto Preservation Association, the nonprofit family association dedicated to preserving the history of Nels and Emma Just and their descendants. The association owns the house today, along with the nearby pioneer cemetery where Nels and Emma are buried. Agnes and Robert’s youngest son, Wallace donated the pioneer cemetery ground to the association, also in 2012.
The Presto Preservation Association is an Idaho Corporation and a 501 (c)3 nonprofit that was formed in 1994 for the purpose of preserving the history of Nels and Emma Just and their descendants. It takes its name from the area where the house is located, Lower Presto, Idaho, which was named by Nels Just in honor of early pioneer Presto Burrell, who was a soldier in Colonel Conner’s California Volunteers.
The Brick Restoration Project
With technical expertise from the Idaho Heritage trust and using a series of matching grants from the same organization, the family has been restoring the brickwork since 2017.
During the project we discovered water damage to the front of the building, both inside
and out, caused by water seeping into the concrete sidewalk and wicking up into the bricks and mortar over the decades.
Many of the original bricks were damaged beyond repair, and earlier repair work that had been done with good intentions had resulted in damaging even more bricks. We were short hundreds of bricks. There are companies that can reproduce bricks very close to original specifications, but we found a better solution.
The property owners of a site south of Blackfoot on the Blackfoot River, just before it joins the Snake River, thought they had a pile of bricks from an old house that had been covered over with soil. We thought it was brick mine. Remarkably, the first settlers in what would become Blackfoot, built a brick home the same year, 1887, as Nels and Emma Just. Fred and Finnetta Garrett Stevens were longtime friends of the Justs. The Stevens home was the center of social activities for many years in Blackfoot, but was eventually abandoned and demolished, probably in the 1960s.
We got permission from the owners of the old Stevens place to mine the bricks. In the spring of 2019, about 20 members of the Reid side of the family began gathering bricks to replace damaged bricks in the Nels and Emma home (see picture).
Also, that spring, we removed the concrete sidewalk and regraded the slope of the lawn to move water away from the front of the house. We installed a new wooden boardwalk in keeping with the original design of the house. At the same time, we repaired some of the woodwork associated with the porch overhang.
Restoration projects often take longer than one thinks, and the Nels and Emma Just house is no exception. One more season of brick restoration will be needed to complete repairs to the damaged brick. Water seepage has softened and deteriorated even some of the inner walls of the house.