CLARKDALE -- Silkie Perkins is from a family that has grown up along the Verde River. Great grandfather Marion Perkins and his wife, Annie, settled a valley in the sun at the turn of the last century.
They moved from Texas in 1900 and homesteaded a ranch in a valley east of Chino that was later to see a rail line. A rail siding and a bridge built across the across the Verde placed an "X" on the spot that would be given the family name.
The area still is known as Perkinsville.
It was along the river that W.A. Clark's train would later stop on the way to Clarkdale to take on water and lime mined nearby and used a flux for the mine.
Family lore has it that Marion drove cattle over two years from Texas to stock the ranch. But, as the Clarkdale smelter grew and belched sulfurous fumes, most things died beneath the cloud of acid smoke. The Perkins were among those who sued the mining company because of the crop losses. For Perkins, the smoke killed the crops they needed for feed.
Silkie tells of the legal settlement with the Clark mine after 20 long years of legal wrangling. That settlement included a long-term lease on land along the Verde River, near Clarkdale in the shelter of another towering stack, the TAPCO power plant. Until this past week or so, a sentinel barn stood near that curve on the creek and the old Sycamore Canyon Road.
A couple years ago, there was also a ranch house there. When the lease finally expired on the land near Clarkdale, Silkie was told she would have to move. Move she did, and took that old ranch house with her. She says the house was built in 1890 and she grew up in that house. The barn probably was raised after the house was built a century ago.
Silkie moved the entire house she grew up in to the family land at Perkinsville. Today, three ranches are operated from that land. Silkie, an uncle, and another man all have outfits there.
When it came to the barn, Silkie had promised the wood from that structure to Western Heritage Furniture, the company that crafts fine furniture in Jerome.
Since the mid- to late-1990s, first Tim McClelland and later Tim McCune and a crew of a dozen or so craftsmen have been crafting old barn wood into fine furniture now sold across the country. Toda, most of the wood from Silkie's barn and corral will become the stock for furnishings with the Western Heritage Brand.
Tim McCune says most of the old barn wood Western Heritage uses for furniture actually comes from the Midwest. A team, based in Des Moines, scours the landscape for those towering painted barns that no longer serve their original purpose. They don't have the character of western wood, but they are usually in good condition still after a long life.
Western barn wood, such as that found in Silkie's barn, is harder to find. McCune says about 8 years ago, they were able to reclaim wood from Fort Verde and the corral when that facility was redone and another was from near Meteor Crater area. Those opportunities are rare today. Often, those old treasures fall to the ground or burn in the night.
This barn is unusual compared with others the crew has harvested. It had a silo in the center, apparently used to store corn for feed, says McCune.
Silkie says the 100-year-old barn and corral originally grew on Woodchute Mountain, a peak among the Black Hills southwest of Jerome. McCune says the barn is made from pine and Douglas Fir. Back then, when Jerome was thriving in a different life, a sawmill in Jerome cut the trees into board wood used to build Silkie's house and barn.
The two Tims prize their western barn wood. It is well weathered. "It faces 100 degrees temperature difference between the day and the freeze at night. It will be naturally sandblasted and richly weathered, says McCune. The barn wood gets that rich dark patina and looks its 100 years. That wood is used in their "Signature" line of furniture, one of six types of wood used.
The easiest way to tear down a barn would be with a bull dozer, and it would be down in a couple hours.
That's not how it's done by Western Heritage.
A lot of care goes into reclaiming the barn wood. The guys carefully lift the tin from the roof and pull each nail one by one. It is a tedious process to remove each board, the exact reverse of how it was originally built by craftsmen a century earlier.
They used rubber mallets instead of steel ones.
The aged wood will be milled to a 5/8-inch veneer and mounted on a plywood surface to make sure it lasts.
While the Perkins name will continue to thrive on the west end of the river, the ranch house and now the barn, near Clarkdale, will be just memories, except for the those carried in that burnished barn wood that will move into homes.
McCune has also promised Silkie her own furniture made from the wood that carries those Verde River ranch history memories.
Posted: Sunday, October 6, 2013
Article comment by:
The Coon Family lived at the "ranch" by Tapco outside of Clarkdale from the 1920s until the 1960s.I was always told by the Coon family they had the original lease along the river. I remember it called the Coon Ranch when I grew up in Clarkdale. I recall attending buffalo barbecues at the ranch in the 60s. My school mate Jerry Coon rode the bus and always complained about the dusty road. The original ranch buildings go back a long way into Arizona history. I am sure this information was not omitted intentionally.
Posted: Thursday, October 3, 2013
Article comment by:
Silkie is cut from the ol good cloth of the area's ranchers. Her knowledge and love of history and craft is apparent.I wish her well!