Stabilizing Fort Verde: More than 140 years old, the museum/visitor center is scheduled for restoration

Constructed in stages between 1871-73, Fort Verde State Park was once known as Camp Verde. At 142 years of age, the Fort Verde State Park’s administration building is now showing signs of age. VVN/Bill Helm

Constructed in stages between 1871-73, Fort Verde State Park was once known as Camp Verde. At 142 years of age, the Fort Verde State Park’s administration building is now showing signs of age. VVN/Bill Helm

CAMP VERDE - It took parts of three years to build Fort Verde.

Constructed in stages between 1871-73, the Fort was then known as Camp Verde. It was a military base during the central Arizona Indian Wars.

At 142 years of age, the Fort's administration building is now showing signs of age.

Recently, representatives from Slaysman Engineering & Associates, Ryden Architects, Adobe Technology and Arizona State Parks spent the better part of a day diagnosing structural concerns with the administration building, also known as the museum/visitor center.

"The current scope of preservation work in the initial treatment areas includes repair of the erosion at the base of adobe walls as caused by rising damp; repair of tunnels bored through the adobe walls by burrowing critters; replacement of deteriorated or missing lime plaster on natural adobe walls where masonry repairs have been made; and prevention of water from collecting around perimeter walls of the adobe building," said Mel Slaysman Jr., of Slaysman Engineering & Associates.

Slaysman also said that without repair, the building is in danger of becoming "unserviceable."

According to Reggie Mackay, Adobe Preservation specialist with Adobe Technology, most deterioration is physical in nature.

"Erosion, penetration of moisture behind the surface, and exfoliation due to soluble salts, a chemical action which has a physical effect on adobe and animals that burrow through dirt," he said.

Management at the state park looks forward to the upcoming stabilization of its administration building. Sheila Stubler has been park manager at Fort Verde for 10 years. She first documented erosion to the historic building in 2007.

"Another ranger and I realized there were some problems with one of the adobe walls in the administration building, which prompted us to check out all the walls and chimneys," Stubler recalled. "We contacted our Phoenix office and the State Historic Preservation Office emailed photos of the cracks and erosion and asked the adobe specialist from SHPO to investigate the cracks and areas that appeared to be eroding."

Stubler added, "They indicated that it appeared to be a problem, but not one that required immediate attention."

In early 2010, Stubler again documented signs of erosion to the historic building's walls.

"There was a significant amount of dirt that was crumbling off the adobe wall on the north side of the administration building," Stubler said. "At this time, we noticed that little chunks of the lime-plaster began falling off the wall, leaving some of the adobe exposed. I reported this adobe situation to our chief of Operations and Arizona State Parks Development Services at one of our Park Manager meetings and again to SHPO, while providing them with additional photos documenting the erosion."

Stubler added that due to a lack of funding for the administration building's stabilization, deterioration had continued. Now that funding is available, Margy Parisella, project manager and architect for Arizona State Parks, has approximated an early-2014 completion date for the project.

"The cracks in the plaster and the portions of plaster falling off were obvious signs of a problem," Parisella said. "I think this has been apparent for a couple of years."

Slaysman Engineering and Ryden Architects will develop the construction drawings and specifications for proper adobe repair, said Don Ryden of Ryden Architects.

"The skillful execution of the design will retain the integrity of the historic building's character and assure the physical compatibility of new materials with old," Ryden said. "Paradoxically, our preservation team works right on the cutting edge of low-technology.

"The perpetual maintenance and appropriate preservation of adobe buildings is a harmonious balance of art and science," Ryden continued. "The organic interrelationship of the building's parts is complex, while the basic technology of repair is simple yet exacting.

"Our team of preservation professionals is passionate about conserving territorial treasures," Ryden said. "We do this work for the sake of future generations who deserve to understand the frontier determination that built modern Arizona."

Some might think that a historic building in the midst of repair would lessen the customer experience. But Stubler will treat the stabilization as a chance for museum patrons to gain additional knowledge.

"Customers will have the opportunity to observe first-hand how adobe was made and the process of stabilizing an adobe building and will still be able to tour through all four original buildings," said Stubler. "Historic preservation of these adobe buildings is top priority. Fort Verde is the only historic fort in the state of Arizona, with four original adobe buildings that you can actually walk through. Three of these buildings along historic officers row are furnished, as they would have been in the past. Over the years, we all hear about historic sites that have fallen into disrepair; we need to do our part to preserve these historic treasures for future generations."

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