FIRTH — When the final exterior restoration begins next spring to Nels and Emma Just’s 130-year-old home, the bricks used to replace cracked and aging bricks will have special significance.
They’ll be replaced with bricks from the home of the Just’s dear friends, Fred and Finetta Stevens. Both homes were built near the Blackfoot River in 1887. The Just home is in the Presto Bench area east of Firth, and the Stevens home is located about 20 miles to the west and just south of Blackfoot.
The exterior brickwork and some interior brickwork will be done by historical masonry expert Casey Sullivan of Utah and a crew of masons.
The cache of hand-made, hand-fired bricks made from Blackfoot River silt were collected last spring and again in early October by Just-Reid family members who still reside in the Presto Bench area. The empty Stevens home had fallen into disrepair and was bulldozed to make way for a pivot irrigation system, said Debbie Reid Oleson, who is a great granddaughter of the Just’s.
“It was like an Easter Egg hunt,” Oleson said.
Becky Reid Davis, who is a great-granddaughter of the Just’s, added, “Once we started unearthing them, we recovered about 100 bricks an hour. They were just barely under the soil.”
Altogether, about 1,800 bricks were recovered by 31 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-generation members of the Just family, and treasured family memories were made.
“Many of the things we do as a family, we feel compelled to do because we live so close to the (restored) house,” said Wendy Reid Pratt, Nels’ and Emma’s great-granddaughter.
Davis added, “All 31 of us touched a brick and for the kids, (between the ages of 3-13) the majority of them will remember it.”
Countless memories about the pioneering Just couple were recorded in the book titled, “Letters of Long Ago” written by the Just’s youngest and only surviving daughter, Agnes Just Reid. Nels died in 1912 and Emma died in 1923. Reid and husband Robert Reid lived in the home until they died, and the home has mostly sat empty until the family decided to restore it in 2011.
In 1994, the family formed the non-profit Presto Preservation Association, and with matching funds from the Idaho Heritage Trust, has restored some of the brick and a historical map that has been returned and hangs in the home. The family has also made improvements to a window, a porch and the family cemetery.
They’ve left the brickwork to historical masonry expert Casey Sullivan of Utah, who will direct a crew of masons to restore the home’s exterior and some interior bricks.
On Aug. 8, the family invites the public to visit the home and also learn how pioneers lived with soap-making and candle-making demonstrations, as well as other activities still in the planning stages. The event will celebrate the sesquicentennial of when Nels and Emma first arrived at the site in 1870.
Once the exterior restoration is completed, work on the interior will begin. In the meantime, the home is open for tours by request and in the future will be open to visitors several days a year. For more information about the family and Presto residents, visit the prestopreservation.com website.