Print Homeowners to open doors of historic houses
Written by Greg Ruland   
Friday, 10 December 2010 00:00

The roughly 30 volunteers who lined up for a dry run of the second annual Clarkdale Historic Building and Home Tour on Saturday, Dec. 4, got an earful and an eyeful of local history as explained by several historic property owners, many of whom grew up in the small town of 3,000 people north of Cottonwood.

Ruth Wicks describes some of the features of her home, which will be featured on the Clarkdale Historic Building Tour. The tour takes place on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 11 and 12. Volunteers who will staff the event took an early tour Saturday, Dec. 4. to familiarize themselves with the route and the featured buildings.The fundraiser for Clarkdale Historical Society and Museum is set for Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 11 and 12, starting at 9 a.m. at the museum, 900 First North St. Cost of the tour is $20 and includes lunch at Clark Memorial Clubhouse starting at noon.

The last tour starts at 2 p.m. and doors close at 4 p.m., according to Mary Lou Estlick, who helped organize the event.

The pre-event tour of St. Cecilia Catholic Church, 850 Main St., for example, was conducted by two parishioners who grew up in Clarkdale and made the building which houses the church a touchstone of their lives.

Jesus Valdez and Armida Zepeda pointed out highlights of the building, one of the few locally where traditional Latin Mass is still spoken.

Zepeda, who created a display of historical photographs and documents related to the church, said she was baptized, took her first Holy Communion, was confirmed, married and celebrated both 25th and 50th wedding anniversaries at St. Cecelia’s. Valdez said he had a similar history.

“The church had a beautiful altar and communion rail,” Valdez said, but renovations over the years changed the configuration depicted in some old, black and white photos of the church. Historic records are few and Valdez asked readers to contribute any old photographs they may have of festivities there to flesh out the old building’s history.

The next stop was 1419 First North St., where Jim Gemmil gave a tour of his five-room brick house, which was built in 1917 and appears on the National Register of Historic Places.

Gemmil grew up in the home during the time when his father was owner and operator of a nearby mine between 1952 and 1972. Gemmil moved away from town for a time, but returned with his wife in the late 1960s to buy back his family’s home. He’s lived there ever since. Though several aspects of the house have been upgraded, the 100-year-old plumbing under the kitchen has not. Access is walled off by a two-foot thick concrete wall underneath the house.

“The only way to get in there is to punch a hole through the wall,” a move which has not been necessary so far, Gemmil said.

The cut glass window that looks onto the street is the original, as are many features of the exterior, including the wrought iron fence that surrounds the front yard, he said.

A beautiful red trunk in the living room, a conversation piece, was “liberated” from a mine in Jerome by Gemmil, who believes the statute of limitations has passed since his boyhood.

“It’s entertaining,” Gemmil said. “I like to do history. There are 386 buildings in Clarkdale on the National Register.”

Paul Peck, a railroad enthusiast, agreed. In addition to volunteering to help with the tour, Peck has made a study of all the local railroads that ran through Clarkdale and up to Jerome. He’s personally hiked many of the railroad beds, most of which have eroded away since the track was pulled up during the latter half of the 20th century.

“It’s fascinating to me to learn about how people lived back then,” Peck said.

“This is an event that offers the opportunity to share our rich history with residents and visitors while creating a tourist destination at the same time,” Estlick said.

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