Man On Mission To Save Payson's Oldest Building

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When Payson's oldest building, the Sidles house, went back on the market earlier this month, Jim Estess moved into action.

Estess is a 35-year masonry veteran who specializes in earthen buildings.

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Jim Estess

Estess has discussed the acquisition of the property with owner Greg Turturro. As a result, Estess said, he and Turturro agreed on an undisclosed "soft commitment" for a portion of the 36,000-square-foot parcel at the intersection of McLane Road and Main Street.

Over the past several days, Estess has collected information from the town's planning and zoning department to plot his next move.

"I have accomplished several objectives necessary to any program being instituted," he said.

To start with, Estess has agreed to prepare a rezoning request and reconstruction plan.

"This work must be done before any formal committee can take a serious look at all the factors involved in moving forward with this project," he said.

And as he walks the perimeter of the mud house, surveying its historical nuances, he feels ever more passionate about saving it from the parking lots of development, he said.

Throughout the decades, the mud house has cycled through several iterations.

"There are some indicators that it wasn't meant to be a house," Estess said. "The Sidles house was probably a wagon house because it was originally three-sided."

The construction of the fourth wall tips him off.

It's made of early, mass-produced wooden planks -- now weather-beaten and warped --- held together by oxidized wire nails. Estess compared those materials with the resources used on the original structure: rough-hewn siding and square-headed nails.

The wooden wall and a higher roof, he concluded, came later on.

"The original roof was a flat, mud roof," he said. "Somebody added a couple of different roofs over the years."

A seam running around the wall and through the chimney reveals the roof extension, which now peaks at nearly 14 feet.

The sandstone chimney and concrete fireplace were also built later.

Before that, a wood-burning stove, evidenced by a ventilation hole, heated the 600-square-foot cabin.

Adobe, made of straw and mud, encouraged insulation.

Dick Wolfe, president of the Zane Grey Cabin Foundation, said adobe structures are somewhat uncommon in this area.

"That is a true piece of history that needs to be saved," Wolfe said. "That intersection was the center of town."

Estess points across the street from the Sidles house to another building at 520 W. Main St., once known as the Pieper Saloon. Though you would never know it unless a historian told you, the building is made from the same material as its neighbor.

"Underneath the stucco, you can see the adobe blocks," Jim Estess said.

Estess seeks other adobe structures in town, and encourages the owners of historic homes to investigate the original construction.

"The easiest, fastest way to determine whether you have adobe is to go to the attic," he said.

"The top plate will be sitting on adobe blocks."

If you are interested in creating a preservation group, find adobe in your home or need help identifying it, contact Estess at JEstess409@aol.com.

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