They don’t make them like they used to.
That’s the verdict of Hope Village residents Dale Williamson and Jerry Barkman, who have spent the past few months carefully restoring a set of antique wooden and cast-iron desks from the Mark Prairie Historical Society, estimated to be more than 150 years old — and have been amazed at how well the artifacts have stood the test of time.
The desks were recovered from the historic Mark Prairie Schoolhouse on South Mark Road, which was severely damaged in the February 2021 ice storm. Since then, the desks — along with most of the other furniture and historical artifacts that could be salvaged, have been stored at a donated airplane hangar on Gribble Road.
It was there that Williamson found the desks and decided to try their hand at restoring them, having first heard about the possible project from Mark Prairie Historical Society President Judi Aus, a longtime friend of his.
“There are a few of us who work in the woodshop here,” Williamson explained. “We wanted to see what we could salvage out of what had been stored there at the schoolhouse.”
They found about eight to 10 backs and benches, each, along with assorted legs and supports. Sadly, only a single desktop has survived — but it is a remarkable historical artifact in and of itself — adorned with doodles that are decades old.
“We’re not trying to make them look brand-new,” Williamson said. “We wanted to retain all the drawings and initials that are carved in it, so they can get the true flavor of what they looked like when the kids were using them.”
One of the most unique aspects of the project is the ribbed joints the original craftsmen used to join the seats, backs and desktops to the cast-iron uprights.
“It’s almost a zipper-like pattern, where you can just take a rubber mallet and tap it into place,” Williamson said. “No screws or anything. It just fits snugly on this pattern. It’s really amazing the workmanship that was involved, and that they were able to do this 150 years ago without modern equipment.
“It’s been a fun little labor of love for us at the woodshop, like working on a master jigsaw puzzle.”
The two desks that they have been able to restore so far are on display this week in the lobby of the Hope Village community center — which has been a real treat for other residents and visitors.
“As you know, we have a lot of older folks here at Hope Village,” Willamson said with a chuckle, “and those who have seen them have all said, ‘Gosh, I remember we used to sit in desks like that when we were in school. It brings back a lot of memories.”
Aus told the Current the historical society is grateful for the Hope Village residents’ volunteer restoration work.
“Those guys did just a beautiful job,” she said. “It was so nice of them to do that.”
The society has identified a craftsman who specializes in antique work to construct more desktops and other missing pieces so the remaining desks can be restored, she added.
As for the damaged schoolhouse itself, the repairs are expected to soon be underway.
“It’s hopefully going to start in May or June,” she said. “That’s what the contractor has told us. We’re getting closer to having the plans and the insurance claim settled. It takes time.”
The annual reunion of Mark family descendants, which for nearly 100 years has been hosted on the grounds of the historic one-room schoolhouse, will be held in late July.
“It would be really cool to be able to show the family the progress we’ve made,” she said. “When we get it done, it’s going to be such a beautiful community and event center.”
The original Mark Prairie Schoolhouse was built by the Mark family with lumber from Cole’s Sawmill on the south bank of Molalla River at Goode’s Bridge in 1879. The Mark family donated two acres to the Mark Prairie School District to be used for school purposes.
Built circa 1900, the Mark current building was part of the unified Canby School District until 1946, when it closed to students. However, it continued to serve the community, hosting family reunions, wedding receptions, parties, picnics, church groups, 4-H and other clubs.
For more information about the Mark Prairie Historical Society or to make a tax-deductible donation, visit markprairiehistoricalsociety.org or call Judi Aus at 503-784-5106.
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