LOG CABIN CORRESPONDENT
Finding a treasure is always intriguing, but when you can discover a prize long neglected and bring it to new life and prominence, that’s a real achievement.
Steve Ray, whose roots are in Conway, has done that with one of the gems of Boxley Valley, the western Newton County community that is a nationally acclaimed historic district and which is enjoying new fame because of another asset – the elk.
Ray, now a Kansas resident, graduated from Conway High School and from Hendrix College. His father, John Ray, launched the box manufacturing plant here, and Steve achieved success with a related facility in Kansas.
His Boxley Valley find was the Fred and Orphea Duty house, well over a century old and a victim of years of neglect and decay. On a visit he saw it and a real estate agent’s for sale sign. He bought it, and he and wife Jackie began a three-year labor of love.
Today, the Duty house is gleaming white again, and its interior is a testimony to what imagination, creativeness and skilled craftsmanship can accomplish. Outside, the house looks as it did years ago when it was the center of the community. Inside, rough-hewn timbers and gleaming appliances blend in harmony.
The Duty house is a second home to the Rays. It came with more than 300 acres, and this is another remarkable story. The land is being worked as wildlife habitat, not as farm or cattle land. Ray is closely involved with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the National Park Service, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and other organizations to use the land for elk, deer, turkeys, trumpeter swans and a variety of other wildlife. He doesn’t plan to bring in cattle.
When the Rays acquired the house, it was a wreck. A year or so later with Ray working with local contractor and artisan Tim Emerson, the house was a skeleton. They stripped it down to the bare timbers and began restoration.
Bit by bit, step by step, fitting by fitting, board by board, they rebuilt the house, all along incorporating features and materials that complemented the original structure.
The Duty house began in the late 1800s as an 18 by 18 log cabin. It grew as the Duty family grew and eventually covered about 3,000 square feet. It was a center of activity for Boxley, even being the post office for a number of years. Ray has brought into the house a vintage postal sorting cabinet to touch on this bit of the house’s history.
Another feature is a walnut mantel, covered by maybe a dozen coats of paint but now restored and presenting its attractive original wood face.
Much of the upstairs flooring is from a building that was once a hotel at Hindsville in Madison County. Other flooring is from the Bob’s Supermarket building in Jasper. Some heavy timbers are from a barn in Kansas. Fireplaces and chimneys came from other buildings. Logs came from old barns and houses here and there.
Jackie Ray used her keen eye for furnishings that fit the requirements of the ancient but modernized home.
The house is under the parameters of a historic district, with the Buffalo National River of the National Park Service holding an easement. Still, the house has efficient heating, cooling and other appliances. Facing Arkansas Highway 43 and the elk-friendly fields across it are two wide porches, one above the other.
Comfortable wooden rockers give the Rays and guests an inviting setting for relaxing and conversing and listening to nature.
(Log Cabin correspondent Joe Mosby can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com)