Woodcrafter Rescues Family Heirloom

Woodcrafter Marv Enerson pictured with the bench he crafted from a 150-year-old bed.

Susanne Perry

My great grandfather, the Reverend Elijah Forbes Beachum, served communities in North Carolina. He died in 1891. The deacons of the congregation built a bed for their beloved minister and his wife. The cherrywood bed, with intricate hand-carved detail, became a family heirloom. It was handed down to my grandmother, and then to my father, Elijah’s grandson. Forty years ago, the bed came into my possession. It’s no longer a bed, but I’m getting ahead of the story.

I had never heard of Elijah’s bed until 1967, the year we made a cross-country trip from Washington to North Carolina to visit family. The bed was wrapped and secured on top of the family station wagon for the trek home. The oddly shaped bundle drew comments. My father was asked, more than once, if there was a giant turtle on top of our car. In truth, it did look like a turtle. Funny as the roof-top load looked, the bed was a tangible piece of my father’s family history that he was finally able to bring home.

The bed was small by modern standards. It was a challenge to find a mattress to fit, but my parents managed to find one. The bed was installed in the downstairs bedroom in my childhood home. Eventually the bed went to one of my older sisters, and over time, it came to me. I was thrilled to have this heirloom but had nowhere to keep it. The mattress was gone, and the side pieces began to rot and were discarded. The extant pieces of the bed went up into the rafters of my garage.

Elijah’s bed came with me to Arizona. I wanted to preserve the 150-year-old pieces, handcrafted with love and care, or they too, would deteriorate into dust.

Enter Marv Enerson with the Robson Ranch Woodcrafters. Marv agreed to have a look at what was left of the bed. I shared its history and that I hoped to save it from ending up in a landfill.

As we talked, Marv studied my precious heirloom. He marveled at the workmanship and determined the remaining wood was still sound. He talked about tools and techniques that might have been used to create it so long ago. He quickly came up with an idea.

Marv had built a bench from an old bed made of iron and he showed me pictures. It was beautiful, and I became excited as we discussed the project. The pieces went home with Marv, and he got to work.

A mere three days later, my bench came home. The headboard was left intact. Marv used the ends of the footboard to create the sides of the bench, reserving the center portion for me to keep. The original slats became the seat. Marv suggested treating the wood with unscented mineral oil.

I’ve dubbed it Elijah’s Bench and it’s beautiful. Thank you, Marv.