Sunday, October 5, 2008
When I caught sight of what’s left of this building,
Having livestock in that day and time was not optional — that is, unless you preferred to walk everywhere you went and live off what you could pick, uproot, catch or kill. Since that kind of spartan alternative was probably about as popular then as it is now, if you were starting a residence and had the energy and resources to build only one structure, the building would, of necessity, have to provide shelter for creatures and people.
The building featured here stands in Van Buren County, Arkansas. The nearest town is Scotland on state highway 95. There’s a sign in Scotland proclaiming the Baptist church there is celebrating 135 years of existence. That would give the church a startup date of 1873. Chances are, the folks who raised our featured residence may have settled there before the church was founded.
Construction is pure notched logs. The ends of the logs show evidence of being chopped, not sawn, so maybe one man did the construction with some help from a mule or two. The notches were probably roughed-in with an adze and finished with a drawknife. The builder had more than a modicum of construction skill. In sections of the building not completely ravaged by time, the walls and joining are plumb. He was serious about what he was doing.
The one-room residential side has a floor. The barn side does not. The residential side has a characteristic I’ve seen before. The doors are short. I stand just a few smithereens south of six-foot six-inches tall, so I’m intimately sensitive to door heights, having banged my noggin on far too many occasions, courtesy of a short door. This door, however, is off-the-chart short. Almost every adult human being I know would have to duck when entering. This is not the first time I’ve seen short doors on nineteenth century log residences. Wonder why?
The barn side has an enclosed pen on the front and two rooms with short doors across “the hall” from the residential side. The residents, one presumes, boarded their tall animals, horses, mules, and cows in the breezeway. This was a necessity, since at that time the woods were well populated with wolves, bears, bobcats, foxes, and other carnivorous critters always on the lookout for an easy meal. Like most structures of this type, there is evidence of a second floor.
The home place was definitely cramped and probably a bit piquant on humid summer days. Our stalwart residents probably didn’t even notice. You cannot but admire people tenacious enough to carve out an existence from scratch in a wilderness. No electricity. No self-propelled transportation. Surrounded by critters that consider you a meal. If it breaks, you gotta fix it. The clothes on your back were probably made by a family member. Baths were an infrequent luxury. The homemade lye soap made you itch. “Skeeter dope,” aka insect repellent, was not yet invented. Doctors were few and far between.
These folks were tough. It’s a good thing. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be us.
N O T E S:
Most of the time, there is more to the Photo of the Week story than can be told in an essay. And most of the time there are more pictures to be seen. Presuming that some folk will enjoy being privy to this trove of information, I have created a blog, “Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind,” where I am showing and telling “the rest of the story." There are also some blatantly commercial mentions of some of the things we do to earn our beans and taters. Click on the Weekly Grist logo and go to the blog. — J. D.