Winter Tea Party winners: Angela's book,THE SCARLET COAT, will go to: Print copy- Andrea Stephens; e-book copy - Catherine Wight!

LUCY REYNOLDS has a table topper quilt on the way, and winners of the Valentine Ebook Collection are: Deanna Stevens, Caryl Kane, Anne Payne and Winnie Thomas. With thanks to all who joined in!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Rural Colonial Houses by Cynthia Howerter


When one thinks of houses built during the Colonial Period, the fine buildings at Colonial Williamsburg or Thomas Jefferson’s exquisite house at Monticello are some that usually come to mind. However, not everyone in colonial America lived in such beautiful dwellings. With no access to bricks or saw mills, colonists in rural areas turned to logs.
 Foxfire Museum

In the frontier areas, most early log cabins needed to be quickly assembled to provide shelter. These cabins tended to be small one-room dwellings that were usually one- or one-and-a-half stories high.


 Foxfire Museum
Due to the heaviness of logs, two or three men were required to assemble a cabin. Large straight trees were selected, felled, trimmed of branches, and dragged to the building site. There, logs were notched and laid on a stone foundation if possible. Logs laid directly on the ground risked rotting. Note the two small openings on the side of the dwelling pictured above. This cabin was built in an area so remote that glass for windows was not available. The bottom "window" was cut out of the mud chinking while the upper window was cut out of a log.

 Foxfire Museum
Fireplaces and chimneys were usually built of stone, although wattle and daub, a composition of small pieces of wood and mud, was sometimes used to build a chimney until stone could replace it.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Southern Virginia

After the logs were laid horizontally, there could be gaps, especially if the logs weren't cut straight.


Foxfire Museum

This photo shows small stones and mud used to fill the gap between logs. The filler between logs is referred to as "chink." Every fall, the cabin owner would make repairs in the chink so heat wouldn't escape through holes during the winter.

 Foxfire Museum
Chinking helped keep the cabin snug from weather and free from insects and small animals. During Indian attacks, chink prevented arrows from entering inside the cabin. The reddish-colored chinking in the above photo reflects the red clay found in this area of northeast Georgia.  

 Foxfire Museum
Doors were handmade. Although sturdy, they lacked the design and color of those usually found in established towns.

 Oconaluftee Village, Cherokee Indian Reservation, North Carolina
While many cabin roofs were covered with wood shakes, such as the one above, sod roofs proved less ignitable and flammable when hit with flaming arrows during Indian attacks.    

Most of the cabins featured in this article are located at the Foxfire Museum in Mountain City, Georgia, which has a collection of original log houses and structures from the late-colonial period. These buildings were disassembled at their original location, then shipped to Foxfire’s property where they were rebuilt. One cabin photo was taken in southern Virginia on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The final photograph was taken at the Oconaluftee Village on the Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina.


All photographs ©2013 Cynthia Howerter



Award-winning author Cynthia Howerter loves using her training in education, research, writing, and speaking to teach and inspire others about a time in America that was anything but boring. A member of the Daughters of the American revolution (DAR), Cynthia believes history should be alive and personal.

Visit Cynthia's website: Cynthia Howerter - all things historical






14 comments:

  1. I would love to visit the Foxfire Museum if I'm ever down that way. Thanks for making me aware of it. And that sod roof detail is one I'm going to keep in mind.

    Another great place to see early 1800s settler cabins is Cades Cove in Tennessee.

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    1. Thanks for telling me about Cades Cove, TN, Lori! That name is familiar to me; I think I see it in a magazine article. Foxfire is in northeast Georgia between the Dillard House and the town of Clayton. You'll love it there.

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  2. Wonderful post, Cynthia. I'm just wild about anything Foxfire as you know :). I always marvel at the ingenuity and craftsmanship in these old buildings/cabins. Makes me miss Lael and her world Cade's Cove is indeed another stellar historical site. Thanks for being here!

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    1. Oh, Laura, I was just thinking about Lael and the Frontiersman's Daughter several days ago. PLEASE write a sequel!!!!

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  3. I admire the people from the past and their ingenuity and hard work. They did the best with what they had. It really humbles you to think that a large family would live in a small house like that without the luxuries that we have today! And to think we get upset when our internet is slow! I would love to visit there some day! It looks like it would be so full of interesting history! Thanks for sharing!

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  4. I've been to the Foxfire Museum twice now, Emma, and it was just as fascinating both times! My mother grew up in a Pennsylvania farmhouse that had belonged to her grandparents. Mom and her family had no indoor plumbing, no heating system other than a wood cookstove in the kitchen, and no modern conveniences. I have always loved my mom's stories about her life growing up without modern conveniences, so that's why these log cabins called out to me!

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  5. Cynthia, I love these old colonial cabins! Imagine the bravery it took to move to the frontier and the expeditious way they had to build a home for protection from the elements and their enemies. This was fascinating and very informative! Thank you so much.

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  6. So glad you enjoyed the article and photos, Elaine! Until I began researching life on the frontier in the 1700's, I never realized how risky it was to live there. Try as I might, I can't imagine the courage it took to leave the relative safety of colonial towns to move to the wilderness with its myriad dangers. Many log cabins also served as forts, not only for the family who lived in it, but for neighbors as well.

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  7. I know little about log cabins so this post was so interesting to me. Thanks for sharing all the great photos to go with!

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed this article and the photos, Carla!

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  8. This is a very interesting post, Cynthia. I've seen several of these early American homes, and been surprised by how well they held up despite the use of simple tools and the only the materials available on the frontier.

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    1. Thank you, Janet! As long as the wood didn't rot or get wood-eating pests, some cabins lasted a long time.

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  9. Oh my! you sold me on the Foxfire Museum as well.
    I was thinking about this just the other day (the historical treasures we can find on our travels), and how I love to pull over and take a photo of a building that grabs my attention.

    Thanks Cynthia!

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  10. Hi, Debra! Hope you're able to visit the Foxfire Museum! You'll love it. Wear comfortable walking shoes, and consider purchasing a walking stick in the gift shop if you don't have one as the entire site is on the side of a mountain.

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