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Notes from the Field

4/1/2010: A Building that Might Fool You

WS 263 in September 2006Spring is about the best time of the year to do field work. After a long, cold winter, it's great to get back out in the field, the Kentucky spring season is wonderful, trees are just blooming, insects are not yet biting, and most importantly for survey, you can see the buildings without excessive foliage. Of course, it's not always possible to choose what time of year you will visit a particular site. A case in point is WS 263, a building I had a chance to revisit early this spring.  When it was surveyed in September of 2006, it looked like the image you see to the right, alost completely covered by the kudzu and tree foliage. 

I was interested in getting a closer look at this building as soon as the fieldworkers told me about it, because it it a building that turned out to be something more than what it appeared to be. While it has been used as a tobacco barn for many years, the structure itself was actually built as a Methodist Church. It was very difficult that September for the fieldworkers to get decent pictures, but they got enough of a look to know it would be worth further documentation under better conditions. Almost four years later, I finally got that opportunity.

Former church used as a barn, Washington CountyWS 263 Cornice detailEarly last month I had a site visit near Springfield in the morning. It turned out to be one of the first tolerably warm days of the season, so on my way back I stopped at the site to get some better photographs. Conditions were much better, as you can see in the second photograph. Although it looks very much like a barn, the three evenly spaced tall windows along the side of the building do suggest it may have had another purpose. Looking closer, other even less barn-like details become apparent, particularly the cornice in the third photograph. Obviously, this is not an ordinary tobacco barn. And indeed, inside the building some obvious details of the church are visible, such as the Gothic pointed windows and the plaster lathed walls. Judging by the construction and stylistic detailing, this church was built in the late 19th to early 20th century. Originally, it had a barrel vaulted plaster ceiling.

WS 263, Interior detail of Gothic windowBuildings quite frequently get recycled as barns. Churches lend themselves very well to that purpose with their open interior space, but houses and even industrial buildings such as early distilleries, mills, and warehouses have had second lives as barns. In this way, unusual early examples of vernacular architecture sometimes survive decades or even centuries beyond their planned use.






Historic Farms PlaqueThe Historic Farms Program page has now been added to our web site. The Historic Farms Program honors farms that have remained within the same family for over 100 years.

10/23/2009: Architectural Detail of the Week:

Detail of a Greek Revival Mantle at site BH-181, Bath County, Kentucky

Detail of stair at the Peck House (BH-181), Bath County, Kentucky

This is a Mantle at the Peck House (BH-181) in Bath County, an 1830s-40s brick, Greek Revival house. This one presents an interesting comparison to the Federal Mantle from Nelson County that we looked at two weeks ago. Where the Nelson County example has nearly all of its surface area covered with moldings, the Greek Revival mantle is all flat surfaces. There is really just one decorative element here, the  large central bevel-shaped molding, set off by rectangular framing elements. 

While you will find more ornate examples of the Greek Revival style, the overall tendency in vernacular examples is to avoid the ornate and complex molding profiles characteristic of the Federal style in favor of a more restrained sculptural presence. Even quite large, substantial houses such as the Peck house are often very restrained in their detailing. The most ornate detailing in Greek Revival houses is often found on the exterior at the main entryway and in center stair halls.

The second picture here is a detail of the center hall stairway also at the Peck house - the spandrels are somewhat more ornate than the mantlepiece, but overall the effect is still modest, with an emphasis on flat planes. To the right in the stair picture is the top of a door molding that has the characteristic "ear" profile often seen in the Greek Revival period.

10/16/2009: Architectural Detail of the Week

Interior of a log barn, Fleming CountyI wrote earlier about Kentucky barns and their importance to our historic landscape. Yesterday I was looking through some old film shots from 2005 and came across this one of a barn in Fleming County that is almost certainly no longer with us. I have digital pictures of this barn as well, but the reason for using film was to use a lens that can capture this very wide angle view showing both the log pen in the background and the detail of the post in the foreground with it all in focus.

This particular barn had two log pens under one roof with a dogtrot between them and a shed extending behind for sheltering and feeding animals – note the manger attached to the right side of the log pen. It was a simple pole construction, all with modern type wire nails, so it may have dated as late as 1900, although probably a little earlier. In later years it had been used to hang tobacco. Reduced production of tobacco in recent years has placed a lot of barns in danger of loss when they no longer serve a useful purpose.

10/5/2009: Architectural Detail of the Week

Detail of a Nelson County MantlepieceThis is an early 1800s mantelpiece from an abandoned Nelson County house. It's an example of the Federal style of architecture. Architecture of the Federal period, roughly 1790-1820, is characterized by its elegance: thin straight lines, flat surfaces, and narrow moldings. The overall effect is delicate and light (in the Greek Revival period that followed, the desired effect was tilted more towards the massive and substantial). The fancier rooms of houses often have chair rail and elaborate, delicately styled mantles such as the one shown here.

While most houses of the period are conservative in their adherence to standard forms and external appearance, there seems to have been a willingness to be very creative in the design of mantles and other interior architectural details. Most mantles do not mimic any published architectural patterns - rather, they are composed of stock molding profiles combined in inventive ways. Moldings at the time were planed out by hand - by the 1850s and 60s, they were increasingly mass-produced, and shortly thereafter, more and more whole mantles were factory produced along with windows, doors, and other architectural elements. This certainly lowered costs and made fancy mantles more widely available, but at the cost of individual artistry. In the later nineteenth century Victorian period, this creative artistry was directed more and more to exterior details such as porch trim and gable brackets.

9/3/2009: Saved: the Mud Brick House in Greensburg

Mud Brick House GNG-83, with recent restoration workI mentioned in my last posting, the second in a row on a lost building, that we want to talk about preservation success stories as well. A good example is this unusual building in Greensburg, KY that came to our attention last summer when it was in the process of being demolished. The construction technique used in the building was so unusual that demolition was halted. The walls of the building underneath the siding are constructed of dried mud bricks, similar to adobe construction of the midwest. It is the only known building in Kentucky constructed in this technique.

For a time, it seemed that the building might be lost entirely, but through the concerted efforts of several groups including local government, Preservation Kentucky, the Kentucky Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Kentucky Heritage Council, the owner was persuaded to sell it to a buyer, Finis Durrett, who was willing to restore the building. Finis has done some wonderful work to get it to the condition seen here, with appropriate board and batten siding put back on. He still has much more to do, but we're excited that this important and unusual building will survive for future generations to see. Finis plans to have the building open to the public as an educational resource when he finishes his project.

For more information on this remarkable building, take a look at our field report, available in the "related content" window on the right side of this page.


Historic Site Demolished: LVS-3: Grayot/Dunn house, 1867-2009 

LVS-3 1867 Grayot/Dunn houseThis past week, we lost the the Grayot/Dunn House in Smithland (LVS-3), which was demolished to make way for the county office and library. Last minute attempts to halt demolition arrived too late and the house went down, much to the dismay of the many concerned citizens who fought to save it. This was an especially painful loss, as the house was a prominent and important landmark in downtown Smithland. It was significant in several ways: for its association with the historic development of the town of Smithland, for the residency there of at least two prominent local citizens, and architecturally as a fine example of Post-Bellum brick architecture.

The house was built circa 1867 for Alfred A. Grayot, an immigrant to Kentucky from Lyon, France and a Druggist by trade and postmaster of the town of Smithland. Grayot occupied the house with his wife, four children, and a servant at the time of the 1880 census. According to Heritage County files, the house was later occupied by his son-in-law John Kerr Hendrick, a prosecuting attorney for Livingston County, a member of the State Senate 1887-91, and a Congressman in the Fifty-fourth Congress 1895-97.

The house was a graceful and elegant mix of Post-Bellum architecture, predominantly Italianate, but also with elements of Neoclassical, Gothic and other popular styles of the period, a house that evolved over a period of time, reflecting a depth of history and the evolving needs of its inhabitants. It is an excellent example of the brick construction that characterizes so much of the fine architecture of the town of Smithland. Its proximity to the historic Livingston County Courthouse was of historic as well as architectural importance, reflecting both the historic architectural landscape of Smithland and the important roles played by occupants of the house such as Grayot and Hendrick and later the Dunn family. You can see the original survey form for the house here: LVS-3 survey form [pdf: 261kb].

We certainly don't want the two recent historic site losses reported on this page to set the tone for Notes From the Field. When notable sites are lost, we will take note, but we will also focus on success stories, to show how buildings such as the Grayot Dunn house can and do continue to work as places that matter. The Grayot Dunn house itself would have been an excellent candidate for a renovation utlizing the incentive of Historic Preservation Tax Credits

July 1, 2009: House Obituary

Lincoln Heritage House/Hardin Thomas House circa 1809-2009

The Lincoln Heritage House in 2006It is with great sadness that we report the loss of the Hardin Thomas House, also known as the Lincoln Heritage House. The house was gutted by fire near the end of May, 2009, as a result of arson. By the time the fire was discovered, it was too late to save the house. The interiors were entirely destroyed and the exterior walls nearly so.

It seems likely that what remains will have to be written off as a total loss, although it is hoped that the site will continue to be the focus of future interpretive efforts. The Hardin Thomas house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. It was restored in the early 1970s through the efforts of a local group, Lincoln Heritage House, Inc., with grant assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It has been a landmark ever since along the waterfront in Elizabethtown's Freeman Lake Park. 

The Hardin Thomas house in 1970This summer, the house was one of the “Passport” sites on the Lincoln Heritage Trail. It is especially tragic that the loss of this house occurred in 2009, the year of Kentucky’s celebration of the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth in the state. The house was known as the Lincoln Heritage House because of it association with Lincoln’s father, Thomas, who is believed to have been the joiner who constructed the staircase, mantles, and other finish carpentry. One mantle from the house still survives as it was removed in 1919 and installed at Fort Knox, and now resides there in the Leader's Club.

A more detailed report on the house can be found in the related content frame to the right of the page.

May 6, 2009

Some thoughts on Kentucky Barns

MN 606, frame tobacco barnWith the National Barn Alliance External Link - You are now leaving the .gov domain.  conference in Shakertown coming up next week, a lot of thinking about Kentucky's barns and how to save them is going on over here at the Heritage Council.

Barn preservation is one of our great challenges – we lose large numbers of barns every year. Many are taken by storms or falling trees, but many more fall due to lack of maintenance or are demolished. The key to preserving them is for them to remain useful. The good news is that the availability of tax credits for owners to fix up historic barns is one of the most promising developments in many years. Lincoln County hay and stock barn 
The barns we tend to concentrate on are those that stand out for some reason. The standouts are exceptionally early, constructed in unusual techniques, are larger than normal, or represent an unusual type such as a bank barn. We like these for a good reason as well - such barns are fascinating documents of Kentucky's history and great examples of the builder's craft.

What’s often overlooked are the larger number of Kentucky barns that do not stand out in any of these ways. These are the ubiquitous simple light frame or pole barns built for tobacco or stock in the mid-late twentieth century. While an individual barn of this type tends not to stand out, as a group they have a tremendous impact on the appearance of our rural landscape. It’s easy to overlook them one at a time as they are being lost, but once their numbers dwindle to a handful, the total loss will be tremendous. The move away from tobacco farming in particular has endangered this category of barn. However, the type was popular because it is so readily adaptable to many different uses. This means that many of these barns have great potential for continued viability.

Hope to see you all at the National Barn Alliance conference next week as we explore strategies for preserving Kentucky’s rural heritage!


April 20, 2009

Then and Now -

1970 file photo of LVS 6, the Dallam houseSite LVS 6, the Dallam house in SmithlandKHC staff recently visited Livingston County for some site checks and other business. One of the highlights was our visit to the County seat in the town of Smithland.  We checked on the status of properties surveyed back in 1970, and documented several others for the survey files. 13 historic properties were identified in 1970 - at least 6 of these are now gone. The good news is that a lot of historic buildings still stand in Smithland.  In addition to those that still remain from the 1970 survey, such as the wonderful 1845 courthouse, we documented 20 others. More still remain undocumented.

One of the attractions in town is the Civil War Heritage Trail walking tour, with several sites interpreted on Fiberglass-embedded signage.  These start at the Courthouse and take the viewer to several important points in Smithland, interpreting them in the context of the Civil War

One of the interpreted sites that was also in the 1970 survey files is the Dallam House, shown here, beside the black and white picture from the 1970 survey form for the house (the full form is available here: LVS 6 survey form [PDF, 272kb]). We can see that some renovation took place, among other things, the porch has changed; and shutters and a cupolo have been added. More difficult to see in these smaller photographs is that the house was covered with stucco in 1970 and now the brick is revealed. The house near the front of its lot on the sidewalk and is surrounded by a pretty landscaped garden.

One of the interesting features of the house is its paired door entry on a 6 bay facade. It looks like a duplex town house, but it may not have been so.  Without going inside it's impossible to tell, but double door houses have a long history and strong tradition in Kentucky.

For further information

Detail of Stairway in the Holt House, Breckenridge CountyDo you have a historic site you would like to know more about? Call us at the Heritage Council and we'll be glad to assist you. For more information about the Kentucky Historic Resources Inventory, contact:

Bill Macintire
Survey Coordinator
(502) 564-7005, ext. 124


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Last Updated 5/10/2010