Arkansas trees have shaped state homes for generations

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The pioneer settlers of Arkansas found a great wealth of timber. Among the hard deciduous trees, there are 29 species of oaks, with white and red oaks being particularly abundant, as well as 10 species of hickory, not to mention the coniferous pines.

The dense forests were both a blessing and a challenge for the early settlers. They provided resources for the construction of houses, barns and other outbuildings, but had to be cleared to grow crops.

Newcomers often lived in a wagon while building a house. Log homes, typical of all of Arkansas until after the Civil War, involved cutting down large numbers of trees, pruning branches and crowns, and removing bark. As the logs had to be lifted by hand, houses were necessarily limited to between 12 and 18 feet and generally square.

In 1839, a settler from Pope County wrote to his family in North Carolina that he had built “a neat little cabin with a plank floor.” Wayman Hogue, who grew up in rural Faulkner County in a log house after the Civil War, remembered his childhood home as “a large room built of scalped, cracked and whitewashed logs. , and covered with gently cut punches “.

The punches were logs that had been split lengthwise with the flat side dressed smoothly using a specially designed large ax.

A chimney was usually built at one end of the cabin. Stones were often used when available, but in much of Arkansas the fireplace was clay, the fireplace was wood and covered with clay.

Hogue recalled that his childhood home had a stone fireplace, but “the extending fireplace was constructed of split sticks heavily coated and covered with clay, which when dry was very substantial.” He went on to say that the clay-coated fireplace sometimes cracked, “leaving the wooden parts exposed, and when the weather was cold and the fires big, my father had to throw water in the fireplace to put out the fire. fire”.

As the family grew more prosperous, lean-to rooms were often added to the main house. In order to prevent fires and make the house more comfortable in hot weather, kitchens were usually located in small structures behind the house.

I have the impression that settlers of modest means often started with small log homes which they replaced as circumstances permitted and families grew. OW Taylor, a longtime Baptist pastor and ancestor of a family of gifted children, recalled late in his life that his father had built three houses on their farm in Union County.

The first was a 12 foot by 14 foot log structure. The second, also made of logs, was larger and better situated. In 1905 Taylor’s father purchased sufficient lumber at 1 cent per board foot to build a frame house consisting of two large rooms, a large central hall, and other smaller rooms in the back. An independent kitchen and toilets complete the residence. The family were proud that every room had a window.

Senior Taylor was exceptionally good at woodworking; he was also a blacksmith and made many of his carpentry tools, such as a froe, an L-shaped tool comprising a wooden handle and a metal blade, driven into logs to make shingles, palisades and other planks split.

The well-heeled Charles Lewis Bullock, a North Carolinian who emigrated in the late 1840s to Dallas County, purchased a “little two-room log house, with wooden fireplaces and wooden shutters for Windows “.

In less than a year, Bullock sold his house and built a new house with six large rooms and wide hallways. The walls were of hewn logs, carefully assembled in a dovetail and covered with siding. Covering a log house with clapboards was common; many are the modern man who began the restoration of an old house and discovered that it had started as a log construction.

Bullock’s daughter later recalled that the family’s bonded labor force lived in shacks “built of smaller logs, cracked and whitewashed, and had perforated floors, wooden fireplaces, wooden shutters. wood for the windows, and they were covered with split planks ”. By “split planks,” she meant long, coarsely shaped shingles, which in Dallas County certainly could have been made from cypress logs.

She also recalled that “the exterior of the house was painted white; some rooms were light blue or dove-colored”. White appears to have been a common color for painting houses, although “lime white” – a mixture of lime and water – was commonly used as a cheap alternative to paint. In Little Rock before the war, several commercial buildings were painted blue, which must have made the small river town look interesting.

Houses were often unpainted, even in 20th century Arkansas. In 1936, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Arkansas, local officials painted the facades of houses along the freeway the Presidential Party drove from Malvern to Hot Springs.

The occasional settler could afford a larger house. Richard C. Rhodes, a doctor from North Carolina who settled near the Saline River in Grant County around 1850, built an eight-room house with a self-catering kitchen. It had floor-to-ceiling windows and its chimneys were made of locally made bricks. Among the many outbuildings of Rhodes Farm was an octagonal smoking room.

In addition to houses and outbuildings, wood was also used for fences throughout the 19th century. The straight logs were divided into rails, usually about 10 feet in length. These railway fences, also known as worm fences, kept cattle from entering cultivated fields. For years after the Civil War, southerners complained that Union soldiers destroyed their fences using them for firewood.

Tom Dillard is a retired historian and archivist living near Glen Rose in Hot Spring County. Email him at [email protected] An earlier version of this column was published on February 28, 2010.


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