Saturday, August 28, 2010

A 1700s KENTUCKY LOG CABIN-- Sunday Simplicities

Last weekend, when I drove my son to the Amtrak station in Maysville, Kentucky, we stopped at several interesting spots along the drive. One was a place called Washington. It was a "place" along a two-lane country road that was settled in the late 1700s and still retained remnants of that first settlement period.

Originally, in the 1790s the area around Washington contained around 119 log cabins. Above is one of the original log homes remaining in situ (not moved from its original place). There are only about ten of the original number left in the area. 

As one can tell from looking at the above photo, the log home is rather tilted from its years of use and exposure to the elements. But up until recently it was a Visitors Center for people to stop in and find out about the area. 

The first thing I noticed about the place were the shutters. I was not familiar with these types on old historic homes and wondered if it was some type of retro fit to make it look charming. A little research and I came up with the photo above from the Library of Congress. The same type of shutters were being used on this 1862 photo of a gin house in North Carolina. I suspect that the shutters are a southern indigenous type. It would be fitting that the log home would  adopt a naive type as it is constructed simply.    

The windows, I believe, are perhaps original but I can't say for sure. Many homes from the late 1700s had 6 over 6 panes in the windows or a 9 pane (lights) sash (McAlester). The chinking of course is recent as most old chinking had to be replaced every five years or so.

The original builder/s must have been quite short as my son would have to duck to get in the front door if it were open. I suppose that is why someone put the sign above the door that says, "duck."

Right now there is no one living in the place. but it is being well maintained. 

There was a sign out front that said that the home had been used as a residence up until the 1950s. At one time there were actually two families that lived in the log cabin.

The above photo is the back of the house. It shows the frame addition that was added in 1805. The roof is still being kept in what was probably the original type -- wood shake shingle. There are two chimneys -- one to the right in the photo and another to the left on the addition. 

The chimneys are old brick. I wondered if they had been limestone originally as so many of the historic homes  in Kentucky have it as chimney material. I called the Washington Visitor Center the day after I got back --  I found it online and I talked to a Jeanette Tolle. She said the chimneys were original and that the bricks had been produced right on the property.

I want to go back to this area when I have time. It certainly is an area rich in vernacular architecture.

Sunday Simplicities is about -- my  outlook on life. Now in retirement I am observing new horizons -- opportunities have surfaced.  Economies have changed as well as my perspective on what is truly important in my simple life.  Stay tuned. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Historic Maysville, Kentucky Railroad Station

A couple of days ago I drove my son to the nearest railroad station. The drive to the station involved about two and a half hours. Why so long? Because to travel by passenger rail today, one must hunt up the closest stop and then go for it. And, Maysville, Kentucky was our closest Amtrak station.

My son was returning to New Mexico where he lives --  he had just spent a few great weeks with me in Kentucky. Some folks don't like to fly today so he decided to ride the rails. The cost was about four hundred dollars round trip, about the same as if he had flown. If you were to drive, the cost of fuel would also be about the same as the ticket for Amtrak. 

From the middle of the 1800s until 1920 nearly all intercity travelers in the U.S. moved by rail. After the 1920s, factors such as improved roads, and the popularity of automobiles caused passenger rail travel to decline. In the 1960s the Rail Passenger Service Act was enacted and the Amtrak passenger rail lines was established. It is totally owned and operated by the federal government.(wiki)  

My son arriving at the railroad station ready to ride the rails back to 
New Mexico

His train was not due to arrive until midnight. He convinced me to drive the long trip back before it got dark. So we said our good-byes and I left him in the lobby of the station -- no one else was there, not even a station master. 

Empty station lobby

The lobby was filled with lots of wonderful old waiting benches. As I glanced around its interior I could tell that little had changed since the station was built. However, it was maintained well.

My  thoughts turned to the movie, "In the Heat Of The Night," -- son alone waiting for a night train and the air thick with heat and humidity. I felt uneasy about him sitting there all alone in some strange town, around midnight. Of course I shook it off when I told my son that this adventure reminded me of the southern movie -- he thought I was being silly. Why is it that mother's always have this "in the genes" protective feeling even when their children have reached adulthood.

Amtrak set its sixth straight year of record ridership with 28 million passengers in 2008.According to Amtrak an average of more than 20,000 passengers ride on up to 300 Amtrak trains per day.

Hopefully Amtrak will be able to expand its rail lines for passenger service. Doing this would help with our energy crisis as well as making stations closer to home. 

Saturday, August 21, 2010


I have written about the struggles that small towns have faced  trying to realize a viable commercial/retail main street. They face tough odds as box stores proliferate at the edges of their old commercial centers or perhaps businesses just up and leave altogether requiring a drive of several miles to buy even a common light bulb or similar small items. 

However, some small towns have found the magic key to staying alive and viable. One such town is Berea, Kentucky -- it 
has been able to maintain an energetic economy while retaining its old commercial centers. My photos in this post show some examples of attributes.

After I took early retirement, I worked at different short term positions. One was helping small towns revitalize. I offered grant and historic preservation consulting. Working with these towns made me aware of the problems they were trying to head off. It seemed a no-win situation at times. I learned as much from the people of these towns as they learned from me. 

What does Berea do that keeps the energy flowing, I'll mention what I have observed as a visitor to the town. They do have a few things in place that certainly helps the town stem the tide of gloom and doom of other small towns. One, they have Berea College, a nationally known liberal small college.Two, they established the area as a recognized arts community. Three, they maintain their physical assets such as commercial buildings, parking and streets. And four, they bring to the town on a very regular basis, lecturers, music, festivals, and other events that encourage citizen participation as well as tourists.


Granted, not all small towns have the money or organization to bring their towns back from obscurity but perhaps taking it step by step in the right direction  can result in  being a viable town for the community. 


Small town revitalization is a large issue that cannot be addressed in this small post but I believe it can be done over time with active town citizens

Tuesday, August 17, 2010



Last week my Connecticut daughter and fourteen year old grandson came to visit. We spent most of the time inside talking and playing cards. It was just too hot to truck around the nearby towns. The close time together with my family was touching to me as I had not seen either of them for a couple of  years. My son was still visiting from New Mexico and he got into some heavy chess games with my grandson. 

My daughter and I, while the chess games were being played, did venture out in the heat to view some displays of quilts in the town of Berea, Kentucky. There, we came across this early, old quilt that was labeled rare in the genre of quilts. It was a Kentucky Mourning Quilt from Pulaski county, Kentucky and was owned by Carol Ann White.


Although I have always admired the handiwork of women I was unfamiliar with the idea of mourning quilts. This particular quilt had a crazy pattern with names of deceased individuals including the date of death embroidered on some of the squares. 

The fabrics were rich earthy colors, not the least bit morbid. Apparently, fabrics used in making mourning quilts are often made with clothes of the deceased. At least that is what it said on the label next to the quilt. If this were so then why do the nine squares in the quilt contain some of the same fabrics while having different names. 

The dates of the deceased ranged from 1896 through to 1900, a time when crazy quilt design was used frequently.There is a theory that such a mourning quilt would be used to drape a coffin at the funeral. Perhaps the name of the deceased would be embroidered on or after such a ritual? If this were the case then the quilt would represent probable family ties through the quilt. 


The above quilt section just has the name Armilda with no date of death. I wondered why this was so. Perhaps it was the maker's name (although I feel this unlikely) or perhaps a stillborn child?? Wish such artifacts could talk. 

Overall there was a total of nine large crazy quilt squares sewn together resulting in a size that would fit either a three quarter size bed or full size one. However, I feel that the quilt was not used for a bed. Rather it was probably tucked away for the funeral ritual of draping the coffin. 

I thought that perhaps since there were several empty squares it allowed names to be added over time. Each square had only one name so a total of 9 people could be recorded on the quilt. 


Mourning quilts might be a lone regional folkway. Why I say this is that similar type quilts were popular in the mid-1800s -- called graveyard quilts. Research  found that graveyard quilts have been found in Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia -- all within the upland south region (this would mean southern Ohio by this latter statement). Perhaps the graveyard quilts influenced the later mourning quilts in the region?


Above is the Kentucky Coffin Quilt from the mid-1800s. Around the border is a fence and along the interior of the fence are 6-sided coffins basted onto the quilt. Those within the perimeter do not have dates. It is supposed that the perimeter coffins were basted to allow removal to the center graveyard if someone were to pass away. The perimeter coffins were like  "coffins in waiting." This quilt might have been one that was draped over a coffin at a funeral. 

I could go on with thoughts about how and why these quilts were used and made. However, I will stop here and let the reader contemplate their own theories.


View interesting close-up photos of the Kentucky Coffin Quilt.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


"Mrs Hale and her oldest son in front of their home near Black River Falls, Wisconsin. This farm house was built with a total expenditure of three dollars in money"

The inscription and photo above is from the Library of Congress collection and  was recorded by Lee Russell, a Federal Works employee during 1937. This was at the height of the Great Depression. 

The depression lasted from 1929 through the early 1940s. Its devastating effects on the economy peaked in 1935 -- unemployment reached 25% at that time. There was also a record numbers of defaults on loans.  

Mrs Hale could have been a victim of the depression?  I imagine her and her family reacting to this financial plight with a "make do," mentality. Perhaps this house was the result. 

Old photographic images can conjure up stories of folkways or material culture. Mrs Hale and maybe with her son built this three dollar house -- perhaps built it so cheaply because of their  predicament during the depression?  Perhaps not, perhaps so?

What kind of photos will we have in our future of the current housing crisis? 

Today and then -- Deja vu. 

Sunday Simplicities is about -- my  outlook on life. Now in retirement I am observing new horizons -- opportunities have surfaced.  Economies have changed as well as my perspective on what is truly important in my simple life.  Stay tuned.