Gardens to Gables

Construction: Log Houses & Stories

As a child, I made houses of anything and everything (leaves were a challenging, yet ephemerally charming material). I inherited my older siblings’ Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs, and a series of dollhouses.

Fuel for the imagination...

Fuel for the imagination…The wall behind me is formed from very large walnut boards that formed the partition wall in the log house on our farm. The mantle is from a circa 1840 frame house, also on the farm.

The Lincoln Logs, however, were a favorite – made even more intriguing by the fact that we had an actual log house on our farm. It was a two-story house, and during my childhood, stored hay bales.

It was beyond my permitted boundaries when I was very young – being out of earshot of my mother’s yell or the enormous bell that hung on a post by our house. She summoned everyone to the house with either of those tools, and if you didn’t come when called – you didn’t make that same mistake twice! Still, I made it down to the log house quite often, and by the time I was 10 (with expanded freedom to roam), I conducted “archaeology” on the inside and out of that log house (this consisted of scrutinizing layers of wallpaper and digging up broken bits of china and glass bottles), and futilely waved rags about, stirring up more dust than dispelling.

The log house of my childhood. Built on a hall-parlor plan, it had a side frame addition and a detached kitchen.

The log house of my childhood. Built on a hall-parlor plan, it had a side frame addition and a detached kitchen.

When I stumbled upon the career of historic preservation and architectural history, I wasn’t at all surprised by the numbers of log houses in Kentucky. Between 1785 and 1824, most houses in the Commonwealth were of log construction. These houses were either square or rectangular shaped, and often only one room. These single room houses (also known as single pen) often gained additions over time, either log or frame. Additions could be added to either side of the existing log house, or to the front or back. An addition extending out to the rear of the house, perpendicular to the main block of the house, is called an “ell” addition.

A single pen log house in Bourbon County, Kentucky.

A single pen log house in Bourbon County, Kentucky. The weatherboards have been removed.

Many houses in rural Kentucky are log, but from the exterior, appear to be frame houses. Log houses could be clad with siding or left exposed, but the former technique decreased maintenance and increased the comfort level inside the house. Most log houses were meant to be covered with clapboards or weatherboards. Siding also denoted an attention to appearances and status level, as siding required a large investment of labor and money. From the outside, a log house could be indistinguishable from a balloon-framed house built later.

I drove by the Whitlock Log House in Green County a week ago, as I meandered about south-central Kentucky (getting lost is often a positive occurrence in my line of work). Built in the first quarter of the 19th-century, the house appears to have started as a rectangular single pen with a lateral frame addition.

The Whitlock House, Green County, Kentucky.

The Whitlock House, Green County, Kentucky.

The Whitlock House, circa 1984. (National Register of Historic Places photographic files)

The Whitlock House, circa 1984. (National Register of Historic Places photographic files)

The large, stone gable-end chimney is now gone, and the house appears vacant. When it was listed in the National Register some 30 years ago, it was noted that it was one of the best examples in the county of the single-pen type. Sadly, the documentation did not include any information about the outbuildings clustered around the Whitlock House – it is only in the last decade that these important structures have begun to be uniformly noted and studied.

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The outbuilding in the foreground is a chicken house, while the one in the rear appears to be a corncrib.

Kentucky’s built environment tells the story of our state – in every county (and with 120, we have plenty…) there is a place and a building that means something to someone. Beyond the workout my motor skills received with house-building (and house dreaming, as I explored our log house and the tenant houses on the farm), I gained an appreciation of the power of stories. And that is what drives me today – even when I get discouraged or disappointed by bureaucracy and what seems to be a never-ending cycle of demolition – stories inspire, challenge, and delight me.  if you know where to look – and can look beyond the surface – stories are in every corner.

 

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5 Thoughts on “Construction: Log Houses & Stories

  1. Bill Macintire on April 14, 2015 at 8:27 am said:

    I stopped by the Whitlock house a couple of years ago on my way back from Bowling green myself.

  2. Janet Johnson on April 14, 2015 at 11:05 am said:

    What a wonderful childhood you had! I love your sense of exploration and discovery. Very interesting entry about these log buildings. I always learn something new from your blogs.

  3. Matt Bates on June 7, 2015 at 3:13 pm said:

    I grew up exploring the Whitlock House. My mother and her siblings were born in it and family wakes were held in it until the mid 20th century. I enjoy visiting it whenever I pass through.

    • Janie-Rice Brother on June 9, 2015 at 4:31 pm said:

      Matt, thanks for reading and posting. Is the house still in your family?

      • Matt Bates on June 9, 2015 at 9:16 pm said:

        It is. It is uninhabitable at this point, but it is still owned by Whitlocks. While they installed electricity sometime in the early 20th century, it never had indoor plumbing. Ma an Pa Whitlock moved to Greensburg in the 50s? The house to the right of it was built by my uncle. and to the right of the newer house is an old general store that has been closed for decades and was run by my uncle and my grandfather. The cemetery is the boarder of the property.

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