On June 10, 1886, a post office was established at a crossroads in northwestern Jackson County, Kentucky, and the community around it christened “Collinsworth.” This wasn’t the birth of the village, for it had been around well before the Civil War, but a post office marked the beginning of a modern community, one in touch with the larger world. Four years after the post office office opened, a young man named Abel Gabbard built his house.
And that house, sitting behind a split rail fence in a yard of mature shade trees, seemed like a mirage as I drove by – and braked in the middle of the road – and reversed back about half a mile to look again. (Fortunately, traffic in Sandgap at that hour was sparse.)
A small hand painted sign hung on the porch of the 1.5-story portion of the dwelling proclaims “Built in 1890 by Abel Gabbard.”
And that is all I really know about this late-19th century house that I photographed from the road. Armed with Gabbard’s name, I turned to the census records.
Luck was on my side – or, I thought it was! I could only find one Abel Gabbard in that area of Jackson County at that time, having been born in 1862. This Abel Gabbard had already been married 11 years by the time construction began – and like many families at the time, he and his wife welcomed a new child about every two years. In the 1900 census, Abel and Almeda had nine children, ranging in age from 19 year old William to two year old Nettie. But as it turns out, there were two Abel Gabbards in Jackson County at that time – and Abel B. and Alemeda Gabbard did not live in this house.**
By 1902, Collinsworth was renamed Sandgap, for a “slight but very sandy depression in the ridge that forms the diving line between the Cumberland and Kentucky River watersheds.”* This house was only 12 years old then, and I imagine every room was well-used – and that counts the numerous porches ringing both sections of the house. The porches would have offered a respite from busy family life, and provided a cool resting spot both night and day.
And it was the porches, more than anything, that prompted my contemplation of the Abel Gabbard House. While standard lattice panels form the balustrade on the first story (of both portions of the dwelling), the second story retains flourishes of late 19th century folk Victorian inspiration. The pedimented window lintels, painted blue, are another stylish touch, and would have been quite at home on a house in Louisville or Lexington.
The front gable orientation of this section of the dwelling is intriguing – while many historic rural churches and schools have a front gable form, it is less common for houses (especially outside of urban areas). This section of the dwelling has a central stone chimney that likely heated both of the downstairs rooms; a stove may have provided some heat for the second story chambers, but these spaces were often left unheated.
My vantage point did not allow much inspection of the dwelling, so any explanation of its chronology is just conjecture – but I would hazard it was built in at least two phases, and that the two-story section preceded the 1.5-story Cumberland house portion (the one with the two front doors). A breezeway between the two, with an exterior stair leading to the upper story of the front-gable portion of the house, bolsters this conclusion.
Although it turns out that there were two Abel Gabbards, born the same year in Jackson County – I would venture to say that they shared some similarities. Like most residents of Jackson County at the time, Abel was a farmer, and his sons worked alongside him. They wouldn’t have been indoors all that much, except for meals and at night. Even so, with the large families common at that time, a house that appears to have only had at most eight rooms (and not overly large rooms) may have seemed crowded – no wonder there are porches everywhere! No matter the room dimensions, or stages of construction, Abel Gabbard left behind a traffic-stopping house, and a story I wish knew.
*Robert M. Rennick. Kentucky Place Names. (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1984), 264.
** A descendant of Abel B. and Almeda contacted me and shared that her great-grandparents did not live in this house, but were instead south of Sandgap in Jackson County. Now to find the other Abel Gabbard who did live in this house!