I’ve often found myself hiking along creeks for several miles to reach a historic house site, far removed from the current road network. Invariably, these hikes have been at the height of summer, with all the joy that entails in Kentucky’s humidity… My temporary discomfort, however, forces me to consider historic transportation routes, and how new roads have not only shaped the landscape but also altered what we now see. Sometimes, it is ridiculously easy, especially when you find a creek flowing alongside the road, and what appears to be the rear elevation of a house facing the current road.
Creek beds are the original roadways of many rural Kentucky communities, and this frame T-plan house was constructed facing the creek, which served as the main path in and out. What I was seeing was the back porch and original back yard of the house.
A T-plan is a house form that has the shape of a T if viewed from above. Although T-plan is the name we use in Kentucky, terminology depends on geographic location – some folks call this type a “gable and wing.” It is essentially a central passage plan with one room flanking the central hall moved forward, resulting in the plane of the facade being broken, or uneven. It gained the house another room without changing what had become a favorite house type (the central passage) in rural Kentucky. My penchant for stopping the car in the middle of the road to take a photograph often subjects me to curious looks, but this time, I also benefited from meeting someone who knew the story of the picturesque house.
A log house occupied this creek side site originally, but between 1913 and 1917, Hansford B. Ferguson had this two-story house built, with porches on the front and along the back.
It was a substantial house, with plenty of room for the Ferguson family – in 1920, Hansford, a farmer, and his wife, Junie, had five children. The house had a two-story porch on the front, with lovely spindlework, a holdover from the late-19th century. I’ve actually seen two other houses in Morgan County with this type of ornamentation, and to my delight, I learned that a man named Pleasant Weaver, a carpenter who lived in nearby Elk Fork, was the carpenter. The names of the craftsman (and it was usually men at this point in history) are often lost, so this detail was especially exciting. Another carpenter, Edward Hill, also worked on the house.
The Ferguson Cemetery is just up the road from the house, where I found Hansford and Junie, peaceful on a hillside next to a church that hasn’t been used in years. I’ve always thought that those born in the last part of the 19th century witnessed such a changed world if they lived into the middle twentieth century. Quiet rural communities emptied out as residents sought work outside of farming, which didn’t provide for families as it might have decades earlier.
Hansford’s home, as it stands above the creek, is a poignant reminder of so many similar Kentucky houses and families over the years. The dwelling will probably never again be a home, but I find the phrase on Hanford’s grave suitably appropriate for its story: Gone to a bright home where grief cannot come.