WOW! Historic Timbers Project is in the news again! Thanks to Andrew Carroll and West Virginia Public Broadcasting for covering our research. Check it out here!
Shawn and I went down to Pocahontas County last week to meet with the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation folks and the Pocahontas County Historical Society to see the structures they are interested in having dated.
We started our day at the Pearl Buck Birthplace Museum, where the Sydenstricker House is located. Pearl Buck was the Nobel prize winning author of the novel "The Good Earth". The Sydenstricker House was built by her great great grandfather, in approximately 1834. It's a two-story log structure that was originally located in Greenbrier County, and was moved to Pocahontas County in 1977 to sit on the Pearl Buck Birthplace museum property.
Our goal on this trip was to determine if the log structures would be candidates for tree-ring dating. This is the first step in the dating process for us. Very rarely do we accept a structure into the project without doing this important step.
We start by going over the written/oral history of the structure with the property owner/manager. Then we do an initial sweep of the logs to see if there are any exposed outer surfaces. If there aren't any logs with outer edges that are exposed enough for us to collect a core, then the tour is over. This doesn't usually happen, although it has on occasion.
We start mapping the structure once we've determined that there are some exposed outer edges.
This part of the process is a bit lengthy (1-2 hours). We account for every log in the structure, and begin mapping locations that could be sampled on each log. We document whether these exposed surfaces have bark or an outer edge (directly below bark), both on the interior and the exterior of the structure. After we've accounted for every log, we add up the potential coring locations and assess the quality of those locations. Surfaces with bark are most preferred. Surfaces with outer edge are second best. Anything less than that reduces the accuracy of the dating.
We always have in mind a minimum number of samples necessary to date a structure. This number increases with the size of the structure. If the potential coring locations are less than the minimum number of samples needed, we must reassess the structure's candidacy for dating. In cases like this, we may be able to offer a date that is close to the cutting date (within 10 years, for example).
After going over our map of sampling locations, we determined that the Sydenstricker House would be a candidate for tree-ring dating. There were over 70 sampling locations with exposed bark or outer edges, which is way more than necessary! Very fine, indeed. We will likely collect around 30 cores from this structure next summer, provided our funding comes through for 2016 field work.
Next we met up with Bill McNeel of the Pocahontas County Historical Society and Andrew Carroll, a reporter from WV Public Broadcasting. Bill had a few structures he wanted to show us around the area, and Andrew Carroll tagged along to see us in action.
Our first stop was a McNeel family barn (relations to Bill) in the Hillsboro area. The original house no longer stands but was believed to have been built in the late 1700s when the family settled in the area. It is unknown whether the barn is original or a later addition.
When we saw the barn we were blown away. Shawn and I were like kids in a candy store. The barn was HUUUGE! And the logs were rounded! And there was bark aplenty! And the logs were diamond notched! I'm sure both Bill and Andrew thought we were crazy. It really couldn't have been any better.
Shawn and I have heard rumors about diamond notching being the earliest style in this area, but we had never seen it in person. To see it here was really exciting. Whether or not it is truly the earliest in the area is to be determined. Either way, we both knew we wanted to find out!
To say this barn might be a candidate for tree-ring dating is an understatement. There are so many logs in there, and with so many of them still completely covered in bark we didn't even bother mapping it. It's definitely on my list for next summer.
Next we headed towards Mill Point to see another McNeel barn. This one has been rumored to have possibly been a fort at one point because of its proximity to an old fort site.
I forgot to take pictures of the inside of this barn. Sorry! It was also huge. The logs were roughly hewn and steeple notched. We did not see much bark in there, but we think there are some outer edges still intact, so it is likely we will be able to determine a date.
We took a thorough look through the barn but could not see any indication that it may have served any other purpose. So it is unlikely that this barn was a fort, but you never know. We will collect samples here since we'll already be in the area collecting cores from the other McNeel barn.
Next we went to Kee Cabin, which is currently located on the Pocahontas County Historical Society museum property. We started losing daylight and had to pick up the pace a bit, because we still had a few more structures to see before heading home.
Kee Cabin was believed to have been built sometime between 1835 and 1840 by the Kee family. This house was lived in by members of the Kee family up until the 1940s. In 1969 it was donated to the historical society and moved to its current location.
The logs were hewn and steeple notched. We noted a number of locations upstairs that still had bark, and many other locations around the cabin where outer edges were visible.
We are excited to add Kee Cabin to our list for next summer.
We drove in to Marlinton to see the McLaughlin House, a log structure owned by the WV Land Trust. They found the structure hiding within the walls of a dilapidated house, moved it, and are currently renovating it. It looked great. Because the Land Trust is currently restoring the structure it is not likely that we will collect any samples, at least not yet. But here are some pictures of the structure for you to see.
Our last stop of the day was Jerico Bed and Breakfast, just outside of downtown Marlinton. The owners of Jerico have collected log structures and restored them on their property as rental cabins for vacationers. Unfortunately the owners were not able to meet with us that day, but we still got to peek in a few of the cabins. From what we saw they looked like candidates for tree-ring dating.
We are hopeful that we can help them date their collection of historic log structures! We also hope to come back sometime and stay in one. Super cool!
After a full day of touring log structures it was time to head home. We are really excited to be working in Pocahontas County and hope to hear about many more structures in the area that are in need of tree-ring dating.
Hopefully we didn't bore WVPB reporter, Andrew, to tears! We were really excited to have him come out with us and share our project with the rest of West Virginia. Maybe one day we will be able to expand the Historic Timbers Project throughout the entire state!
And, of course, no post would be complete without some sort of critter picture! Here's a cute little guy we met at the diamond barn.
The Historic Timbers Project was featured in the Pendleton Times for our work at the Pitsenbarger Farm in October!
Thanks to Terri McCoy of the Pendleton Times for letting us share her story here.
Well, the field season for 2015 is officially over. Probably. Maybe. You never know...
As I mentioned before, I headed out to Hedrick House near Alderson, WV last week. Shawn wasn't able to make the trip, because he was busy taking his GREs! Because he's applying to graduate school! Yay for Shawn!
But don't worry, I had help. AllStar Ecology sent me a volunteer!
AllStar Ecology, an ecological consulting company based out of Fairmont, WV, helps to protect, maintain, and restore vulnerable environments (and archaeological sites) here in the central Appalachian region. The company also encourages their employees to do volunteer work for the local community. So great!
My volunteer, Dave Bohnert, is an environmental scientist at AllStar Ecology. He has a lot of prior experience coring trees and doing the whole dendro thing, so he was a great help on this trip. He also happens to be my better half and has put up with me going on and on (and on) about my research on a daily basis, so he's pretty familiar with the whole project.
We packed up the car early Wednesday morning with coring gear, camping gear, and our two dogs (yes, more chaos, please) and hit the road!
Meet Milly (left, creepy stare) and Stella, our much loved and very spoiled dogs. We rarely take them out in "the field" with us, but they are no strangers to camping/backpacking/etc; though Milly would rather be at home under a blanket and eating food (preferably both at the same time).
When we arrived, Jeannie Miller (the owner) informed us that at least one bear was frequenting the Hedrick House site. This was problematic for us because the only way to get to Hedrick house was via ATVs. It is located up the mountain and is fairly secluded. Since we wouldn't be able to drive my car up there, there would be nowhere safe to store our food. We decided it would be best to camp down in the valley near Jeannie's farmhouse. So we weren't really roughing it as much as I thought we would, but at least we wouldn't be dinner for the bear(s)!
We set up camp and got our gear loaded into Jeannie's RTV. She was kind enough to provide us a daily shuttle service to and from Hedrick House.
We got really lucky on this trip and had unseasonably warm weather (highs in the 70s!), but as soon as we got up the mountain it began to rain.
Dave and Chuck (our chauffeur extraordinaire) had to go back down the mountain to get the generator; leaving me, the dogs, and the bears alone for a while. I did what any sane person would do and blasted some music on my phone, hoping it would deter the bears.
I don't think bears like Bette Midler's music. I don't like Bette Midler's music (no offense Bette). I'm not even sure why it's on my phone. But in that moment Bette Midler made me feel a little bit safer.
There isn't much recorded history on Hedrick House. We know that the ATV trail was once a county road that people actually drove cars on. We also know that there used to be more houses on the ridge. The foundation of one still exists. Based on the notching style of the Hedrick logs, my guess is that this house was built in the early to mid 1800s.
But I'm no expert at guessing dates based on notching styles. From the books I've read, these styles relate to different periods in different areas. They are more of a cultural indicator; styles picked up from the various places people came from during settlement. But from what I've seen, they can be used to estimate dates in particular regions, if you know a bit of the history of the area. Here in southern West Virginia it seems the notching styles moved through time from steeple to half dovetail to full dovetail. But I've read books on notching styles where the progression of style was quite different. It will be interesting to see if my observations of notching style and periods of construction are consistent throughout southeastern West Virginia or where they might differ. I guess that's the geographer in me...
As you can see in the pictures, one side of the house is clapboard, so we were only able to collect cores from the north, south, and east walls. Additionally, the north wall had been partially covered with siding. There were few exposed beams in the interior of the house, and the floor upstairs was not exactly safe to walk around on. So we were very limited in what we could sample.
I started by giving Dave a quick tutorial on how to collect cores from logs, which is very different from coring living trees. Then we got to work.
Well, first he had to goof off a bit...
After a good chase around the property with a drill (not safe, please don't do this with your dogs), Dave was ready to work.
We were able to core a few logs that still had bark attached, but mostly we were hunting for logs that still had an outer surface. These logs were in relatively good shape, which is pretty amazing considering that they are very exposed and we believe they are poplar based on the one sample Shawn and I collected over the summer.
Dave figured out the coring technique very quickly, and collected some really nice samples. I like to think it's because I am a good teacher, but he'd probably say he's just a natural...a renaissance man...blah blah blah.
It's always a great feeling when you get your first solid core...
We were able to get 15 cores from Hedrick House. I would have preferred more, but we really were limited in where we could sample. After we plugged up all of our holes, we moved down the mountain to check out a small log structure on Jeannie's property.
This small log structure appears to be built out of a collection of oak and poplar logs. We noted half dovetail, full dovetail, and a few steeple notches. This suggests that it might have replacement logs in it.
Jeannie remembers playing in this structure as a child. It was also used as a chicken coop for a while too, but its original use is unknown.
Since we were hurting for more cores, we decided to go ahead and core the small structure. Unfortunately, the logs here were not in as good of shape as the logs from Hedrick House. Many of our cores broke and/or turned to sawdust as we collected them. But we did get approximately seven good ones. It will be interesting to see if they all have different dates or one common date. But because of the varying notching styles used, I don't imagine this will date to one common year.
It will be very interesting to see what year Hedrick House dates to. Sometimes no background information is more exciting, because then we have no expectations of a date.
Whatever the date may be, Jeannie is considering moving the house down the valley and restoring it so that it is habitable again. I think that sounds like a great idea. Hopefully she'll let us stay in it one day.
Well, that's it. Field season 2015 is done. For the next 5 months we'll be peering into the microscopes, trying to sort out dates for all of the structures we sampled this field season. Jeannie, thank you for letting us come out with very little notice! And thank you for the generator use! One of these days, we will bring our own (I hope!). We can't thank everyone we've met and worked with enough. It was a great year and we hope next year is just as productive!
Don't forget, we also have presentations of results coming up in the spring. We haven't set dates yet, but I'll post those here when we do.
And please don't forget about us until spring! I'll be posting updates regularly. And we'll give you a peek in our lab too. Shawn doesn't wear plaid in there. It's crazy!
And lastly, thank you so much AllStar Ecology, for letting me borrow Dave for this trip. His help was so greatly appreciated. Hopefully we can steal him away again in the future!