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The Colonial Records Project
Historical Publications Section
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Raleigh, NC 27699-4622
Phone: (919) 733-7442
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Last Updated 11/14/01
Colonial Homes in North Carolina
Kinds of ConstructionLog Houses, Houses with a Wooden Frame, Brick and Stone Houses, Roofs
Much of the special charm of a colonial home lies in its structure so quaint and different from the construction used in homes of our day. Some colonial homes are log cabins, others have a wooden frame or skeleton, and still others are made of brick or stone. Sometimes a builder could choose his materials and kind of construction. At other times and places a builder had little or no choice of materials and was limited to using the simplest tools and construction methods. In order to understand the meaning of colonial architecture one looks carefully at structure.
We begin our study with log houses because they seem the simplest of the several kinds of construction. Log homes or log cabins were not built by the first colonists, however. It is true that such houses had been built in northern European countries since very early times, but this type of construction was not introduced in the colonies for houses until late in the 17th century. From that time on, log homes were  continuously built in the colonies for pioneer cabins, barns, outdoor kitchens, and other simple structures. In colonial times log construction was also used for jails, forts, and for the first courthouses. We shall note a number of designs for log houses and the various ways in which logs were cut and joined together.
The illustration on page 26 gives the flavor and the feeling of the pioneer log cabin. This drawing of a cabin near Fayetteville is from a travel book, A Journey in the Slave States, 1856, written by Frederick Law Olmsted. Olmsted, who won fame as the designer of Central Park, in New York City, was also interested in traveling and seeing how people lived and how they built homes. The drawing shows how the logs fit together at the corners, each log being notched so that it locks with the other logs above and below. The chimney is also made of logs-or, rather, of small sticks-and is plastered inside with mud. The open spaces between the big logs of the house should also be filled or chinked with mud, but Mr. Olmsted observed that they were not. The roof, it will be noticed, is covered with huge shingles, or shakes.
Although there are many log cabins in North Carolina, most of those from the colonial period have disappeared. The Britten Sanders log cabin in Southern Pines (figures 16 and 17), is a well-known example which has survived. It is more elegant than the cabin seen in the preceding sketch. The round logs have been somewhat squared-off. The great chimney is of stone. The roof extends far out on the chimney side to protect clay mortar in the chimney from rain. The clay mortar as well as the clay chinking between the logs has now been replaced with cement for permanence. In the restored chimney it may be observed how the cement does not extend flush to the outside surface. Instead, it is kept  deep within the stones in imitation of clay mortar which has partially washed away.
The Sanders cabin is a restoration project of the Moore County Historical Association. The Association took the cabin from its original country site and moved it to Southern Pines. The chimney had fallen down, but the stones were picked up and are used in the present chimney. The cabin is on the grounds of the Shaw house, an early 19th-century home. It seems appropriate that the old cabin should be sited on the property of the later house, for this was the practice of the early settlers. After out-growing their first cabin home, they would build a larger house, continuing to utilize the original cabin for cooking, weaving, and other purposes.
In the close-up photograph of the door and wall of the cabin may he seen a latch cord hanging from the door. A row of rafter ends shows just above the door. One rafter end is missing on the right; this marks the point where an inside stair rose to the loft. The present stair and the flooring of the cabin were taken from another old house.
The Blair-McCormack house, near High Point (figures 18, 19 and 20), presents some further ideas about log houses. This building is the Fnos Blair log cabin, constructed around 1750, later enlarged, and now the Jimmy McCormack house. The original cabin is surrounded by porches front and back, and additions on the left and right sides. At first glance the house seems quite recent and unremarkable; old log houses do not always reveal themselves in first casual view.
The logs of the cabin are joined as shown in the sketch, figure 19. This joint shows brilliant structural development beyond the simple saddle joint seen in previous examples. The craftsman who chopped the squared log ends had great skill as he cut the intricate geometrical teeth which lock together so securely and accurately. One can imagine him at  work:-he would cut a joint and lay the log in place. If the joint fit-fine. If it did not quite fit, he would remove the log and make further necessary cuts. This type of joint sheds water very well.
Because of the side additions to the Enos Blair cabin, nowhere around the present house can one see two outside walls as shown in our sketch. However, other cabins in North Carolina do show the complete joint as drawn.
The plan of the original cabin is given in figure 20. It shows what we have not seen before, a chimney completely inside of the house. The chimney, thus protected from rain, is laid with clay mortar. A narrow stairway at one side of the chimney winds up to the loft above. On this stairway the visitor is face to face with the great chimney, and can scoop out a sample of mortar with his finger nail, proving that the stones were indeed laid in clay.
 Figure 21, the Gregg Cabin, in the mountains of Caldwell County, is a further example of beautiful craftsmanship. The photograph shows changes that time has brought to the original house, but attention should be focussed on the lower walls in the foreground. Here the logs have been cut down to great planks, and so squarely cut that chinking seems almost unnecessary. The design of the corner joint, simpler than that of the Enos Blair cabin, is called dove-tail-each plank ends with a shape something like the tail of a dove.
Figures 22 and 23 show designs for double cabins-two cabins under one roof. The first idea, called the Saddle-Bag cabin, has two rooms attached to one central chimney. This plan gets its name because it resembles two saddle bags hanging over the back of a horse.
The second design, called the Dog-Run, has a chimney on each end, and an open breezeway-or dog run-through  the center. This plan is also known as the 'Possum Trot. No doubt the design was a favorite for large families, for it provided an out-door play area for children in good weather and bad.
Look back at the Gregg cabin (figure 21); by study of its roof line the plan of the cabin can be understood and named.
Both the Saddle-Bag and the Dog-Run plans are simple- just two cabins under one long roof. It seems appropriate therefore, that they should be of simple log construction.
Figure 24 is the John Knox cabin in Rowan County, built about 1752 but recently destroyed by fire. This illustration shows interesting developments in design. At first glance the structure does not seem to be a log house at all, but rather a medium sized clapboard house with a porch cut into one corner. But where the clapboards have been torn away one may see chinked log construction underneath. On the surface of this inner wall are vertical strips to which the clapboard siding is nailed. It is not uncommon for log structures to disappear beneath siding added at some later date. With the John Knox cabin we know the siding was added after the porch and shed because the siding sweeps without break across the whole side of the structure.
Olmsted noted this kind of cabin on his travels in South Carolina and was very appreciative of its features, which he described in some detail. In cabins of the better type, he said,
The roof is usually built with a curve, so as to project eight or ten feet beyond the log wall; and a part of this space, exterior to the logs, is inclosed with boards, making an additional small room, -the remainder forms an open porch. The whole cabin is often elevated on four corner posts, two or three feet from the ground, so that air may circulate under it . . . The porch has a railing in front . . . The logs are usually hewn but little, and, of course, as they are laid up, there will be wide interstices between them. They are commonly not chinked' or filled up in any way; nor is the wall lined inside.
 That such cabins were indeed of a better class becomes painfully clear when Olmsted adds a note about the cabins of poorer people. These cabins were mere pens of logs, roofed over, provided with a chimney, and usually with a shed of boards, supported by rough posts before the door.
WOODEN FRAME HOUSES
Houses with wooden frames or skeletons were built in North Carolina long before the log houses seen above. Framed houses represent a tradition of building dating from medieval times which the colonists brought from Europe.
The earliest framed houses in the South have disappeared almost without a trace, but scholars are able to form general ideas about their nature. For example, figure 25, showing several kinds of framed houses, is from Henry Formans' book, Architecture in the Old South. The drawing depicts the kind of wall surfaces which might possibly have been seen in  Jamestown, Virginia, very early in the 17th century. All the houses are of wooden frame construction, either exposed or covered. Houses with framework exposed are called halftimbered. From left to right in the drawing the houses are described as follows:-half-timber work with brick filling; plaster; weatherboarding or clapboards: half-timber work with plaster; and tile-hung. Several of the houses have a projecting second story. All have steep roofs. Windows are of the hinged casement type, with small pieces of diagonally set glass.
Houses of this general sort-especially those with exposed wooden frame and projecting second story-are frequently shown in illustrations in European history books. In England they are called Jacobean, because of their association with the Jacobean period in 17th-century England which followed the Tudor era.
 As the 17th century gave way to the 18th, the medieval open-framed house was generally supplanted by the house with clapboard siding, like the third house in figure 25. This wall surface offered better protection against rain and cold winds than the open-frame house which leaked on all sides. In the 18th century the use of a projecting second story was discontinued. Larger panes of glass for windows became available in the 18th century, and sliding sash windows, like those noted in the Palmer house, came into general use.
Almost all of the medieval open-frame structures in America have disappeared, but North Carolina still has a remarkable example in the Brothers House in Salem (figure 26). Those who have visited Salem in past years may be surprised to learn this and to see the strange-looking building in our sketch, for they recall no such structure. Instead, the Brothers House is remembered as a simple clapboard building. However, the house was built originally as in our sketch; the clapboards, added in the early 19th century, are currently being removed and the house restored to its original character.
Salem and the Brothers House date from near the end of the colonial period-a time long after colonial builders had generally abandoned the earlier, medieval construction. However, we show the Brothers House because it calls up for us the earlier colonial period with houses now destroyed and forgotten, built in such construction.
The town of Old Salem is a show place in North Carolina, one of those few towns anywhere in our country where a whole early settlement is preserved. Salem was established in 1766 by members of a religious group, the Moravians, who planned their town and their life quite differently from other settlers. For example, the Brothers House, built in 1769, was a place for unmarried men to live and to work at carpentry,  pottery and other trades, and to teach these trades. The house is one of several early structures in Salem built in the medieval way with open timber construction or with wood framework covered by plaster. The builders were aware that wood siding would have given better protection, but it was the most expensive method of surfacing a house according to a Salem report of 1768. Therefore, some of the early houses were built in the older way. The curious apron roof encircling the walls above the first story somewhat protected the lower walls from rain and also provided a sheltered path for pedestrians.
In 1786 the house was given a brick addition on the left, and around 1800 was plastered over. Perhaps at this time the apron roof was removed. The plastering was apparently not successful, for in 1826 the weatherboard siding was added and remained until its recent removal.
The photograph, figure 27, was taken in the summer of 1962; it shows a workman removing the siding of 1826. The skeleton of the house is made of great squarish timbers. Toward the right of the photograph may be seen the wooden pegs which hold the timbers together. Bricks are cut as necessary to fit within the wooden framework. The photograph suggests a question which visitors ask:-wliat holds the brick panels in place and prevents them from falling out? The explanation is simple and shows the cleverness of the designers. The brick panels fit into frames that have been slightly hollowed out on their inner sides. Through the window one has a glimpse of an inside wall. It has exposed timber construction too. In discussing Old Salem we should note plans for opening a new museum, the Museum of Southern Decorative Arts. The museum will contain a series of rooms secured from 18th-and 19th-century homes. This is a new kind of  museum for the South and is another reason for visiting Salem.
Elsewhere than Old Salem all the surviving wooden-frame colonial homes in North Carolina have wooden siding. They were probably planned from the start to have this modern siding, and hence their skeleton construction was not quite like that in the Brothers House. In order to get an idea of what the new construction was like, we look at Figure 28. This is the structure previously examined, the Palmer house, during reconstruction. The photograph was taken after the later porch was removed, thus exposing the original wooden frame of the house.
At first glance one might take this to be a 20th century house, with vertical studs and horizontal laths to which plaster has been applied from the inside. Drips of wet plaster show clearly in the photograph. However, a closer look shows that the variously sized and irregularly placed wood members come from an age before factory-cut 2 x 4's. Nevertheless, the preponderance of vertical studs does suggest that the builder had a clear idea of stud construction in mind. The studs provide a good nailing surface for the laths inside and the clapboards outside. To speculate on this design is to be dazzled by its beauty and simplicity. The builder must have felt that he was really living in a modern age.
Looking further at the photograph one may visualize the craftsman at work, cutting and fitting his wood together in ingenious ways. At the left is a great vertical post which rises through two stories. It is notched on right and left to hold the horizontal beam which passes behind it. These two members are locked together by wooden pegs. The doors is framed by two thick posts, with two light studs between. The window above the door is also framed by thick posts. But because the window is narrower than the door, it requires only one  stud between its posts. At the right, a large post is braced by diagonal sticks, one on either side. This post corresponds to the post noted on far left, but that post was made of one long piece of wood, and this one is made of two pieces. Details such as these suggest that the builder played it by ear-decided upon joints and bracing as he went along.
Figure 29 is inserted here to suggest the variety of clever ways in which colonial craftsmen fitted wood pieces together. Such junctions are called mortise and tenon joints. They are cut with a chisel and mallet. One can well imagine the satisfaction derived by the craftsman in deciding upon the particular kind of joint to cut. When the two pieces fitted together perfectly, a hole was drilled hrough them with an auger, a peg was cut and driven into the hole, and the proud workman moved on to the next joint. Sometimes, in details such as windows and cabinets, tIme pegs are as narrow in diameter as the lead in a pencil, but are fitted so perfectly that one must look hard to find them. Figure 30 concerns the attic of a colonial house. This diagram shows the fascinating mortised and pegged joints on display at the Sloop Point house, which will be mentioned later. At floor level a rafter is cut and locked with a floor beam. At the ridge of the roof two rafters are beautifully n7mortised and pegged together.
When visiting an old house, it is often rewarding to ask the owner what he knows about its construction details. Sometimes under a stairway or along a damaged plaster wall one may see into the skeletal structure. Walls are not always hollow as in the Palmer house; sometimes they are filled with brick or clay bats, thus recalling medieval construction. Basements, as well as attics, arc good places in which to find hewn joints. On the outside of a house the trim at the corners and at the roof should be studied. The problem on the outside  is water-rain water which may get into the ends of a piece of wood, or into joints, thus causing rotting. This problem should be kept in mind when examining the trim on a house; colonial builders were very aware of it.
Figure 31, the Cupola House in Edenton, is one of the oldest remaining wooden frame houses in North Carolina. It is famous for its exterior with cupola and overhanging second story, and for its interior rooms, lavishly carved. Sauthier's map of Edenton clearly shows the house facing its own wharf on the bay, a fine view of which can still be had from the cupola. The house is dated between 1724, When Richard Sanderson purchased the lot unimproved, and 1726, when he sold the lot with a house on it. Toward mid-century another owner installed the carved interiors. At present the building serves as the Edenton Public Library.
The overhanging second story supported on brackets recalls the sketches of 17th-century houses previously seen, and the Cupola House has been praised as the finest framed Jacobean house in the South. Our photograph, taken some years ago, shows scalloped shingles around the cupola and ordinary shingles on the roof. The latter are replacements, for, of course, houses have to be reshingled at intervals. Since this photograph was taken the Cupola House has been reshingled completely with scalloped shingles in an effort to restore the original appearance of the roof.
BRICK AND STONE HOUSES
A few early 18th-century brick houses remain in North Carolina. They exhibit a special kind of shimmering beauty. Figure 32, the Jordan farm house, near Windsor, thought to have been built in 1713, is one of the earliest of these houses. It burned in the 1920's, and its new dormers and wood details are not of colonial design, but the original brick mass of the house has been preserved to be seen and enjoyed. The brick surface has a sparkle, a checkerboarding of light and dark, which resu1ts from using bricks which are glazed on their ends, but left unglazed on their sides. The bricks are laid in courses in which ends (headers) alternate with sides (stretchers). This system of laying brick is called Flemish bond; it differs from the method used today in which only the stretchers are exposed. The colonists presumably felt that Flemish bond was strong and proper, and they certainly were charmed by the appearance of the walls.
There is a further special effect to be noted in brick houses such as the Jordan house. The chimneys are set inside the wall, and so do not break the smooth outside surface of the wall. The basement, although projecting slightly, is made of the same stuff as the upper wall. Thus the whole lower part of the house registers in one's mind as a very clean,  rectilinear form placed directly on the ground. By contrast, framed houses are more complicated in their geometry, with brick chimneys projecting at the sides, and with brick foundations showing in obvious contrast to clapboard walls.
Figure 33, the Newbold-White house near Hertford, is also of the early 18th century, but is smaller and closer to the around than the Jordan farm. The wooden lean-to on the right is a later addition. This side with three dormer windows was once the front of the house. The base has been plastered over, to protect the brick which at this level often disintegrates.
This picture was made by the master photographer, Frances Benjamin Johnston. It brings out the dazzling brick surface of the old structure and other details of brickwork design, such as the window tops set in gentle arches and the horizontal line which runs across the end wall. This hinc is a shadow cast by two slightly projecting courses of brick and marks the division between first and second floors; on the inside the offset courses provide a ledge on which to lay floor beams.
Brick, as may be inferred from above, was used in a number of structural and decorative ways; some are suggested in figure 34. Flemish bond (figure 34a) we have already noted. English bond (34b) has courses entirely of stretchers alternating with courses entirely of headers. This bonding system is illustrated in chimneys from the Palmer house, figure 13, and from the Sloop Point house to be seen later. Sometimes all the bricks in a course were set diagonally, thins producing a remarkable accent line (34c) ; or the square ends of a row of bricks were molded or rubbed into curves (34d). In some brick houses remaining from the later 18th century, as in the Salisbury area, bold and gay patterns were  created through use of glazed, and lighter and darker bricks (34e).
It may be supposed that masons enjoyed such improvisation, just as woodworkers took pleasure in the design of joints. When visiting a brick house and studying its details, the mortar should be examined also. Sometimes it will be found to contain bits of shells, for the colonists made an inferior sort of lime by burning oyster and other shells.
Figure 35, the Old Brick House, near Elizabeth City, demonstrates that some colonial houses had chimney walls of brick with front and back walls of wood. This well-known, early 18th-century house stands on the Pasquotank River, which can be seen in the illustration just beyond the house on the right. Not a little of the fame of this beautiful house comes from the legend that Blackbeard the pirate once lived here, mooring his ships at his own landing, nearby.
Each face of the house is clearly symmetrical, bespeaking the sense of balance which was so important to the 18th century. The end walls are in Flemish bond; the walls of the basement are of stone, the individual stones being like huge pebbles, rounded by centuries of washing on some beach. Such stones in colonial homes are often called ballast stones because sometimes they were shipped over as ballast in vessels from England and other shores. However, there is some doubt that this was so in the case of the present house, because it is unlikely that a ship in ballast could have sailed into the shallow Pasquotank River.
The floor plan and the famous interiors of this house will be discussed later in this booklet. To be noted along with brick houses are a few stone houses in the Piedmont, remaining from late colonial and early republican times. Figure 36, the Michael Braun house, near Salisbury, built between 1758 and 1766, is an impressive  example. Its orange-hued walls are two feet thick. Some years ago the house was in poor condition, remove this phrase, but was repaired by the Brown (Braun) family. It has now been purchased by the Rowan Museum, Salisbury, and is being restored by that organization. Like so many of our early houses, the Braun house is unusual in several ways. Immediately striking is the non-symmetrical division of the stone fašade, not at all like the Old Brick House and other 18th-century houses. The wooden structure at the right is the kitchen. In the kitchen is a great fireplace along the stone wall of the house, with the chimney containing ingenious flues to heat adjacent rooms in the house. The kitchen is a restoration.
ROOF IDEAS-GABLE, GAMBREL, AND HIPPED
In discussing the structure of colonial homes we add a note on the several kinds of roofs which were used. After a builder had raised the masonry or wood walls of his house, the roof was a major design and construction problem. The type of roof selected represented what the builder thought was good-looking and appropriate for his special needs.
Our diagram, figure 37, shows a gable roof on the left, contrasted with a gambrel roof on the right, each type having a dormer window to light the attic space thus making it more pleasant and usable. The gable room is simpler in construction, and was the type most generally used in the colonies; but our diagram suggests how it cramps free movement within the attic. The gambrel roof, although calling for more involved construction, affords more head room. Apart from the space consideration, the gambrel roof is rather cheerful and attractive when seen from the outside, a factor that may have been responsible for the 18th-century fad for them.
 Both the houses shown in the diagram are called story-and-a-half. Neither has a full second story like the Palmer house. Many believe that in colonial times the tax on story-and-a-half houses was less than that on two-story houses, and that for this reason people built the former type. Figure 38 shows the hipped roof, in which four roof planes, one on each side of the house, all slope back toward the center above, thus shedding water from all sides. The vertical walls of the house end in a top horizontal line which extends uninterruptedly around the house. Thus the lower part of the house, especially from the standpoint of the little figure on the ground in the illustration, asserts itself as a clean cube. In late colonial and early republican times this effect was much appreciated by enthusiasts of modern art, but home builders in the earlier 18th century did not show enthusiasm for the hipped roof, perhaps because it reduced the area of living space on the top floor. However, in early 18th-century public buildings, where an attic space was not of great value, the impressive-looking hipped roof was used. This type roof was used also on smoke houses and well houses, as was seen in the Palmer house.
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