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Ask Rufus: Columbus' early log houses

 

Although the exterior of Butterworth was covered by clapboards by the 1840s, the interior reveals its 1820s log construction.

Although the exterior of Butterworth was covered by clapboards by the 1840s, the interior reveals its 1820s log construction. Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

Rufus Ward

 

As might be expected, the earliest houses constructed in the upper Tombigbee River Valley were constructed mostly of log. The term "log cabin," though, is not a very good description of many of the log structures that were built. 

 

The earliest description of an area structure was of the two story 20-foot -by-20-foot log block house at John Pitchlynn's Fort Smith on Plymouth Bluff which was constructed in 1813. While the first house built at Columbus in the fall of 1817 by Thomas Thomas could well be described as a log cabin, some other early Columbus log homes such as William Cocke's 1818 two-story cross-hall log home were far from being a cabin. 

 

Early log structures took several different forms. There was Pitchlynn's blockhouse, out buildings such as smokehouses or barns and, of course, residences. It is the residential structures I will focus on. Log dwellings in what is now Mississippi and Alabama took four principal forms: Single pen, double pen, dog-trot and saddle-bag. 

 

A single pen house was just one room, which often featured a loft. A double pen was two rooms with an exterior doorway into each room. A saddle-bag was two rooms, one being smaller than the other and one exterior door into the larger room. The dog-trot was two room with a wide hallway between them and the rooms opening into the hallway. Because the central hallway was sometimes left open to the outside thereby allowing a dog to run through unhindered, the style took the name dog trot. 

 

In the 1820s probably half of the houses in Columbus were log houses. Very few of those houses have survived and all have been altered over the years so that none of them when viewed from the street appears to be log. Within the original city limits, log construction ended in 1830 but outside of town log construction continued into the late 1800s. It has not been many years since there were people in the country still residing in unaltered log cabins. 

 

Three surviving early Columbus homes reflect the log construction tradition. The Cedars, ca 1818, is the oldest surviving house in north Mississippi, and was originally a single pen log house. Butterworth which was formerly known as the Moody House is a log dog-trot constructed in the 1820s. Hickory Sticks was constructed as a log double pen probably in the mid-to-late 1820s. 

 

Located on Pleasant Ridge overlooking Military Road is the Cedars. Halfway between the house and the road is a natural spring, making this a prime building location along the road which was constructed by that site between 1817 and 1819. The original part of the house is a 21-foot-by-21-foot single pen log structure constructed of square-hewn pine logs. 

 

The earliest recorded owner of the property was Vardy McBee. The McBee family moved to present day Lowndes County in 1817. There is no record, though, as to when McBee acquired the property or if he built the house. 

 

There is, though, strong physical evidence as to the age of The Cedars. The original log single pen part of the house represents the earliest style of house construction. The original log exterior is visible in the attic. It shows four long periods of weathering and white-washing prior to Captain Edward Randolph enlarging the house and converting it into the Greek Revival style in 1835. Based on physical and documentary evidence the house was built between 1817 and 1824, most likely shortly after 1817. 

 

Butterworth is a log dog-trot located on South Side and is one of only two dog-trot log houses known to have survived within the current city limits. Once known as the Moody House it was constructed in the 1820s. Oral tradition says that the house had once been located downtown and had been moved to its present location around 1900. The house was constructed as two 16-foot-by-16-foot log rooms with a breezeway between them. 

 

By the 1840s the logs were clapboarded over and the breezeway had been given a Greek Revival entrance way. Its builder and original owner are unknown and its date of construction is based on its style and because no log houses were said to have been built within the Columbus town limits after 1830. 

 

Hickory Sticks is located on the west side of Pleasant Ridge over looking the old Columbus -- Hamilton Road now 7th Street North. It was originally a story and a half double pen log house probably built in the mid to late 1820s. Interestingly, the logs that were used were of different woods probably because size rather than type of wood was the prime consideration when procuring the logs. The earliest land deed records show Andrew Weir receiving a patent to the property in 1834 but the house appears to have been built prior to that date. Robert Hayden purchased the house in 1846 and it was probably then that the house was enlarged and remodeled into a Greek Revival home. 

 

Within the town limits of Columbus an "edict" was issued in 1830 banning any further construction of log homes. All new home construction was to be of either frame or brick. The first frame house had been built in 1819 and brick houses were being built by the mid 1820s. The period of log construction in Columbus had only lasted about 10 years.

 

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at rufushistory@aol.com.

 

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