Folk Architecture Page 3


            Log houses were not built by the first American settlers, and no one is sure exactly what the origin of this kind of construction is, but by the time Arkansas was settled, log structures were common. Several pioneer log homes, some covered with weatherboarding, still stand in the area.

            Any construction technique—brick, stone, braced frame, balloon frame, box, or log—can be used to produce any kind of traditional building, and scholars have been interested in all different kinds—from barns  to churches, smokehouses to stores . Most popular for study, however, are houses, which are classified into different house types according to floor plan. In determining what type a houses falls into, the researcher considers only the part of the house under the main roof, which is North Central Arkansas is nearly always a gabled roof, peaked on either end and the long side running parallel to the front of the house. Other rooms, whether original or later additions, do not affect the type. Let’s look at some examples of houses from North Central Arkansas and see what we can learn.

            The various types of traditional houses are surprisingly limited in comparison with the wide diversity of architect-designed houses. The simplest, in fact, is a single room. Students of folk architecture call this type a single-pen house. It may be square or rectangular and usually has some kind of addition to increase the useable living space. A few single-pen houses have a shed room on one side , but the most common addition is across the back. Imagine the different concepts of privacy or the different uses of space at work in a house of this type when a family of half-a-dozen people cooked, ate, slept, and bathed in such a limited space.

            Many families lived in a double-pen house, essentially a doubling of the single-pen floor plan . In fact, some houses of this type began as one-room structures with the second pen added later to accommodate a growing family or to reflect improved family finances. The double-pen house nearly always has two front doors, one for each room. Since both were usually used as bedrooms, the separate doors gave the occupants some privacy . Also, the doors provided ventilation. One man jokingly claimed that the doors provided an escape route from his wife. Certainly the social and psychological pressures of close living were not totally eased by living in a two-room rather than a one-room structure.

            If the two pens were separated by a space but the entire structure was covered by a continuous roof, another house type resulted. Sometimes called “two pens and a passage” by the people who lived in them, these houses can be defined by the presence or absence of doors on the central passageway.

            One variety of this type is the dogtrot house with its central hall open to the weather. The shady hall provided a summertime dining room and bedroom. In winter it was a convenient storeroom. Some scholars believe that this kind of house is an American invention, and it is true that houses of this sort are not found in the parts of Britain and Europe where most settlers came from. A fairly common barn type is about the same size and has the same floor plan. Perhaps it was the inspiration. No one really knows how to when this type originated, but the cool central hall shows pioneer ingenuity in coping with the demands of the hot southern climate.


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