Log Culture

There are two distinct places in what is known as the Log Culture area. The first is the Peters Colony Land Grant Office, pictured to the right. The Peters Colony Land Grant Office was built at the Historical Park in 2002 by Mr. Bill Marquis of Ponder, Texas. This replica was designed to represent the original Peters Colony Land Grant Office which was located in Farmers Branch in the 1840s. Local lore maintains that the original office was located somewhere along Farmers Branch Creek and that the employees often ate their meals with the Webb Family or Keenan Family. Thus, our replica office may very well be close to the location of its historic ancestor. It is reasonable to assume the first Peters Colony Land Grant Office looked much like this replica as it is typical of early pioneer cabins in Texas.
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The employees of Peters Colony who lived in the cabin were tasked with helping colonists apply for land, surveying their property, and adding it to the regional map to avoid property disputes. The surveyor’s equipment includes a compass, tripod and chains as well as writing implements for recording survey information and making maps. The surveyors both lived and work in the cabin. Their beds (although likely too short), are attached to the walls.

The Peters Colony Land Grant Office was constructed using freshly cut post oak trees and red clay. The logs were cut to fit together, using a saddle notch at the corners. This is one of four major notch styles used in Texas and probably the easiest and most ancient. The roof design is called a weighted pole roof, named for the small logs laid on the roof, which weigh down the clapboards on which they lie. There are two windows and several small gunports which provide visual access to every side of the house. A simple fireplace serves as both kitchen and heating unit for the surveyors and their guests. “Old mother earth served as [the floor]” for many early Texas cabins, including the Land Grant Office.

Likely, some of the men or families which applied to live in the Colony also lived in cabins like this until true log homes were built. Many pioneer families traveled long distances by foot, horseback, or wagon in order to settle in Peters Colony. Colonists to Peters Colony received up to 640 acres per family and 320 acres per individual. In exchange, all they had to do was cultivate 15 acres, keep it fenced, and build a cabin. Unlike today, there were no pre-built homes waiting for pioneers. It was common for pioneers to quickly build a cabin like this as a temporary home when they first arrived. One or two men could build this cabin using only one tool each in a matter of days.
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The second, pictured to the left, is known as the Log House. Log structures were a prominent feature of Texas during the 1800s. Indeed, they were popular in present-day United States since the 1630’s when European settlers constructed them based on styles that had been used for centuries in their homeland. Log structures came in all shapes and sizes and served many different purposes as dwellings, barns, smokehouses, kitchens, and more. Log dwellings, however, came in only two types: cabins and houses. According to historian Terry Jordan, “the cabin belongs to an early, primitive generation of log dwellings built for temporary occupancy in the first, difficult years of pioneering.” Cabins are small, often windowless, with dirt floors, and crudely shaped logs with the bark still on the outside. The Peters Colony Land Grant Office is a good example of a cabin.
In contrast, the log house “is a second-generation dwelling, built of carefully hewn timbers, neatly notched at the corners and sawn off flush, tightly chinked, equipped with a wooden floor and window or two, and provided with graceful chimneys of stone or brick.” While cabins could be built by one or two individuals, log houses were usually built by professional carpenters.

The Johnson family built the log house and several outbuildings near Pilot Point, Texas in the 1870s (although the buildings are now being interpreted as they were during the 1840s.) The Johnson family of northern Denton County, was one of the larger families in the area. From Hebron, Texas, up to the Red River, certain members of the family were quite prominent. However, little is known about the family members who lived on the farm where our structures were built.

The Historical Park obtained these structures from the U. S. Corps of Engineers. They were scheduled to be destroyed to make way for Lake Ray Roberts in 1980. With a grant from the Farmers Branch Civic League, the Historical Park was able to hire archaeologists to dismantle the structures, number the logs, and restore them.

The logs of the house were cut to fit together in the corners of the house using half-dovetail notching. This is the most common style of notching in Texas log houses and is considered “a superior type [of nothing] identified with fine craftsmanship”. It produces a firm, locked joint and drains water to the exterior. The roof of the house has a shallow pitch along the eaves and over a lean-to, and toward the center climbs at a steeper pitch to meet at the peak. Inside the home, each floor is taken up with an entire room. The fireplace is only on the lower level. The staircase is located inside the home, but has a door on the lower level.

The single crib barn was part of the original Johnson homestead and is in a style common throughout 19th century Texas. In fact, Terry Jordan refers to the single crib barn as the most common farm outbuilding in Texas. Our crib, like most in Texas, was constructed poorly, for use as corn or grain storage. The door into the crib is typically quite small. It is the barn, not the log house, which has the iconic “witches hat” style roof. On either side of the crib is a storage shed.
Our barn houses a blacksmith shop in one of the storage sheds. There is no evidence that the Johnsons had a blacksmith shop in their single crib barn, but some homesteads did include a small blacksmith shed and forge to make and repair tools. The owner may have saved scrap metal and reused the material. Usually a forge was set up in a dark area in an out-building where the darkness could help him determine the temperature of the metal by its color. These farm blacksmiths generally had shop areas that were cluttered with odds and ends of metal, plus broken farm implements waiting to be repaired.

While there were similarities shared by all blacksmith shops, the position of the major pieces of equipment were based on the preferences of each individual. The size of a blacksmith determined how wide a space there would be between the forge (which heated the metal), the anvil (where the metal was shaped), and a barrel of water (to cool and set the metal.) He needed to reach all three work areas with a minimum of movement. The height of his anvil was also determined by individual height.
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