Volume V, No. 4, Summer 1978
by Diana Foreman
Photography by Lance Collins
"Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home." The words of the famous song continue to be sung because they are true. Whether the house is a log cabin, a spacious and elegant colonial mansion, an elaborate Victorian house, a utilitarian farm house or a mobile home, there is no place like it to the occupants. The separate individual home of each family has been everyone's wish from cave man days. And though many homes were truly humble, a separate home was what residents of the Ozarks have always had from the earliest settlement.
The home is the oldest form of architectural structure. From the beginning of humanity man has constructed some form of shelter. Over the years and in different geographical locations homes have taken on new appearances.
The residents of the Ozarks, whose heritage goes back to the British Isles, built homes as their predecessors did. British colonists carried their styles to America, changing them only as necessary to adapt to new materials and different climatic conditions. Then as people moved westward, they continued to carry the styles or be influenced by newer styles.
In the Ozarks as did their ancestors back East, settlers took advantage of the abundant timber and the equally abundant rocks to build their homes. In the earliest days of settlement, except along navigable rivers where easier transportation enabled wealthier people to bring in sawed lumber or have sawmills to build frame structures, most of the homes were built of logs--the most available resource. To build a log house, all the family needed to bring in was an ax, a crosscut saw and a few hand tools everyone had. The logs, the rocks for foundations and chimneys and the materials for daubing and chinking between the logs were everywhere.
The typical log cabin was a single square or rectangular room in various sizes up to about twenty feet. The one room served as living room, kitchen, dining room and bedroom. The loft, which was common in many cabins, was an attic bedroom. The entrance was sometimes a trap door with a ladder, usually from the living section of the cabin and sometimes a ladder on the wall to an open loft. In latter years the loft might have a corner boxed-in staircase leading to it.
Most cabins had two doors, one in front and one in back. They had few or no windows. The use of windows was limited by the shortage of glass in the unsettled pioneer communities and by the more difficult construction techniques. In order to install a window, the logs making the side had to be cut and the hole framed, slowing down construction time. Those cabins that had windows usually had one on each end, rather than in the front or back.
As the pioneer family grew and the single room could no longer hold enough beds, they often built another cabin of the same size alongside to serve as a bedroom. Sometimes the two walls would be flush together, or they could be six or eight feet apart. If the original cabin had a window, it was a simple matter to make it a door leading to the other cabin. The new cabin also had few or no windows and besides the front and back door had a side door to the other cabin.
The extra cabin was built beside the original one, instead of simply adding a room, because of the technique used in dovetailing the logs. The logs fitted together at right angles, the joint holding up both walls. After the original log house was built, it was easier to build a new house than to add logs to the joints for another room. Later on with lumber and nails, men added rooms to the log cabin, but in early days, they simply built a separate cabin close by.
The space between the two cabins was called a dogtrot, probably because the family dog spent a great deal of time there in the protected place as close as possible to the family. Often the two cabins were joined with a connecting roof. This was only a roof--it kept the rain and snow off, but the wind blew through and the dog ran through from front door to back. The dogtrot made an ideal place to store the wood, handy to the house and out of the wet.
The lean-to kitchen, a three sided addition built over the back door, was another method of adding space when sawed lumber became available. It was a frame lumber structure with an outside door in the center or one on each side. The lean-to would have windows.
The log cabins were constructed very simply in comparison to the houses of today. The foundation was often only large flat rocks placed at the corners. The nicer cabins had a rock foundation under the whole house and sawed lumber or puncheon (split log) floors and glass windows, but some of the very early cabins were just four walls of dovetailed logs lying on the ground with a dirt floor. All cabins had a side chimney and fireplace built of native rock morticed with sand and lime or a mud-clay mixture.
As the area became more populated and towns grew, as land transportation improved, and as the people became more prosperous, they naturally desired bigger and better homes. When they built their first frame structure, they naturally patterned it after houses they had known as children in the East which in turn were patterned from styles brought from England. In this way many styles of homes have been carried on for generations.
A prominent old style that has continued in its popularity from before colonial days is the Federal, also known as the Colonial and the Georgian. Although the names have changed with the times, the style has remained basically the same.
The Georgian, a very popular style in England before the Revolutionary War, was named for the three King George's. When the colonists came across the Atlantic to the New World, they brought with them the same pattern, but here, with a few changes and adaptations, it was soon known as Colonial. After the Revolutionary War America was no longer colonial, so the style became Federal.
The basic Federal style is a large square or rectangular, two story house with a very symmetrical face, hipped roofs and sashed windows (small individual panes of glass). On the front the door was in the center with a door or window directly above. The remainder of the face was equally divided with matching sets of shuttered windows. Each end of the house, usually bare of windows except small ones in the attic, supported a chimney. The larger house would have four chimneys, two on each end, providing each room with a fireplace. The back of the house usually had a wing protruding to the rear, either an "L" or a "T" depending on whether the wing was on one side or in the middle. Later the classic Greek influence added pilasters (shallow piers that look like columns), or real columns on a wide front porch.
In America the houses were usually made of wood and covered with clapboards, which were long narrow boards with one edge thicker than the other, overlapped to cover the outer walls. This was also called weather boarding. Again attempting to imitate the Greek buildings, the builders painted them white.
The inside of the house was also balanced. The first floor had four rooms as did the second. The great center hall housed the elegant stairway leading to the second story.
However, not all Federal houses were so large and pretentious, as there were many modest variations. An example of a smaller house of this style is one built with a side hall instead of a center hall. The front door and stairway were on one side rather than in the center. This house also had a symetrical face with two stories and matched sets of windows and usually had only four rooms, two down and two up. Often a "T" or "L" wing would be added although the wing may have been only one story.
Adaptations of this style were built in the Ozarks in even smaller homes--some only two rooms. However, they continued the basic symmetry and other architectural details such as sashed windows.
The New England saltbox house was a more modest style than the Federal, built usually without architectural plans for necessity rather than elegance. The term saltbox came from the. resemblance the house had to a salt container of early American days. The rectangular frame house was often one room wide and two rooms deep of one or two stories. What distinguished this house was the roof. The rear slope of the gabled roof was much longer than the front.
About the time of the Civil War many changes were occurring in the world. The United States was rising to power in the industrial world and the ordinary man began to reap some of the benefits of industry. For many it was a time of plenty.
The new inventions and the spreading use of the railroad made it possible for suburbs to exist. With many new homes under construction, and people being people, fancy, more elaborate homes were becoming fashionable. The Victorian Age emerged.
The Victorian Age, originating in England and named for Queen Victoria, was a time of grandeur, pomp and finery in all things. In contrast to Federal architecture which was simple and utilitarian in design, the Victorian style was extremely decorative and elaborate. Houses influenced by this style were usually large, sprawling and pretentious with two or more stories, many gabled roofs, towers, and other protrusions and additions all elaborately decorated. Only The wealthy could afford a true Victorian house; however, many of its characteristics were found on the modest homes as well.
One of its distinguishing characteristics was many different patterns of woodwork around doors, windows and gables. Above the windows, especially bay windows, builders added carved extensions. They often made use of small panes of colored glass to surround large double windows in the parlor. Using anything they could think of to make the house fancier, everyone tried to have the fanciest place around. There seemed no limit to the decoration they used--the more the better.
Large porches were common, usually running the length of the front and often around the corners along both sides. Some were two stories high and others a single story with the roof serving as flooring for a second story balcony.
The staircase was usually a very attractive addition to the house. Rising to the second floor from the entry hall, it might have large carved wooden posts and railings with steps covered with colorful patterned carpet. Nothing was left undecorated with the entire house and furnishings depicting the finery of the age. In contrast to the Federal and the twentieth century's straight lines and simplicity, the period seemed over done and gaudy.
Obviously homes in the Ozarks reflected this trend. A few wealthy people in the towns built Victorian mansions, but most of the influence was in decorative details on smaller wooden houses.
Although most of our styles came from the British Isles to the eastern seaboard and then on westward as the land became settled, in the early 1900's an exception was finding its way eastward from California. This style was the bungalow.
A bungalow is a small cottage low to the ground with the main roof of the house extending over the wide front porch. The low slope of the roof comes to us from India as does the name. If the bungalow had a second floor, the ceiling was not as high as the first floor. Dormer windows looked out from the second floor above the porch. The floor plan was as simple and functional as the outside.
In the Ozarks one can find examples of all of these styles. However, there are also many homes that have no particular style at all. These homes came about when a family would acquire enough money or material to add on to their house or to simply build a new house to fit their needs. Often the houses grew in two or three sections as the family grew. Builders would build the houses usually without architectural plans. Suiting the wishes of the owners (or building the house themselves) they would construct a utilitarian house, copying parts of whatever design or plan they wished. Though there is no style name to classify them, in the first two decades of the twentieth century, the country was filled with many two story white frame houses which typify the average farm house.
Some of these houses began as remodeled log cabins. When the family had outgrown the cabin and were affluent enough to afford better accommodations, they added rooms to three sides of the cabin, the original cabin being one of the rooms. They were very careful to cover all traces of the log portion with siding, for when the area ceased to be pioneer country, it was not stylish to live in a log cabin.
The basic pattern for the farm house was two rooms downstairs and two rooms up. On the ground floor there was a kitchen and front room usually the same size. The upstairs consisted of two bedrooms also usually the same size. Even with these upstairs bedrooms, most had a bed in the main room, too. There were usually no closets in these rooms and, of course, no running water or bathrooms. What few clothes the family had could be hung on pegs or stored in the wardrobe, a movable piece of furniture with drawers on one side and a closet on the other.
The farm house could also be an "L, or "T" house with the wing often added later. The wing could be either one story or two. The ground floor of the wing became the new kitchen and the upstairs another bedroom. When a kitchen wing was added, the original kitchen became a bedroom. A screen porch was almost always built onto the side of an "L" or on both sides of the "T." This porch provided a cooler dining area and a place for work and relaxation in the summer. It served as wash up room for the family with a bench holding the water bucket and dipper, wash pan, dish of lye soap and a towel. In the winter the lady of the house would see to it that the family members cleaned their muddy feet before getting any farther than the porches. Wood stacked on the porches was kept dry and handy.
A large front porch was also common. It would be an open porch with a roof which sometimes provided a floor for a second story porch. This center front porch rarely extended the entire length of the house.
The smaller one story square house was another common style of home that was predominate in the Ozarks. It was very simple with four square rooms. The kitchen and living room occupied the two rooms along one side and two bedrooms were on the other side. The flue was often placed in the center of the house, providing service to all the rooms.
A large front porch and a screened back porch were also characteristic of the square house. These Porches also did not usually extend the entire width of the house.
Most square homes were wooden frame houses with painted siding. However, in the Ozarks in the first half of the twentieth century, many people used native sandstone as a facing. The large irregular stones, cut about three inches thick were morticed together with concrete. The odd shaped stones, ranging in hues of tan, brown, orange and red made an interesting pattern. To emphasize the pattern and give a greater three dimensional effect, some people rounded out the mortar between the stones and colored it. Though usually the overall pattern was irregular, formed by the natural sizes and shapes of the sandstone, some built in designs around doors or windows or on the structural lines of the house.
Though most of the houses used the stone as a facing, some built the entire wall of whole, uncut native field rock. First they poured the foundation and then built a form of one inch lumber for the inside walls. They then placed the stones, pouring concrete between and behind, building up the outer wall. The outside would be rough stone in irregular, natural patterns, the inside wall smooth concrete.
Though the rock facings were not limited to the square house only, this was the usual style.
Another peculiarity that some of the farm and square houses have in the Ozarks is two front doors leading from the front porch into the front room and the front bedroom. After asking several people why and never receiving a definite answer, we thought of some possible explanations. When living in two adjoining cabins the residents obviously had a door to each cabin. Eventually when they joined the two cabins, the two doors remained. Perhaps being used to the convenience of two front entrances, they continued the tradition when building a new house. Or when the family lived in two downstairs rooms, one the kitchen and the other the front room, they wanted a front door to the kitchen for carrying in wood, garden produce, or for family members to come in from the barns and fields, so that the mess would not be tracked through the front room. Also, perhaps in fancier homes that had parlors, one front entrance was for company, the other for family. Whatever the reason, many houses built through the 1920's in towns as well as on the farms had two front entrances.
In recent years newer styles of houses have been built in the Ozarks as elsewhere. The ranch house, split level, split foyer and variations on all or one are everywhere, as well as new reproductions of older styles.
One of the latest and most rapidly growing types of housing, which seems to continue the trend of inexpensive, quick housing begun with the log cabin, is the mobile home. Today many people prefer the convenience of going to a mobile home sales establishment, examining the units, making their selection and having it delivered to a park or plot of land and then being able to move in within a week. Mobile home parks have become a big business with resort type accommodations. But not all mobile home owners park their home in a park, for some have plots of ground in the country that provide a beautiful landscape.
Like the log cabin that was soon outgrown, today some mobile home owners build rooms around the mobile home, disguising its original shape. One wonders if years from now people will be proud of the fact that their house was originally a mobile home, just as people are now of the original log segment of their house.
The typical home in the Ozarks in the past has been a small, modest, utilitarian home of no particular architectural design. During the years predominate national trends have obviously influenced homes to some extent, but nothing like today. In recent years with greater wealth from the expanding economy, from tourist industries, from newcomers and retirement people, new homes built here are like those everywhere. The great majority are rectangular one story ranch-type houses with no difference between country and town homes and very little difference from house to house. Other homes range from the smallest mobile home to fine palatial homes of the latest modern style.
Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.