The 1840's Plank House

An old house had been donated to us in 1985 and we spent quite a bit of time moving and restoring what we now call 'The Plank House.'  When the old house was donated we did not realize how old it was or how rare a structure it was.

The reason it was called a 'Plank House' is because it was made of three inch planks which were notched together log cabin style and wooded pegs were also used to keep help make it strong.

Upon dating the structure we found it was built in the 1840 or earlier.  We searched this out by using what is called a 'witness tree.'  By using a piece of one of the timbers that has bark on at least two sides from the foundations, the growth rings  could be matched matched up with the growth rings on the witness tree.  The witness tree must be from the same area.  The house could be older because we found by our studies it had been been taken apart and moved at least once.  Many time new foundation timbers are used when a building is being moved.      

When we looked at this project we thought, “This won’t be that hard a job.”  Once we got started jacking it up to put skids under it to move it on, we discovered that much of the main timbers had rotted away.  It couldn’t be moved like that. Meaning finding the right materials and a major restoration job must take place before the building could be moved.   

A lot of our friends were in on this big move.  One neighbor thought once the house was up on the skids it could be moved by pulling it with a tractor.  Wrong! It couldn’t be budged.  He sent his son home to bring another bigger tractor. Wrong again.  It wouldn’t give an inch even being pulled with two big tractors.  Then they tried also pushing with a bobcat while the tractors pulled and they moved it a few feet but not very far.

By then everyone was worn out so we all went home thinking we would have to come up with another idea somehow.  Well, we had an old friend who had a big bull dozer.  Upon giving him a call and telling him what we were up against.  He said, “Get your tractors and bobcats out of the way and I will be over in the morning and move that baby for you.”  That sounded good to us but we were wondering by then if anything could move it. 

Morning came and along came our friend with his big bulldozer and sure enough he hooked on to the old house and dragged it to its new home.  Not without a struggle though. 

.The house faced north on its old foundation.  It needed to face west to meet our needs on the mill property.  This forced us to make a big circle so as to swing it around to its new location.  Many years ago the field we were moving it across was an old pickle patch.  It had small ditches through out the field so that meant the house was constantly being heaved up and down on its journey.  It started to slide off the skids several times and they would unhook the bull dozer and push it back on.  What seemed like should be a half hour job turned out to take a good share of the day.          

Finely, it was at its new location.  Everyone agreed, had it been a normal house and not a ‘plank house’ with the treatment we had to give it in the move, it would have been tooth picks.  No windows were broken and there was furniture in side and nothing even tipped over in the move. 

In 1986 we did a lot of stone laying, making the foundations for the Plank House being top on the list.  When we brought the house to our grounds we put it just to the south of where it would be.  We always wanted to get the neighborhood kids in on our projects so they could learn how they used to do it in the old days.  So we had them all over while we were working on it.  They each had a chance to lay some stones and they also each wrote a message which they put in a jar and it's somewhere there in that cement work.

After the wall was done, which took some time, the kids were all there when the house was rolled onto the stonewall foundation.  Each one had a part in that project too.   They were amazed that the one person could move that big, heavy house as they turned the cranks which rolled it to its new home. 

We were on a dead line again.  It had put it in the calendar of events for the news papers that we would be having The Plank House would be open and dedicated it at our July Old Fashion Day Festival.     

The house was basically one room up stairs and one room down stairs.  The steep stair way was in the middle of the house which gave each floor a sort of ‘U’ shape.  By stretching a wire with a curtain on it from the stair way to the outside walls, it made three rooms on each floor.  That gave our pioneer dwellers  some privacy but not too much!    

Once the house was on its foundation all the ‘up dating’ and things that had been added over the years had to be removed.  We took everything off  the walls back to the planks in the kitchen area.  In the living room and down stairs bed room we went back to the original plaster and wanes coating.  That was a job and a half.  It had three layers of different wall coverings that had to be taken off and all the nails pulled.  The kids did a lot of that. 

Once that was done we could observe how it was when it was first built.  It was interesting to find that the house had been lived in for a while with just the bare planks and apparently was not finished off for a long time after it was built.  We could tell that because the whole inside had been white washed.  Then, someone had glued strips of cloth on the cracks between the planks, probably to keep some of the wind out, hoping to keep it a little warmer in the winter. As we studied it further we noted there were three different layers of wall paper that had been pasted right onto the planks.  That poor homemaker was trying to make her home nice for her family no matter what.  Bless her heart. 

There was quite a bit of patching to do where some of the old horse hair plaster had broken away from the lathe   Many restorers take everything off to the bare two by fours and start over but we always liked to keep all the original we could. 

Many of the windows had been replaced with new 'this and that' windows but fortunately they had used windows that fit the openings that were there and did not  change the opening sizes. We had a stock pile of old six over six windows that were the right size with the old wavy glass which we replace them with. 

The wanes coating and wood work was repainted the usual colonial pea green to match the old original color.  Wall paper was found that very closely matched the paper that we found on the old plaster.

Old antique furniture fills the home to make the picture complete.  The rope bed is of real interest to the visitors.     

The home is now used as a place where spinning and weaving is done. Guest can visualize and learn by watching.  The costumed craft people go about their work just as the lady of The Plank House would have done if it were 1840.        

The Plank House turned out to be a very quaint, cozy home.  As the doors are opened on the antiquated old building it's like stepping back in time as one catches the aroma of the old ancient beams and furnishings.

Historic Bowens Mills is very pleased to be able to share The Plank House, another piece of Barry County and Yankee Springs Township history, with their guest.     

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