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EARLY CONSTRUCTION

Preserving historic buildings is crucial to retaining our nation’s heritage and history. As one of the earliest log structures built in Middle Tennessee, the materials and techniques used are over 200 years old which requires more thought when it comes to maintenance and repair needs.

 A "log cabin" was usually constructed with round rather than hewn, or hand-worked logs, and it was the first generation homestead erected quickly for frontier shelter. "Log house" historically denotes a more permanent, hewn-log dwelling, either one or two stories, of more complex design, often built as a second generation replacement.

Visual evidence tells us the Buchanan log house was constructed the high craftsmanship and materials for its time. It rests on solid unmortared limestone; the logs are half-dovetail notched; and exterior gable-end chimneys are more limestone. (See Techniques)

The original 1807 house had additions added in 1820 and 1900 so maintenance planning has to consider where materials and techniques changed along its 200-year-old lifetime.

Tennessee Limestone MATERIALS

(Left) Limestone is found just about everywhere in Tennessee which made it a crucial, versatile, and readily-available early construction material. Limestone is a sedimentary rock composed largely of the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different crystal forms of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). Most limestone is composed of skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral or foraminifera. .

 

In Tennessee, and in much of eastern North America, calcium carbonate sediment accumulated in the warm, shallow continental seas and eventually compacted into limestone. Limestone is most abundant through middle Tennessee and is found in scattered areas through eastern Tennessee. Tennessee marble, as the metamorphic version of limestone is known, is widely used in public and private buildings. Relatively easy to cut into blocks or more elaborate carving, limestone is also heavy and long-lasting and stands up well to exposure. Over time, though, water can explains why most cave systems are through limestone bedrock.

In all Buchanan buildings, you will find hand-quarried limestone in foundations, the log chinking, and you can still see the chimneys in the great room (downstairs) and the main bedroom which also features a hand-chiseled emblem (upstairs).

Limestone was declared the official Tennessee state rock in 1979.


Hand-wrought [square] nails do not appear in the original construction but show up later for household needs and maintenance.

Nails provide one of the best clues to help determine the age of historic buildings, Until the last decade of the 1700s and the early 1800s, hand-wrought nails typically fastened the sheathing and roof boards on building frames. These nails were made one by one by a blacksmith or nailor from square iron rod. After heating the rod in a forge, the nailor would hammer all four sides of the softened end to form a point. The pointed nail rod was reheated and cut off. Then the nail maker would insert the hot nail into a hole in a nail header or anvil and form a head with several glancing blows of the hammer. The most common shape was the rosehead; however, broad "butterfly" heads and narrow L-heads also were crafted. L-head nails were popular for finish work, trim boards, and flooring.

Later, between the 1790s and the early 1800s, various machines were invented in the United States for making nails from bars of iron.

Hand-Wrought Nails  MATERIALS

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Tennessee Hardwoods MATERIALS

It is roughly estimated that it took (210) trees to build the Buchanan log House, (140) to build the Addison house, and another (80) to build the smokehouse. This construction called on three hardwoods:

 

American Chestnut

 

American Chestnut (mighty giants that often stood 100 feet tall and numbered in the billions) was a wood that was rot-resistant, straight-grained, and highly desirable for furniture, fencing, and building.

 

Catastrophic chestnut blight (a fungus infection, accidentally imported from Asia, which caused tissue death and eventually starved the tree) around 1908, was been termed "the greatest ecological disaster to strike the world’s forests in all of history", made American Chestnut now extinct in the U.S.

(Left) A giant American Chestnut, over 14" thick, is still at work in the front wall of the Buchanan house.

Tennessee's Eastern Red Cedar

The eastern red cedar is also called red cedar, eastern juniper, red juniper, pencil cedar, or aromatic cedar, This evergreen is indigenous to the entire state of Tennessee and is an integral part of an eco-logical niche called cedar glades." 

Sapwood is often very narrow and is white to a pale cream color. Heartwood contains many small knots and is a reddish violet-brown and has streaks and stripes throughout.

Grain:  Usually straight grained with tight knots present and a fine even texture, cedar was one of the earliest construction materials used by early pioneers.

Workability:  Easy to work but can dull cutters, splits easily and should be pre-bored, holds nails well. Excellent gluing properties. Finishes well though it is often left unfinished to preserve aromatic properties.

Tennessee designated eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) as the official state evergreen tree in 2012.

Tennessee Tulip Poplar

In Tennessee, the Tulip Poplar grows from one end of the state to the other and extensively used by early pioneers to construct houses, barns, and other necessary farm buildings.

It is the wood of choice for many uses as it grows tall, straight, and with few limbs. It can take a fine, smooth, precisely-cut finish . It is also commonly used for organs, siding clapboards, house siding furniture and carriage panels, coffins, and wooden ware. The wood of the American Tulip tree may be compared in texture, strength, and softness to the white pine. 

(Left) Tennessee Tulip Poplar was used for the floor of the Buchanan Log House.

The tulip poplar (Liriodendron Tulipifera) was recognized as the official state tree of Tennessee in 1947.