Monday, May 25, 2015

An American Frontier Mansion

Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace  |  Mark D. Ruffner
This past week, I visited Asheville and the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina. I spent time with good friends, enjoyed the Asheville sights and savored the cool mountain air — a welcome change of pace from Florida's humidity. When Sandy and I left Asheville, the morning temperature was 41 degrees.

click to enlarge  |  Mark D. Ruffner
Before I continue with today's story, I'd like to share this panoramic view that I patched together from four separate photographs. (Incidentally, the trick to making panoramic views — whether manually, as I did, or with a PhotoShop feature — is to overlap the photographs by approximately 25%.)

Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace  |  Mark D. Ruffner
Bill, our gracious host, took Sandy and me to see the birthplace of Zebulon B. Vance, the Confederate Civil War governor of North Carolina, and afterwards, its senator. The image above shows — from left to right — the smoke house, the loom house, the main house and the tool house. There are other outbuildings as well.

Mathew Brady: Historian With a Camera  |  Horan
In his time, Vance was especially noted for his colorful oratory, and he initially reflected the neutral view of North Carolinians, who didn't want to enter the Civil War. Today he is still admired for having been an effective governor and senator, though he has many detractors as well, for he was a founding klansman. A monument to him in Asheville is being restored, and apparently not everyone is thrilled.

Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace  |  Mark D. Ruffner
Putting that aside, the Vance house, built by Zebulon's grandfather in the 1790s, is a fascinating peek into the frontier life of 1800. As Americans pushed westward, the average house of the time was just one room, usually about 15 feet square. It would have had one door and perhaps two tiny windows. By contrast, the Vance house had five rooms in two stories, indicating considerable wealth. Above and below are views of the front room, which served as a kitchen and dining room.

Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace  |  Mark D. Ruffner

Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace  |  Mark D. Ruffner
The second room on the ground floor was a sitting room with a bed for the adults. Beyond it was a very small bedroom that was reserved for guests.

Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace  |  Mark D. Ruffner
Upstairs were two bedrooms for the children, one for the boys and one for the girls. The children would share beds, but the right side of this photo shows a smaller single bed for one of Zebulon's brothers, who was sickly.

Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace  |  Mark D. Ruffner
The Vance house retains its original fireplace and mantle, but it was mostly reconstructed to accurately match early photographs, using old buildings from other sites for material. The door to one of the outbuildings has this faint hex sign. That suggests that it came from a Pennsylvania Dutch house, which would have used the hex sign on a door as a blessing.

Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace  |  Mark D. Ruffner
And now I'm going to end with a little quiz. In the above photograph, we're looking down at a cradle. Can you tell me why it has a hole in its top? If you guess correctly, I'll withhold your comment until it's time to reveal the answer, on Friday.

12 comments:

  1. Hello Mark, It is fascinating to see how the homestead was basically a collection of small buildings, presumably for fire safety and summer coolness. In frigid New England, the various outbuildings are all joined, creating a different look and its own kind of quaintness.

    I don't know why the cradle is made that way, so I'll take a couple of wild guesses: either it is for a rocking mechanism, or a vent in case the baby wants to smoke (this is North Carolina, in tobacco country, after all).
    --Jim

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    1. Hello, Jim,

      When I was 5 years old, my family lived in a Pennsylvania farm house that was built about 60 years after this log house. Though it was made of brick, it too had auxillary buildings that were not connected to the main house, including a summer kitchen and a smoke (meat curing) house.

      As to the cradle, you're correct on the first choice. I like the second one, though — it conjures up images of Al Capp's Yokum family!

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  2. Dear Mark - The Vance home and outbuildings make a charming collection on the hillside. It has a very welcoming look and I am particularly taken by the lovely fireplaces.
    I am guessing that the hole in the top of the cradle had a piece of knotted rope going through it which could be pulled from a distance to rock the baby. i.e so that you didn't have to arise from your bed or chair!

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    1. Dear Rosemary,

      You are exactly correct with your answer, and I'm wondering now if English mothers from the colonial period resorted to the same cleverness? You win the grand prize, a fur-lined bath tub! When should I have it delivered?

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  3. Crying baby -the only way to shut it up was to poke it with a stick through the hole...thats awful, I really hope thats NOT what it is for!
    I love that area, it's so beautiful -did you make it to Biltmore too? Asheville is such a great little town -great restaurants too!

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    1. Hi, Stefan,

      I like your answer, especially after I had breakfast this morning close to a small child who produced a long series of high-decibel screams!

      I toured Biltmore on my last visit to Asheville but did enjoy several of Asheville's great reastaurants. Also an Amish establishment near Fairview, called Troyer's, that makes the absolute best sandwiches.

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  4. Mark I am still laughing at Stefan's answer, and truthfully I don't have an intelligent answer to add. So glad you enjoyed a getaway and at such a historical locale!

    xoxo
    Karena
    The Arts by Karena
    Coco Chanel: Three Weeks

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    1. Hi, Karena,

      The Vance house is beautifully maintained, we had a wonderful guide who was an archeology student, and the tour is for free. Going to the Biltmore is an expensive ticket, but it's a full day's outing and well worth it.

      xoxo

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  5. I would think it was to hold a canopy of some sort. Either for warmth or for mosquito protection.

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    1. A very good guess, but that's not the answer.

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  6. Dear Mark, thanks for taking us along on your weekend sojourn. I'm impressed with the beautiful workmanship of the log cabins.
    The cradle, to insert a handle in order to rock the cradle?

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    1. Dear Gina,

      A handle of sorts was indeed inserted. Incidentally, en route to Asheville, we passed a thriving company that is still building handsome log cabins in the area, and we also stayed in a two-story log house, one with a lot more ammenities than the Vances ever enjoyed!

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