Old log cabin preservation project from the site of “Thompson’s Fort”

This is an old log cabin located in the vicinity of Pickaway, Monroe County, West Virginia, on the site of what is believed to have been called “Thompson’s Fort,” on an early large plantation. This is on the “Pickaway Plains” of the Greenbrier Valley – so named by the 18th century frontiersmen who fought in the Indian Wars in the Ohio County in the late 18th century, having marched through the Pickaway Plains of Ohio. They thought this area looked similar, albeit on a smaller scale.

This is the view of where the fort once stood, looking from the cabin:

There’s not a whole lot known about Thompson’s Fort. Samuel Gwinn, an early settler of the Monroe County side of the Greenbrier Valley, militia ranger, and veteran of the Battle of Point Pleasant, mentioned it in his 1835 pension application. He mentioned being there in 1776, 1777 and 1777:

I moved to the county of Monroe with my wife and two children, I lived at Thompson’s fort for a year or two, then moved to a blockhouse, finally to Vanbibber’s fort. At these places, I forted in the summer months.

All the time afterward in the winter I returned to my cabbin [sic], and devoted the winter to hunting–all the people of the settlement took their families to the forts in the summer months–where we lived pretty much in common–we could turn out all in a body and work each others corn and potato patches by turn–whilst we would be working someone always would be watching for Indians–we worked and watched by turns.

We selected from among ourselves someone in whom we had confidence as a sort of leader or Captain, and in this way we got along as well as we could–I was four or fives days defending the attack on Dunley’s [Donnally’s] fort, was called out for this service.

In the Augusta County militia returns documentation for “Camp Union” in 1774 – the list of returning soldiers following the Battle of Point Pleasant – the sick militia soldiers from the companies of Capt. Crockett, Shelby, and Campbell, were all at “Thompson’s,” which suggests it must have been considered a place of safe refuge (Draper Ms. 3QQ92); see also Frontier Defense of the Greenbrier and Middle New River Country, by W. Stephen McBride, Kim A. McBride and J. David McBride (1996).

The McBrides note that they believed this fort was possibly over on Rich Creek or near the New River. However, they also note the existence of a “Pickaway Fort” at this exact location. I think that, based on everything I’ve researched, the “Pickaway Fort” is “Thompson’s Fort.” But more research is definitely needed.

The really unusual thing about this structure is the original roof overhang at the front, with a double gable. It essentially had a walled-in “mud room” style area in the front. I’m having a difficult time figuring out the purpose. It almost looks like something you’d see in Europe. The log structure seems to have radiated out from the slavic areas to the nordic areas, and to the eastern areas of Germany. And the traditional structures look a lot like this structure:

A typical Volhynian log cabin: Shpykhlir in the village of Samara in Rivne Oblast
A reconstruction of a Medieval Slavic surface log cabin, based on archaeological finds from Staré Město (“Old Town”), a town in the Zlín Region of the Czech Republic, again dated to the 6th – 7th century AD.
A reconstruction of the German settlement of Siedlung, dating to 100-500 A.D.

It’s possible it could have been built as a smokehouse, I suppose, which look a lot like the traditional designs:

18th century log smokehouse from The Schiele Museum of Natural History in North Carolina.
A log smokehouse in Tennessee.

This log smokehouse in Texas is about the closest one I found. It has the same huge horizontal logs on the top flight which extend to create a front overhanging roof. Though this wasn’t enclosed. Nor did the lower sill longs similarly extend. But it’s of a similar size:

Clark, Joe. [Smokehouse], photograph, 194u;(https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc489906/m1/1/: accessed May 5, 2020), University of North Texas Libraries, UNT Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Special Collections.
Smokehouse at the Jones Stock Farm, George Ranch Historical Park, Richmond, TX. Courtesy the George Ranch Historical Park, Richmond.

Dominant livestock on early farms were cattle and pigs. Pork was the most common meat eaten as cattle were also valuable as milk cows, work oxen, and for breeding. Some people also didn’t prefer the taste of preserved beef. Many times, the meat was eaten right after slaughter, though some settlers felt this to be unhealthful. When meat was preserved, either smoke or salt were used. A smokehouse or curing shed would be built for this purpose. Early smokehouses were tightly constructed log structures 10 to 14 feet long and wide. The smokehouse included shelves for holding jars and barrels and exposed rafters to hang meat.

MEAT PRESERVATION IN AUSTIN’S COLONY– Fort Bend County History by Chris Godbold, http://fortbendlifestylesandhomes.com/meat-preservation-in-austins-colony/
Interior of the smokehouse at Mount Vernon

Here’s the smokehouse at Willowbrook Plantation:

A now and then shot of the original smokehouse at Willowbrook. The old building which sat to the right of it is long gone.

Here’s the interior of the original smokehouse at Willowbrook, though it’s full of about everything but meat. All the hooks are still there on the rafters where it used to hang:

The interior of the original smokehouse at Willowbrook Plantation / Byrnside’s Fort. Definitely not as fancy as Mount Vernon’s, but what’ya gonna do…..
Another smokehouse in the Smoky Mountains somewhere.

The big difference between this and the ones above is, 1) the sheer size of this one is much larger. 2) This had an enclosed “room” in the front, rather than just an overhang. Well, a third difference would be that the rear wall has a window opening on the left lower, and what I believe is an opening for a chimney firebox, probably wood and mud built, on the lower right.

Another clue here is the fact that this little front area was mostly enclosed, though not completely tight from the weather. It could have been a storage area for firewood. This could have served an inhabited cabin, a smokehouse, or even a blacksmith shop, if that’s what it was.

A better look at some of the early chinking on the front wall, still in place. Generally barns were not chinked. But smokehouses were. Or blacksmith shops, or something of the sort, possibly would have been.

Wooden hinges on the front door of this structure:

On the side covered by the shed built onto it, you can see the remnants of chinking between the logs:

“V notch” construction at the joints, which is typical of the 18th and early 19th century log cabins in this area of the Virginias:

The inside view of the front gable, which is in good shape because it’s enclosed:

The rear gable, not so much:

The rafters are hand carved and pinned with wooden pegs at the top, very similar to the construction of Byrnside’s Fort. The roof would have originally been clapboards or shingles.

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