Please welcome guest author Lee Carpenter. Carpenter is the editor of Foxfire News.
The Foxfire Museum & Heritage Center is a testament to the amazing things that can be accomplished when a group of students converge on a single idea—in this case, the preservation of the unique way of life of their rural Appalachian families. Here you will find the homes, tools, trades, crafts, and the lifestyle of the all-but-vanished pioneer culture of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Foxfire students began interviewing their families, friends, and neighbors in 1966.
Often, these folks would give the students an old tool or a finished hand-crafted item they were discussing or documenting. Very quickly, the students amassed a very extensive artifact collection. When The Foxfire Book became a national phenomenon, Foxfire gained a source of capital (book royalties) to fund new growth, and the students in the program chose to create a physical home for their program. They purchased a tract of land on an eastern slope of Black Rock Mountain near Mountain City, GA, intending for the property to be a place of interaction between themselves, their work, and their community.
Foxfire’s new homeplace opened up a world of possibilities for the students—they could now collect and preserve one very significant piece of their culture that they had never been able to attempt before – log cabins. About half of the 20+ log cabins at the Center are authentic structures, standing basically as they were originally built as much as 190+ years ago. The Museum’s log structures range from an authentic 1820s one-room log cabin (home to three family generations with 10 children each) to “dog-trot” cabins (known for summertime comfort), to reconstructions of traditional buildings, like the Museum’s Chapel, that could not be found intact or available within the student’s local region. The bulk of the Museum was collected and assembled between the early-1970s and the mid-1980s, with only a few select additions joining the facility since then.
The latest structure to be added to the Museum grounds is a spectacular local barn of a style not often seen in the north Georgia mountains.
Donated by Mr. Sam Beck, a native of the Warwoman community in eastern Rabun County, GA, this “four-pen, crossed-hall” log barn has stood on his family’s property for generations. Foxfire curator Barry Stiles estimates that the barn was originally constructed around 1900, built from mostly clean, straight 8”-10” diameter pine logs. Four separate log structures measuring approximately 11’ square, the “pens,” make up the base of the barn and leave the namesake open hallways between them, similar to “dog trot” cabins like the Museum’s Moore House. A few upper log rows running the full 31’ length and width of the four pens tie the structure together and anchor the roofline covering the barn’s massive hay loft. When first given to Foxfire in 2010, the barn was almost entirely clad with tin roofing, so the bulk of the structure had been well-protected from the elements for decades. Barry noted, “The cross-hall design is supposedly a German style…which is very unusual for this area.”
The Beck Barn was constructed on sloped ground, and since the original builders lacked heavy construction equipment, they stepped the river-rock-and-mortar foundation rather than digging the ground flat. Because of the ground’s slope, two of the four pens had to be built just over a foot taller the other two. As the barn stood in 2010, the up-hill and down-hill hallways were still open, while the two relatively level left- and right-side hallways had been enclosed at some point to create additional livestock pens. Two 10-foot width sheds were also joined to the outside of the barn, also on right and left sides, adding even more protected space underneath the barn’s immense tin-covered roof. Barry felt that the barn would be a great addition to the Museum’s building collection because of its age, local origin, and the fact that the crossed-hall construction was not represented by any other structures at the Foxfire Museum.
Preparatory work for relocating the Beck Barn progressed slowly over 2010 and 2011, with disassembly occurring only after a foot-thick layer of old hay was removed from the loft, the tin siding was stripped from the outside walls, extensive measurements were collected, hundreds of pictures were taken, and each and every individual log in the structure (over 200 of them) was fitted with a tin tag stamped with an identifying number.
The barn pieces were moved to the Museum in 2012, and work began on its new home in 2013, beginning with the grading of a relatively flat area on a hillside near the end of the Museum’s walking-tour trail. Modern formed-concrete foundations were poured for each of the four log pens, with two of them being stepped down about 13″ to simulate the ground slope at the barn’s original location. Barry and student worker Taylor Shirley assembled the two higher-sitting pens—the two most-intact pens. The third pen’s walls contained a handful of deteriorated logs that needed to be replaced in order to make the reassembled structure stable. The third pen’s reassembly was carried out on a late-fall Saturday by the hands of Foxfire Community Board members, former Foxfire students, and other volunteers. Under Barry’s careful eye, those folks spent the day wielding axes, chisels, and other sharp objects to craft replacement V-notched logs to fit in place of the original, damaged logs.
The barn’s fourth pen, intentionally saved for last, is the biggest challenge of the project. Some years prior to 2010, a storm damaged the barn’s roof, tearing loose a piece of tin directly over one corner of this pen. The century-old and very, very dry logs soaked up the area’s plentiful rainfall and decayed rapidly, destroying the notched ends and at least a foot’s length of every log in both walls making up that corner. Literally half of the fourth pen is being replaced during its reconstruction, a process that began in early 2014 with a second volunteer Saturday; the process will then be continued for the entertainment and education of Museum visitors as part of Foxfire’s Living History Day event on April 5, 2014.
After the fourth pen’s repairs are completed, the barn’s huge 31-foot-long loft logs will be set in place, re-joining the four pens into a single structure. A new roof will be constructed overhead, the two shed roofs will be added back on to the right and left sides, and the Beck Barn will be complete in its new home at Foxfire, ready to be shared with Museum visitors for generations to come. The barn will hopefully have room for demonstration space and other artifact displays in addition to housing the Museum’s growing collection of farm tools and equipment. Supplementing the farming equipment and tools previously gathered by Foxfire students, Shannon Moses of Prosperity, SC recently donated a large collection of late-19th-century implements from his grandfather’s farm in Virginia, including a logging wagon, two mule-drawn mowing machines, and other equipment and tools.
For more information on the Beck Barn project or to arrange a guided tour of the Foxfire Museum, visit www.foxfire.org or call 706-746-5828. You can also visit the Foxfire Museum & Heritage Center at 98 Foxfire Lane, off of Cross Street, in Mountain City, GA. Hours of operation are Monday–Saturday, 8:30am–4:30pm, closed only on some major holidays or for inclement weather.