Day 1, Birdwood 2019
    by Spencer Gervasoni


Today was the beginning of our investigation of one of the last un-analyzed structures on the Birdwood estate - a small house that we're calling the Stone Double Cabin, which gets its new unofficial name from the unique double front door layout and stone material. Past classes here have spent time in the plantation house and the closer dependencies, most of which are connected to the house spiritually with similar brickwork and charming details like carved wooden finials and painted white trim loosely suggesting a classical entablature. However - the Stone Double Cabin is somewhat of an outlier, literally in its proximity, and spiritually in its design. A long-residing tenant has moved out, enabling us to get hands on with the small house and discover more about its history and relationship with the estate. One question is immediately on our minds: could enslaved laborers of Birdwood have built and resided in the Stone Double Cabin? 

Our first day was spent with two experts in photographing and capturing laser scans of the structure in order to collect data that will help us to not only analyze the house, but to preserve it in digital form. While we witnessed the intersection of futuristic technology and a centuries old mystery, we couldn't help but flood the room with questions. 

At first glance, our overarching inquiry seems somewhat unlikely. The house is relatively large, built of slave-dwelling-atypical large stone blocks, and comes across as more of an 'estate manager's' sort of cottage. But upon closer inspection, the picture becomes less clear. One quickly remembers that the current single house was in fact - or at least surely appears to be - two distinct dwellings, suggested by the paired front doors, chimneys, etc. A large portion of the square footage dates from a 20th century addition made of cinder block. When thinking back to its originating form, it is a much smaller dwelling than first impression, and even then, divided in half. So the scale starts to make more sense. And look! Small attic windows, which may suggest some sort of sleeping loft area? 

Would the owners of Birdwood really have built such a sturdy stone house for their enslaved laborers? Perhaps stone was easily accessible on their property, or nearby? Maybe they envisioned many generations of slaves calling this structure home, and wanted it to last? Or perhaps this was early on in the slave-holding days of the family, and as time went on, quickly assembled wooden structures proliferated as their holdings of enslaved laborers grew? We intend to look for similar expamples of this structure in the area, to look into the scale, layout, materiality, and more. 

Once we get closer, we can look into details like nails, construction methods, etc, as we start to put a date range to the original structure. It will be interesting to see if the Stone Double Cabin could in fact predate the generally Federal/Greek Revival origins of the rest of Birdwood's more prominent structures. Much more research is to come following our on-site survey of the Cabin and its details.