The end of week one, gathering secondary source material
    by Michelle Colbert


After all of the excitement of the first day on site, we returned to Birdwood the next day to take part in a more laborious task- hand measurements. A quick floor plan was sketched, and Professor Andrew Johnston and student, Michelle Colbert, took quickly to the tape measurer and began measuring every inch of the Stone Double Cabin. Measurements were taken starting on the south side of the structure and accounted for both door and window openings on each exterior wall. It was rather exciting when discovering that the construction of the southern chimney was built on a 2:1 ratio, but not so exciting navigating through a thorny rose bush when measuring the facade- but it is all part of the job! After recording measurements for the exterior of the structure, we moved to the interior space. The interior measurements of the cabin were difficult to capture because of the still existing modern frame, and the very dense stone walls of the cabin. We were most interested in capturing diagonal measurements so we could compare them to the findings of Dr. Henry Glassie, a well known architectural historian and principle in folk house methodology. After student, Spencer Gervasoni, recorded our measurements on our floor plan, we set off on independent study to capture more secondary source materials for our next class meeting.

The next day we met back in the classroom and tinkered away at the measurements of the cabin. Through impressive usage of the Pythagorean Theorem, it was determined that the interior space consisted of two identical nine yard squares. Although the numbers are not perfect, due in part of the thickness of the stone walls, the interior walls in each room measure to just around seventeen feet long, with identical twenty four foot diagonals. To our delight, these measurements matched to Dr. Glassie’s diagrams, confirming that we are indeed looking at a folk house in central Virginia. In addition to the confirmation of the styling of the cabin, we were able to locate some interesting secondary source material written by Dr. John Michael Vlach. Vlach’s book Back of the Big House, The Architecture of Plantation Slavery contains many examples of vernacular dwellings lived in by enslaved people throughout the south. One particular example that caught our eye, was a structure known as a Kitchen Quarter, an example of that from Cunningham Plantation in Colbert County, Alabama. Much like the Stone Double Cabin, the Cunningham Kitchen Quarter consisted of a rectangular structure, two identical square rooms, and fireplaces on each gable. Another possibility raised by information in Vlach’s book, was that this dwelling could have been lived in by an Overseer, which according to Vlach, were positioned at the head of the street, closest to the plantation. It has also been accounted that the Overseer’s quarters had the sides facing the Big House, while the front faced away. After looking into these two prospects, Professor Johnston checked in with James Wilson, Senior Realestate Asset Manager for the UVA Foundation that has worked on the Birdwood property, and he mentioned that none of the four existing outbuildings served as kitchens so the Kitchen Quarter floor plan could be a possibility.

We still do not know what the original purpose of this cabin was for. We do not know who lived there, or when it was built. We do know that this property follows similar building measurements to other vernacular structures in central Virginia, and that it very closely resembles the floorplan of a Kitchen Quarter. Next week we are off to the Albemarle County Courthouse to review plot records, deeds, and wills.