By Winnie Wyatt
Recently, a log house built by Bryant and Ollie Dowden in 1936 has been restored and placed in a natural setting of pine trees like the one in which it first stood. Their two descendants, Glennie Dowden Scarborough of Natchitoches Parish and Winnie Dowden Wyatt of Glen Rose, Texas, are among those celebrating this project.
The restoration was made possible by the ingenuity and perseverance of Sherman Vogel, a retired industrial arts instructor; Lonzo Harvey, a carpenter; and James Scarborough, husband of Glennie.
In 1936, the tools and materials that are used today were not available. Back in the day, the right sized trees were felled by a cross cut saw, measured to desired lengths, peeled and split down the center. To determine the mid-line, a fishing string was greased, “smutted” from chimney soot and held in place. The splitting was done by inserting wedges along the smut line and pounded until the timber cracked, hopefully in a straight line.
Neighbors participated in hoisting the notched logs in place to make a 16×16 foot enclosure. Then a roof was built of cypress shingles from lengths of logs harvested from a nearby swamp. The shingles were made by cutting the cypress blocks into specific lengths and “riving” them with a froe, by hand. The “rived” shingles were stacked in four sided racks to dry before being lapped onto a roof.
A lean-to kitchen of planks was attached to one side of the logs and on the other side an open porch. Both of these were floored with rough lumber. But the main 16-foot room had a floor of smooth, tightly fitted “tongue and groove!”
Now for the chimney! Again, the neighbors “lent a hand.” Special mud was found and prepared, rolled into football sized balls around Spanish moss, again harvested from the swamp, and stacked one on the other around a stick frame until it was raised from the ground to above the shingled roof.
Holes had been cut in the notched logs to accommodate windows. But after the cotton had been sold, and the “tongue and groove” floor paid for, there was no money for windows. So the holes were covered up with rough planks that first winter and inside was almost as dark as outside – lit only by firelight and one kerosene lamp.
Windows were installed in the summer of 1937 and even the redbirds were engaged! Seeing their reflection in the glass, they took it for an intruder and strove to drive him away. In the day time there was light, but night was still lit only by firelight or lamplight. Both Glennie and Winnie lived in that log house without electricity until they each married and moved away.
Bryant and Ollie Dowden lived there when electricity came in the late 1950’s and left in 1970- 34 years in the house their hands had built. So there it stands again, a tribute to their courage and strength, and a testament to future generations.