Agricultural and Domestic Outbuildings in Central and Western Kentucky, 1800-1865

The preservation of Kentucky’s historic resources begins with research and an understanding of the important role historic buildings and sites play in community life, economic development, and in inter- preting our past. The Kentucky Heritage Council, the State’s Historic Preservation Office, has been gathering information on Kentucky’s historic resources for more than fifty years years and has data on more than 100,000 sites in the Kentucky Historic Sites Survey. Many of the significant sites have been listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Survey and the National Register serve as planning tools and as an archive of our architectural and cultural heritage.
Throughout the nineteenth century, the primary occupation for most Kentuckians was farming. While there were town-dwellers, artisans and shopkeepers early on, the majority of Kentucky’s residents, slave or free, lived in rural areas and practiced agriculture. Farming was necessary for survival on the “western frontier” but, agriculture was not just seen as a means for subsistence; it was a way to become wealthy and successful. Some Kentuckians were able to do just that.
This publication explores agriculture as practiced by middling to upper income farmers in central and western Kentucky from 1800 to 1865. In particular, it focuses on agricultural and domestic outbuildings constructed by this group of Kentuckians. In this study, middling to upper income farmers includes those who owned over 100 acres of land, a substantial masonry or frame house and a few slaves.
“Middling” does not mean average; the majority of Kentucky farmers were probably living in one or two room houses, owned under 50 acres of land and had no slaves. It was the successful farmers, however, who made the most impact on Kentucky’s landscape. They were the ones building stock barns, rock fences and substantial houses. Their influence has survived in material form for us to study. The buildings of the less affluent farmers have not, in general, endured.
To make clear how farming practices changed before the Civil War, two distinct eras are discussed in this publication. The first epoch considered is the “late settlement period,” which ranges loosely from 1800 to 1820. “Settlement” is a misleading word, given that Native Americans had lived in Kentucky for thousands of years, but it is commonly used to refer to that period beginning about 1775, when Caucasians and African- Americans began populating the area. Very few, if any outbuildings survive today that date before 1800.
The second era examined was the “antebellum period,” from 1820 to 1865. Although settlement was a continual process, by 1820, most of the land was claimed and farmed, and a period of redevelopment began. This overview is followed by a descriptive inventory of domestic and agricultural outbuildings and other structures common to antebellum farming operations.
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Photo: Circa 1860 smokehouse in Bourbon County. This large stone smokehouse is associated with a Gothic-Revival style frame house.