New Life for Old Buildings (Plus a welcome!)

Hello all and welcome to the rejuvenated blog for Historic Locust Grove! I’m Hannah, your friendly neighborhood blogger and one of the HLG Weekend Managers, and I’m here to guide you through everything new, old, and fascinating about Locust Grove. In addition to the restarting this blog, we’ve also just updated our website! You can head over to http://locustgrove.org/ to oooh and ahhh and find out what’s going going on at the house and visitor’s center. (I especially recommend the Upcoming Events section at the bottom of the page. Did you know the Fall Antiques Fair is only 12 days away?)

Now, my #1 job as blogger is to get you excited about history at Locust Grove and thereby induce you to visit us as soon as possible! So, to start out, I’d like to tell you about my favorite ongoing project that is very near completion–the furnishing and restoration of the Locust Grove Dairy!

Last summer, I had the pleasure of researching 18th and 19th century dairy practices and making suggestions to bring our dairy out of the blahs that had defined it since its reconstruction in 1967 and back into the tidy splendor of the late 1790s, when William and Lucy Croghan were in residence.

Here’s what it looked like last summer:

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And here’s what it looks like now!

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Now, I know what you’re all thinking: “Umm, Hannah? It doesn’t look that different–you just added floors and shelves, and took out all the stuff. Why are you still so excited?”

Well, having a dirt floor was one of the biggest problems with our dairy. Because of the nature of working with milk, colonial dairies in the 18th century needed to be clean and cool, so the milk wouldn’t spoil or be contaminated by bugs or dirt. Dairies like ours were usually graded two or three feet below the surface, or could sometimes be built even further underground, like the dairy cellar at Henry Clay’s Ashland. Our dairy was built at the right level, but dairy floors were generally made of wood, stone, or tile, so they could be cleaned more easily. By installing this floor, made of reclaimed wood, we’re one step closer to a dairy the Croghan family might have recognized.

“Okay, that’s pretty cool. But what’s the deal with the shelves?”

Dairies of this time period typically had two rows of shelves–one about waist height from which to work, and one overhead to store cheeses, pans of milk, and other accoutrements. Installing these shelves in our dairy is a bit of a challenge, however. Our dairy is quite a remarkable structure for lots of reasons, but mostly because of its construction. Dairies were usually frame or brick, like this one at Colonial Williamsburg.  Our dairy was reconstructed from stone to match the reconstructed kitchen, smokehouse, and residence trio. However, in all my research, I never found another stone dairy. We actually have very few records about what the Croghan dairy looked like. We know they had a dairy, and we know where it was located, but archaeology and other records have given us little else.

“So you’re just making up stuff as you go along?”

Of course not. We always want to safeguard the historical integrity of the site and be as accurate as possible to the time period and the records we do have. Simply put, our dairy just hasn’t received much attention since it was reconstructed in 1967.  It’s the same size and shape as an 18th century dairy should be, and is made of a similar material. The one conundrum we’ve encountered that we can’t explain or fix are the wall slits. Air circulation and ventilation were paramount to running a successful dairy. You wanted to be able to allow air to flow freely through the structure with a minimal amount of light. (Milk doesn’t fare well when exposed to sunlight.) Typically, this was achieved by having vents at the top of the structure that were latticed and screened with muslin, to achieve the effect of a screen. For some reason, when the Locust Grove dairy was reconstructed, it was built with vertical slits in three of its walls.

“Oh, but that’s not confusing! You’d need those slits to protect the house from attack! You could shoot the Indians or the British or whomever without being shot yourself!”

That’s an interesting point, friendly reader,but sadly, our site was never used as a location for a John Wayne movie. Locust Grove was never under any sort of attack–unless you count the Janeites who descend on the property each July for the Jane Austen Festival, but we’re always happy to see them! An Indian visit was very likely, given George Rogers Clark’s residence here and his role as an Indian Commissioner for the Western territories, but these slits simply don’t fit into either Locust Grove’s history, or the profile of a colonial dairy. Therefore, we have to conclude they were a mistake, albeit one that makes our dairy unique!

Although our dairy was reconstructed over forty years ago, we’re still working on outfitting it to reflect the residence of the Croghan family. Adding the new floors and the shelves is only the beginning! I’ll be sure to update you on our progress. Thanks for stopping by the blog today, and drop by the house to visit soon. Our doors are always open to visitors from near and far. I challenge you all to a game of cup and ball.

With kind regards,

Hannah

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5 thoughts on “New Life for Old Buildings (Plus a welcome!)

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  4. Pingback: Nancy Cow and the Secrets of the Locust Grove Dairy | Locust Grove Louisville

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