Architectural Artifacts


The architectural group includes a variety of artifacts typically used in the construction of large structures and features, such as nails and bricks. This category also includes fencing materials such as staples. Nails are the most common architectural artifact recovered, and the only one that is illustrated and discussed here. It is interesting that no fragments of flat glass were found, and this absence strongly suggests that the Williams house did not have glass windowpanes.

This photo shows the assorted sizes of cut nails (a) and wire nails (b) found at the Williams farmstead, and it is not surprising that both types of nails were found. By 1880, the first American wire nail manufacturer began operating in Kentucky, but wire nails were slow to catch on as a replacement for cut nails. By 1892, however, half of all nails manufactured in the United States were wire, and by 1900 cut nail production was in serious decline. By the time the Williams farmstead occupation ended in 1905, the use of wire nails was ubiquitous across the country.

Excluding the fragmentary specimens and focusing only on complete or mostly complete nails (with an intact head), the number of nails recovered from the 9x10-m house excavation block is 1,540 cut nails and 388 wire nails. The average density of nails was 21.4 nails per unit, with the ratio being 4 cut nails to every 1 wire nail. The sizes of the nails in the house block were also studied, and it was determined that 66 percent of the cut nails were small (5D or smaller in size; 1.75 inch or less in length) and only 16.1 percent were large or extra large (8D or larger; 2.5 inches or more in length). But what do all these numbers tell us about the Williams farmhouse?

First, the overall number of nails is relatively low. Assuming that the farmhouse deteriorated in place and that there was no significant scavenging of wood and nails, the low number of nails suggests the house was a log cabin rather than a frame structure. The original log cabin would have been built in the 1870s, and the larger number of small cut nails probably reflects the use of nails in the roof. It is likely that the small number of wire nails, also dominated by small nails, represents repairs that were made to the house or perhaps an addition such as a porch or a lean-to shed. Quite simply, if Williamsí original 1870s house had been a cut lumber wooden frame dwelling, the density of cut nails would be many times greater, and there would be many more large nails used for framing, walls, and flooring.

The interpretation that the Williams family lived in a log cabin is supported by archeological investigations at other log cabin sites where low nail frequencies are observed, as well as by the local historical evidence. In the 1870s when Ransom Williams settled on his land, he had plenty of large oak trees on this property, and he had to cut down many of them to clear fields for farming. Historical evidence indicates that the use of log cabins remained common after the Civil War in many parts of central Texas, especially in areas where railroads had not yet arrived. At least one of Williamsí white neighbors, Daniel Labenski, acquired his land in the 1870s and also built and lived in a log cabin.