Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Santa Claus is coming to... SUGAR CREEK!

The weather has been rather cold lately, and Christmas is only a handful of days away. We haven't been to Sugar Creek in a few weeks, and hubby and I are both getting antsy. We love working on this precious dog-trot. Even the kiddos love spending time out in the countryside.

I can't even begin to explain what a difference we see in our children. Since we began spending time working on the dog-trot, both boys have really grown up. They don't really miss their electronics anymore when we're working. They've become very imaginative little creatures, always inventing stories about the wild animals that live in the woods around the house. Shaun cut down a tree and left it on the ground earlier this year, because our boys immediately deemed it their "clubhouse" and the pair spends the majority of their weekends "climbing" it. Despite the fact that there is no working bathroom, no kitchen, very little electricity (think pull-string lights in the downstairs rooms) and no water other than the water well, life is good at the creek. In fact, the boys don't like our "modern" home in town anymore. They beg to go work on the dog-trot, because they know that the trees and bugs await them.

So what does one do for two little boys that seem to be moving backwards through time instead of forwards? A tree house, of course! Little do our kiddos know that Santa's not coming to our house in Minden. This year, he's coming to Sugar Creek! Well, technically he's coming to our house in Minden first. He's leaving a treasure map that will lead them to the presents... and it's going to be the best Christmas ever.

Ye ole' Chimney

I thought I'd share this lovely photo of THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK, taken (obviously) during WWII. The man on the horse is Jack, and he was born in the house. His birth certificate actually says SUGAR CREEK, LOUISIANA!

This photo thrills me for several reasons. First, it's a great photo of Jack. And secondly, it's a great shot of a chimney that fell to the ground long ago. This is one of the original "rope chimneys", named because rope chimneys could be pulled down easily with a rope and a mule. One of the die-hard rules in dog-trot architecture is the detached chimney. Notice how the chimney is much smaller at the top than at the bottom. Now imagine throwing a rope around it and hitching up your mule. This concept saved many a home from burning back in the day, I suppose.

So what is our plan for the chimney? Both chimneys will be rebuilt, exactly as they were before, and I plan on lighting at least a thousand fires beneath the original mantels (yep, we have them!) before my time is up on this earth. There will be a fireplace in the master bedroom, and a fireplace in the parlor. I can't wait until our first real Christmas in the house. I'll have the fireplaces going, and garland on this old mantel. I can already see it in my mind... and believe me, it's going to be beautiful.

(One of the original mantels from THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK.)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Family Home

Hubby and I were working at SUGAR CREEK a few months ago when these lovely people stopped by to say hello. As it turns out, they are Grandma Mintie and Papa Willie's great-grandchildren! (Mintie's parents bought THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK from the Taylor family in 1902.) I was thrilled to meet them, and even more excited to find out that they love the old dog-trot. When you have a family that loves the home you are restoring, it makes the process of renovating just that much more special. And believe me when I say that the Robinsons and the Taylors are all very proud of this lovely old house!

Even though THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK is miles away from our nearest neighbor, we've been surprised to meet dozens of people that are somehow related to this project. It makes me smile when I think about how we're all going to have a home to be proud of one day very, very soon. Hubby and I decided long ago that when we're completely finished and the weather is good, we want to have all the descendants of the Robinson and Taylor families standing in front of the newly restored dog-trot for a SUGAR CREEK family photo. I suppose that the SUGAR CREEK family photo will be the very last post we'll need on this little blog... but we have hundreds of posts left to make before that day comes. ;)

Alana, Melanie, and Kevin (plus kiddos) during their summer 2011 visit to SUGAR CREEK.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Southern Wedding, Sugar-Creek Style!

Last weekend I attended the wedding of a dear family friend, and her wedding decor was country-chic. Two of the old doors from THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK were centerpieces at the wedding, and I must confess that it was the prettiest little wedding that I've ever seen. I wanted to share the beautiful day with y'all... the wedding might not have been at Sugar Creek, but Sugar Creek certainly made an appearance at the wedding!

This door is usually occupying the space between our kitchen and the future laundry room... but it looks beautiful here, too!

This door holds the key to my heart!

This lovely green door is usually hanging out between the kitchen and the breakfast room, but it's right at home in a southern wedding, too!

Blue Mason jars were the vases. Notice the antique keys that went along with the theme of "key to my heart."

The head table... isn't it lovely!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Elevation Renderings by LESTAR MARTIN

We met with Architect Lestar Martin last month, and he was very excited to show us the completed architectural renderings for THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK. Here are a few of the elevation renderings... this should give you a thorough idea of what the ole' dog-trot will like like post-renovation. But before you scroll down to the fantastic renderings, let me once again say that Lestar Martin is a genius. He really is.

If you chose to restore a historic home, I cannot stress the importance of finding someone like Lestar to take a look at your home pre-restoration. Lestar went through THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK with a fine tooth comb, and when he was finished he gave us details about the house that we could never have learned on our own. He worked to design a hidden staircase, to include closets with very little disturbance to the original walls, and he gave us so many money-saving suggestions for the renovation that he literally paid for his own services. And even more importantly, Lestar's excitement over the architectural significance of THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK was positively uplifting. He told us at least a dozen times, "There's no way you can be as excited about this house as I am." Lestar gave us literature on how to restore our historic windows, and happily pointed out that old windows can be very energy efficient when they are properly restored. He designed the Heating/Air Conditioning Systems to cool the entire house with minimal ductwork, as there is no ductwork in place and we will be starting from scratch. These are just a few of the details that he pointed out to save us big money on this project.

I remember the first time that Lestar Martin came to SUGAR CREEK. I walked through the house with him, and I was pointing out my ideas for the renovation every time we turned a corner. Lestar finally grinned at me and said, "That's fine, but let me come up with my own design first. Then if you don't like it, we'll make changes." When he met us a week later with his vision of the restored dog-trot, I abandoned my previous thoughts entirely. And believe you me, I'm not the kind of gal that gives in easily. But Mr. Martin's ideas were brilliant, and my own ideas, however well thought out, didn't hold a candle in the wind next to his.

So without further adieu, I give you Lestar Martin's Elevation Renderings of THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK. Click on the images to view a larger version of the renderings. And remember-- a brilliant historic architect is worth five times his weight in gold!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Vera Taylor Oden's Memoir: SECTIONS XVII and XVIII

This posting contains sections seventeen and eighteen of twenty-one sections that describe life in Sugar Creek, Louisiana prior to 1902. If you haven't read the post about the significance of VERA TAYLOR ODEN's memoir, click here.



One great concern of Mamma's and Papa's was the distance from a doctor. The nearest doctor was six or seven miles away. To send for the doctor a man would have to ride horseback to ask him to come, and then perhaps find him off on a call. It might be several hours before he finally arrived. There was one summer when Papa was very ill with high fever. Dr. Jarrell, our nearest doctor had done what he could without success, so he asked to have Dr. Thornhill come from Arcadia to see him. They finally pulled him through and Mamma and Papa always had lots of of confidence in him after that.


The mail carrier used a horse and buggy and must have had trouble at times with bad roads and weather. He came about twice a week. There were no rural mail boxes, so the mail was delivered to the post office and the people had to call for it. Of course everybody looked forward to the arrival of the mail carrier when they would receive letters and newspapers. I don't remember receiving any advertising matter except calendars and almanacs.


The earliest newspaper I remember was "The Atlanta Constitution," possible because most of the families around there originally came from Georgia. I think the Uncle Remus stories were first published in that newspaper. Other papers we got were "The Texas Farm and Ranch," "The Dallas News" and "The Homer Guardian Journal." All in our school wrote letters to "Aunt Sallie" and "Cousin Pearl" who edited the children's pages of "The Texas Farm and Ranch." What a thrill it was to see our names in print. I also remember "The Youth's Companion" more of a children's magazine, "The Comfort" a cheap little home magazine and "Thee Delineator."


For those of you who do not know me, I am a journalist by trade. So the idea of Mrs. Vera writing in to a magazine as a very young child is especially thrilling to me. I'd love to get my hands on a late-1800's copy of "The Texas Farm and Ranch." But for now, this digital copy of a late-1800's Delineator cover makes me smile. I hope you enjoy looking at it as much as I do... who knows. Maybe a copy of this very issue arrived at the post office across the street from THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK.

On a side note, I found this information on Dr. Francis Marion Thornhill from an online source. It gives us a little perspective on the Dr. Thornhill that Mrs. Vera writes about in her memoir.

Bio: Francis Marion Thornhill, M.D., Bienville & Caldwell Parish Louisiana
Source: Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Northwest Louisiana
The Southern Publishing Company, Chicago & Nashville, 1890

Submitted by Kay Thompson Brown

Copyright. All rights reserved.

Arcadia, La

Dr. Thornhill is a man of decided intellectual ability, is ever ready to obey the call of all classes, and is in truth a physician of thorough learning and experience. He was born in Caldwell Parish, La., September 10,1850, and was third of a family of seven children-six sons and one daughter--who are named as follows: A. G. (married and resides in Texas, where he is engaged in
farming), Joseph J. (deceased), Francis M., J. C. (married and resides in Texas, where he is also engaged in agricultural pursuits), Louisa (married Orin 0. Gray, who is a farmer of Caldwell Parish), W. H. (resides in Caldwell Parish), C. P. (is the youngest and also a resident of the last-named parish). The father of these children was a native of Mississippi, born in 1816, was fairly well educated, and is now a successful agriculturist. The mother, whose maiden name was Matilda Blackburn, was also born in the Bayou State and was educated in the common schools. She is also living.

Dr. Thornhill received the rudiments of an education in the common schools, and then attended academy about two years before commencing to read medicine under Dr C. C. Meredith, at Columbia, La., in the fall of 1868. There he remained until 1870, and in October of that year he entered Tulane Medical College now, but at that time it was called the University of Louisiana. There he completed the full course of medicine in this far-famed institution, which has a national reputation, graduating in a class of seventy-five in March, 1872. He then at once began practicing at his home in Columbia, La., and remained there in 1882, during the noted flood year, when the whole surface of the parish was under water. There he established a large and extensive practice, but not a paying one, so he wisely changed his base of operations and located in Arcadia, La., in 1882. Here the Doctor has resided since, and he stands today, not only one of the leading physicians, but a liberal-minded, public-spirited citizen.

The Doctor was married, January 26,1874, to Miss Anna Meredith. a native of Caldwell Parish, La., who was educated in the female seminary. Only one child was born to this union and that died in infancy. Dr. Thornbill has always been a Democrat in politics. But he has never been a bitter partisan. He has aimed to support men of principle and honor. He is one of the directors of the Arcadia State National Bank, and is a man full of energy and determination. He is a Master Mason of Arcadia Lodge.

Like a few others of the prominent men of Arcadia Dr. Thornhill started out in life for himself with limited means, but he had the push and determination to succeed in whatever he undertook, and he now has a large and lucrative practice. He also has a full line of drugs, and is doing well in this business. He is a land owner, and is not only the owner of his residence property, but owns his place of business as well. Mrs. Thornhill is a member of the Baptist Church in Arcadia, La.

Monday, November 14, 2011


Have you ever heard the expression 'HOT TO TROT?' We definitely have, and we definitely feel very 'hot to trot' after a long weekend of painting at SUGAR CREEK. Of all the projects we've worked on so far, this one had the biggest impact-- both on the overall look of the house, and on our energy levels. By the time we left SUGAR CREEK last night, heading for our full-time home, we were so exhausted that we had the giggles. My neck ached from painting three coats of white paint on the wooden ceiling, and my arms were hanging from my shoulders like limp noodles. But you know what? The TROT looks like brand new again, and it was definitely worth the effort.

You're probably asking yourself the question, "What the heck is a TROT?" It's the long, open ended hallway that dissects the center of historic dog-trot homes. The trot is usually long and thin, and in the rendering below I have colored the area a nice beige to separate it from the other rooms. These TROTs are the architectural details that separate dog-trot homes from all other historic houses. And ours is a rare jewel because she has been enclosed (and completely protected from the weather) since the 1940's. Take a second to look at the rendering below so that you'll know exactly what I'm talking about when I say TROT.

A pre-renovation sketch of THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK.

Now that you've familiarized yourself with the location of the TROT itself, I'd like to give you a peek at what the TROT looked like before we began working at SUGAR CREEK. Below is a photo that I took during our first weekend at SUGAR CREEK. Isn't she gorgeous! Hubby and I both recognized that with just a bit of sanding, painting, putty for nail holes, and a lot of elbow grease, the TROT could shine up very nicely.

Now bear in mind a couple of details as you're looking at the photo below. Hubby and I must remove the staircase that is clogging up the open-aired TROT, but we can't remove this staircase until we build another one to replace it. (The new staircase will begin in the living room, with most of the staircase being hidden behind a new bathroom wall.) So we are painting around the staircase until the day comes when we remove it and expose the original wooden walls that are hiding behind it.

The TROT pre-renovation.

On Saturday evening, hubby and I arrived at SUGAR CREEK and began scraping the peeling paint that was covering the TROT's wooden walls and ceilings. This process took quite some time, as we took proper precautions to protect ourselves from any lead paint dust/residue. After all paint chips were removed and the floors were thoroughly scrubbed to remove dust, hubby and I crossed our fingers and began to apply the first layer of white paint to the walls and ceiling. We had originally wanted to sand the walls down to the original wooden texture and forgo paint entirely, but after much research we decided to seal the painted walls with a fresh coat of white paint instead. Here I am, standing by my trusty ladder during Saturday night's paint chip extravaganza.

Me (Jackie) in the pre-restoration TROT of the house.

It took three coats of exterior paint to cover the wooden walls and ceilings, but it was worth every single minute of the 30+ man-hours that we spent on this project. I wish you could see our handi-work in person. These photos simply do not capture the beauty of the hallway, which is almost impossible to photograph with the old staircase still in the TROT. The crisp white, painted walls of the dog-trot are absolutely beautiful. And we're loving the satin finish of the paint... it's just shiny enough to look new and sleek, but just matte enough to leave you wondering if the paint is original, too.

Notice that we did not repaint the very end of the dog-trot where the door and windows currently sit. We're removing this section entirely, and replacing it with a set of all-glass French doors and windows that will match the original nine over nine window panes that are found in the rest of the house. We already have the French doors... now we're searching for wavy-glass window panes to use in the new front door/window construction. But that, my friends, is a project for the future-- we have ten rooms to scrape and paint before it's time to work on the new entrance to the TROT. And on a side note, we chose to paint the TROT with EXTERIOR paint because we will have the hallway open on as many days as possible from here on out. We love the breeze blowing through the center of the house, and we're no longer worried about the potential threat of lead paint dust as the wind carries through our home. Six points for Team Lewis, despite the fact that this was probably the most difficult weekend of work so far.

Did I mention that restoring a historic home is not for the faint of heart? You should never try to do something like this unless you look at the project as something more "fun" than "work." Otherwise, you'll go crazy. Hubby and I have come to realize that a historic renovation does not take brilliance, it takes determination. Truth be told, it's not difficult to restore windows, sand wooden walls, paint trim, etc... it is simply time consuming. But hubby and I are looking at our weekends at SUGAR CREEK as an opportunity to do something productive with our free time. Instead of lounging on the couch and watching television, we're bringing an old house back to life again. And there are few things in life more rewarding than saving a beautiful piece of our local history.

After photo of the painted TROT.

After photo of the painted TROT.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


A few weeks ago, I decided to paint the kitchen ceiling. I spent an entire day scrubbing the original wood, then busied myself with painting the first coat. Next I applied the second. I let that dry for an hour or so, and then I applied the third. And then it occurred to me that I hadn't quite achieved the new construction look. The beautiful boards looked much better than before their makeover, of course, but they still seemed to be missing something. There was a mysterious brownish-red color that was seeping through the paint, and I suddenly realized that I had not applied primer before painting. The old wood stain, or perhaps old kitchen grease, was bleeding through the new paint. It wasn't the look I had been going for, but there was something charming about the effect. It almost looked like the ceiling had been painted long ago, which would be completely plausable in such an old home. So after much thought, I decided to help the ceiling fully achieve the "I was painted one hundred years ago" look. Over the course of the following week, I did a little internet research on aging techniques and came across the theory of the tea-stain. And after looking at a few dozen examples on the internet, I decided to go for the gusto.

On the morning of the great tea-staining event, I boiled water in a kettle, poured it over tea bags and made a very thick, blackish-brownish-redish-colored soup. Hubby, kiddos and I loaded up in the mini-van (hey-- don't judge me-- they're really handy) and we headed out for SUGAR CREEK with my pitcher of soupy tea in the front floorboard. Hubby unlocked the house, and I carried the tea-soup into the kitchen. I climbed my trusty ladder with the warm bucket of tea (that had begun to look like a mixture of slop and burnt Coca-Cola) in hand and then followed the internet instructions. I lightly squeezed the excess moisture out of the tea bags, then began to "paint" the ceiling with the blackish-brownish-redish-colored soup, using a tea bag as my paintbrush. The effect was absolutely PERFECT. The beautiful colors of nature appeared, and Mr. Lipton himself couldn't have been prouder. There were golden golds and coppery browns, shimmering yellowish-reds and a hint of goldish-beige from the coat of paint I had applied the week before. The tea-stain was the most beautiful painting technique I had ever attempted, and I was incredibly proud of my accomplishment. Here's a photo of the tea-stain, but make sure to read the remainder of this posting-- because unfortunately for me, there is more to this story.

A section of the kitchen ceiling that had been tea-stained. The golden tea-stain was absolutely beautiful.

It took me almost an hour to apply three coats of the tea-stain, and in the moments after I finished my hubby called from another room and begged me to help him with his window-restoration project. I quickly found myself up to my eyeballs in paint thinner, putty, and glass window panes, and I completely forgot about the tea-stain until a few hours later. "I'll be back in a sec," I said to hubby when I remembered the kitchen-ceiling project, and I ran into the kitchen with a smile on my face. My eyes opened wide as I stared up at my most recent project, and my heart broke into a million pieces. The tea-stain was completely gone. It dried and soaked into the painted wood, never to be seen again. I raised my hands to my mouth, covering my disbelief as I realized that I had wasted an entire hour of renovation time. And just as my hands neared my face, I noticed that my knuckles were brown. So was the skin around my fingernails, and the creases where my hands join my forearms. The ceiling had gone through the tea-staining process without so much as a hint of color to show for it. But I, well, I hadn't been so lucky. It took three days for my tea-stained hands to return to normal.

I now own a gallon of Kilz primer, which I will use to cover the entire kitchen ceiling. I suppose I could research other ways to antique-finish the painted ceiling, but I'm not going to allow myself to goof on this particular project again. I suppose there was no real harm done, unless you count the self-inflicted wound to my pride. I did learn a few important lessons, though. Number one, PRIME BEFORE PAINTING antique wood. Number two, tea-stains shouldn't be applied over PAINTED wood. And number three, there's a reason that southern women DRINK their tea instead of PAINTING with it!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Our Future Kitchen

Wooden walls. Wooden floors. Wooden ceiling. Wooden doors. I guess the theme of the current "kitchen" in the dog-trot is wood. But one day soon, this room will serve as Grand Central Station in the Lewis house.

Here is what she looks like as of today....

And here is a photo of a modern kitchen that *almost* looks like our kitchen post-restoration.

So what must we do span the gap between the two? Here's the game plan.

1) new electrical wiring. (to be completed by a professional.)
2) expand doorway between kitchen and living room, creating a cased opening. (hubby)
3) drywall the wall between the kitchen and living room, leave remaining three walls the original wood.
4) install new flooring, as the old flooring must be removed due to deterioration.
5) remove old windows and replace with two BRAND NEW windows. We're restoring fourteen of the original windows by hand, so don't judge us for making this decision. (haha)
6) install "new" kitchen cabinets and countertops, built to match the one original kitchen cabinet that remains intact.
7) have the old ceramic farm sink (that we were given by a dear friend) refinished and installed in custom cabinets.
8) paint, paint, paint.
9) paint some more.
10) purchase and install all new appliances.
11) have a dinner party in celebration of our accomplishment.

So that's the plan in a nutshell. Believe it or not, we hope to do most of the work ourselves. Call us crazy, but we're actually enjoying the time we spend working at SUGAR CREEK. And it's a good thing, too, because there's PLENTY of work that needs to be done!

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Sugar Creek Gang

I was doing a bit of early shopping for the holidays, and I found this vintage children's storybook from the 1940's on Ebay. And as if wasn't enough for me to find this book, I realized tonight that there is an entire SERIES of Sugar Creek Gang books. Hand over your wallet, hubby. These books are adorable, and they're the correct reading level for our nine year old. This is going to be fun!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Friends of Sugar Creek

Here is one of my favorite photos of the dog-trot. The man on the horse was nicknamed "Pot" and he worked for (and was a dear friend to) the Sims/Robinson family. The Sims family bought THE HOUSE IN SUGAR CREEK in 1902, and I'm not sure how long afterward Pot began to work for them. But somewhere along the way, according to the caption written on the back of one of his photos and based on many, many personal accounts from the living descendants, Pot became very close friends with several members of the family. I have been given MANY photos of Pot. In fact, I have more historic photos of Pot than I have of anyone else! According to old-timers in the area, Pot was an amazing man. He had quite a voice and was a member of a local band that played all around the Sugar Creek area. I now have five photos of Pot that were taken at Sugar Creek, and this photo clearly shows the complete house INTACT, including the kitchen/dining room (to the far left) that was torn down in the 1940's.

Check out the old chimneys that were originally on THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK by scrolling to the photo below. Architect Lestar Martin calls these chimneys "rope chimneys" because they were design to contain chimney fires. A rope would have been tied to the skinny chimney tops, and in case of a chimney fire a mule or a horse could have easily pulled down the chimney and saved the house from burning. Two of the three original chimneys in the below photo will be rebuilt in our restoration, and the fireplace hearths will be framed with the original mantles. And on one of the mantles, in a frame made from the old wood from the chicken coop, I will sit this photo of Pot.

Pot and his horse, circa late 1930's or early 1940's.

Persimmons and Pomegranates, oh my!

A few weeks ago, while we were spending a few days at SUGAR CREEK, our Chi-Weenie (yep, she's a Chihuahua and Weiner-dog mix) came running up to me with a persimmon in her mouth. I haven't seen a persimmon in years, so I was thrilled! My grandparents actually had a few persimmon trees on their property, and I spent many a long Sunday afternoon in my youth climbing and shaking the limbs and gathering the persimmons that would fall to the ground. I remember the day that my grandfather took out his pocket knife and cut one of the persimmon seeds open to show me that "silverware" can be found on the inside of the seed. The presence of either a fork, a knife, or a spoon indicates the type of weather that we should expect in the following winter. Click here to see the Farmer's Almanac's winter weather prediction from last year, which they based on the findings from a split persimmon seed.

I followed Montana as she sniffed around the overgrown fence row behind THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK and began looking for the persimmon tree. She held her little head up and sniffed, then played around in the leaves for a while before trotting off with another persimmon in her mouth. Our little sweet Montana taught me that we have persimmon trees on the property! I happily snapped a few photos, ate a few persimmons, and then explored the fence line a little more until I found that we have pomegranates growing wild, too! These lovely fruits are clearly a remnant of gardens and orchards past, and I can't wait until next year when I'll take these "goodies" back into the house and find a way to use them in a few old-fashioned recipes.

Montana sniffing for persimmons.

A pomegranate I found growing behind our dog-trot.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Vera Taylor Oden's Memoir (SECTION XVI)

This posting contains section sixteen of twenty-one sections that describe life in Sugar Creek, Louisiana prior to 1902. If you haven't read the post about the significance of VERA TAYLOR ODEN's memoir, click here.



Another big occasion was my first trip to Shreveport a few years later. (After the Chatauqua.) As before, we drove to Arcadia and took the train. Anniebel went with us as she often did, when we took trips. We arrived at night and went to the Henderson boarding house near the depot, which had been recommended to us. The occasion for this visit was a street fair or carnival which was the most wonderful thing I had ever seen. Two or three blocks of Milam Street were set off for the amusements. It must have been something like the gladway at the fair. The place was brilliant with electric lights which I had never seen before. I saw a lady hypnotized, dressed in a long white robe, who flew. She rose from the floor, and the man passed a hoop around her to show there were no wires. The first time I ever talked on a phone was this trip.

We also took in some of the stores. It was a never to be forgotten experience. Another memorable trip we took by train was to a circus at Monroe, another memorable experience. Another time we drove to Arcadia to see a home talent play "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." Mrs. Barnette who then was Miss. Eula Yarbrough, was the tiny, blond "Snow White." Ray tells me that he was one of the dwarfs, so that must have been the first time I saw him.


Can you imagine seeing electric lights for the first time, and also seeing a woman fly, too? What an exciting night it must have been for Mrs. Vera! Maybe she came face to face with the Victorian-era magician Harry Keller that night. What an exiting time to live. Mrs. Vera really did live to see many of the modern innovations (that we take for granted today) come into popularity.

Harry Keller's Magic Show Advertisement, circa the late 1800's.

A Foggy Morning at Sugar Creek...

This morning I was walking through the field beside THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK, and this view took my breath away. (Click on photos to enlarge them.)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Light Fixture from HEAVEN

I've been brainstorming about a way to "preserve" some of the old canning jars that we found in the root cellar beneath THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK, and I just found the PERFECT way to do it. Now I must begin searching for an old chandelier to rework into something that can showcase Mintie's jars! I'd like to give a special thanks to my friend Vicki for introducing me to the Facebook page where I found this photo. This is a fantastic idea!

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Three years ago, I had the privilege of meeting Mrs. Peggy Carter of Louisiana Tech University's Archives department. I was researching for an article I was writing about the WWII-era POW Camp in Ruston, Louisiana, and Mrs. Peggy cheerfully led me to a wealth of resources. I was floored by the incredible amount of history in the Archives department, and before I left Tech that day I had another story in mind. For on that day, Mrs. Peggy asked me if I knew anything about the RUSTON CHAUTAUQUA. "No, I don't think so," I said. "Oh, Jackie. You're going to love this..." she said and sat me down at a wooden table near her desk. And within a few minutes, I came to realize that Mrs. Peggy Carter was right.

Since that day, I've been obsessed with all things Chautauqua. In fact, I published Wesley Harris' article on the subject in the March / April 2011 edition of The Minute Magazine. See the article (written by Wes Harris) on pages 58 and 59 by clicking here. So you can imagine my surprise when I found a link between the RUSTON CHAUTAUQUA and THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK. Amazingly enough, Mrs. Vera Taylor Oden writes about the Chautauqua in her memoir. With great excitement, I give you post fifteen of twenty-one sections that describe life in Sugar Creek, Louisiana prior to 1902. If you haven't read the post about the significance of Vera Taylor Oden's memoir, click here.


SECTION XV: (Summers at Chatauqua)

There are so many incidents which I remember so well, one of which was my first train ride. I think I must have been three or four years old. We drove to Arcadia and took the train to Ruston to attend Chatauqua. As we stood on the platform the big black engine pulled in, whistle blowing and bell ringing, it nearly scared me to death. I screamed and they had to hold me to keep me from running away.

Every summer they had a series of Chatauqua attractions at Vienna, near Ruston, and people came good distances to attend. The ones I recall were lectures Bob Taylor of Tennessee, Sam Jones and Dewitt Talmadge. There were several buildings on the shady grounds, one a round pavillion where the lectures were held. I remember going down a long row of steps on a hillside to springs where people drank water.


Unfortunately, I only had room to publish one photo of the Chautauqua along with Wes Harris' article. But now I will share a few of the other photos in Louisiana Tech's collection with you. Enjoy!

The Chautauqua Membership Book, circa 1892-1893.

The Chautauqua Hotel (photo circa 1900) was located just outside of Ruston, Louisiana.

The Chautauqua Auditorium circa 1900.

Photo of the 1854? Chautauqua Taken from Pierian Springs looking toward the auditorium.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


This posting contains section fourteen of twenty-one sections that describe life in Sugar Creek, Louisiana prior to 1902. If you haven't read the post about the significance of VERA TAYLOR ODEN's memoir, click here.



We always had a lots of cats, but no dogs, until after Curtis was born. We also had pet chickens, some squirrels which had a house in a large gourd in a mulberry tree. I also had a rabbit for a few days but it disappeared. One of our cats lived for a long time and when he died we buried him and cousin Jeff wrote an epitaph for his head-board.



I can't even begin to explain how excited I was when I read this section of Mrs. Vera Oden Taylor's memoir. I started squealing, then started laughing hysterically. My eyes filled with tears and then I held my breath for a few seconds. I guess this section of the memoir really made the history of THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK very real to me. It's one thing to realize that somebody had to build the house, and that somebody had to live there before you. But to know the people so well that you even know their pets' names is another thing entirely. Somewhere on the property, little Sam is buried. I don't know where, but I do know one thing. We're definitely going to recreate his headboard and place it somewhere at Sugar Creek.

Monday, October 10, 2011


We went on a treasure hunt last weekend, and our hunting grounds were very tiny. This outbuilding is a former chicken coop, a place to smoke hogs, and now houses the remains of a very worn dining table. Hubby cut down a few trees and shrubs to clear the way to the dilapidated door of this outbuilding, and then we happily stepped inside to find a tiny room full of treasures. I've been wanting to make my way into the building for months now, but I wasn't all that certain that both the building and/or I would survive the opening of the rotted door frame.

The chicken coop, viewed from inside THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK.

View from the door of the chicken coop.

As expected, we found the old table. But there were many other goodies hidden away beneath layers of dust and sediment. We found a piece of a very old fishing pole, a beautiful little candle holder, an iron corn-bread pan (WHOO HOO!) and a mystery item. We're not really sure exactly what this enormous piece of metal was used for, but it was clearly a piece of something much bigger. Hubby and I like to think that it was part of the old cotton gin that was once on the property, but who knows.

A few of the "treasures" we found in the old chicken coop.

I love this old outbuilding, though it's much too far "gone" for us to save. But I want to salvage pieces of it for a future project... I'm thinking coffee table, or maybe a rough-hewn trunk. WHAT WOULD YOU MAKE using these well-worn materials?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


I have just found a WONDERFUL case study done at Mississippi State University that explains the theory behind dog-trot design. (Click on link to view the exact study.)

To quote directly from the Mississippi State University case study, "Measurements show wind speeds at the central breezeway to be substantially greater than those at the exterior of the house. This strong breeze pulls air through the adjoining connections to the log cabins, keeping the interior spaces cool."

AWESOME! There is no air conditioning/heating in THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK as of yet, and on the work days that we've had the doors and windows opened I have noticed a SIGNIFICANT difference in the wind speed going through the dog-trot and the wind speed outside of the house. This wonderful case study explains exactly why I noticed this difference, and it has made me think about modern architecture. Maybe we should incorporate this "outdated" design into modern homes and celebrate the dog-trot once again-- this time for its energy efficiency.

Wind testing performed by Aaron Gentry and Sze Min Lam, Mississippi State University School of Architecture

The Miller Dog-trot in Webster Parish

Hubby and I recently visited with Mr. and Mrs. Larry Jernigan, the owners of THE MILLER HOUSE just outside of Minden, Louisiana. (Click on the link for more information on the Jernigan's lovely home.) Hubby and I toured the Jernigan's early 1800's dog-trot a few weekends ago, and I have to say that we were more than impressed. Mr. Jernigan has lovingly restored this beautiful property and was eager to share a few tips with us. The Miller house is very similar to our dog-trot, and I have to admit that I had chills while I was walking through another early settler's home. Would the Miller family have been friends with the Taylor family? It's certainly possible.

Below is a photo of Mr. Larry Jernigan in front of THE MILLER HOUSE. Notice the lovely dog-trot that cuts through the center of the house, and the beautiful metal roof. This house has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and as we were walking through the wooden-walled rooms of THE MILLER HOUSE it was very easy for us to imagine what our own home will look like post-restoration.

Larry Jernigan standing in front of THE MILLER HOUSE, his beautiful dog-trot home just outside of Minden, Louisiana.

There were many unique features of the Jernigan's dog-trot that intrigued us. We loved the doors that enclose the dog-trot itself during harsh weather, and we have similar plans to enclose our dog-trot, too. But one of our favorite details of THE MILLER HOUSE was found in a window sill. A small hook was placed on the top of the window sash, and a nail was curved around a hook above it. When the window was raised, the bent nail was placed in the window's hook. This was a very primitive, and brilliant, way to prevent the windows from slamming shut. It took us all of two seconds to realize that we should adapt this technique within the windows of THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK!

Curved nail hook in window of THE MILLER HOUSE.

THE MILLER HOUSE and THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK are less than thirty miles away from one another, both located in northern Louisiana. But their location is not the only characteristic they have in common. After comparing their architectural details, it's easy to see that these two homes are nearly identical. With both of our homes, the porches are of the French-styled dog-trot design common to southern Louisiana. The fireplaces of both houses were made of red brick. The wooden floors in both houses are identical as well, as are the original columns for both homes' original front porches. And both houses use cypress planks for siding instead of traditional logs. Both of our houses were once clad with wooden shingles for roofing, though both houses' wooden-shingled roofs were removed because of deterioration. All in all, despite the differences in dimensions, the front four rooms and the dog-trot in THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK are almost an exact replica of THE MILLER HOUSE.

There are a few differences in these two historic homes, however. Our dog-trot has a second story and a staircase, and the upper floor of THE MILLER HOUSE was never used for living quarters. Our dog-trot still has an additional four rooms located behind the traditional four-roomed dog-trot design, but THE MILLER HOUSE does not. THE MILLER HOUSE is also surrounded by many original outbuildings, but THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK has only a deteriorating mule barn and an unsalvageable smokehouse/chicken house. Our house has been painted white, and THE MILLER HOUSE proudly wears unstained, unpainted cypress siding. So despite the fact that our historic dog-trots are very similar, they do appear to be very different from the outside.

Which do you like? If you were building a new dog-trot, would you paint it white (and then scrape and repaint it again through the years) or leave the wooden siding unpainted? We're staying true to the history of our home and repainting it white again. But I have to admit that I'm a little bit jealous of the Jernigan's maintenance-free unpainted siding!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Post-Restoration Rendering

Rendering of THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK post-renovation, painted by Architect LESTAR MARTIN.

Friday, September 30, 2011


Lestar Martin is a genius.

Let me say it again. LESTAR MARTIN IS A GENIUS.

Hubby and I are in love with a set of floor plans that he has drawn for THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK. Lestar is a Louisiana Architect (and retired Louisiana Tech Professor of Architecture) that agreed-- without arm twisting on my part, I might add-- to take a peek at The House at Sugar Creek and see if he could tell us about the architectural history of our dog-trot. He came to Sugar Creek for the first time a week and a half ago, and his eyes were as wide as saucers before he even entered the house. He pointed out a thousand interesting tidbits about the house, one of which is the significance of the front porch. In typical northern Louisiana dog-trot design, the porch is added after the home has been built (almost as an afterthought.) But with our home, the porch is placed directly under the roofline. This style is common with the French-style dog-trots in southern Louisiana, but quite rare in northern Louisiana. (So rare, in fact, that we have only located one other local dog-trot with this feature.) Mr. Martin also pointed out THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK is very large for a country home of its era, and easily recognized that the original siding (1888/1889) is still on the house and in very good condition. This means that we will be doing a good bit of sanding and painting instead of re-siding the house, and we're delighted to know that we'll be able to save the old square-nailed cypress planks.

After a long discussion with Mr. Martin about architectural designs for THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK, we parted ways and nervously awaited his thoughts on the restoration. He appeared at our home last night and gave us the most magical architectural renderings that we have ever seen, and I wanted to share them with you. After a unanimous family vote, we know for certain that we're going to follow Mr. Martin's design to the T. So without further adieu... here's LESTAR MARTIN's design.... and like I said, this man is a GENIUS!


(Lestar Martin's design for the ground floor of THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK)

(Lestar Martin's design for the 2nd floor of THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK)

Vera Taylor Oden's Memoir (SECTIONS XI, XII and XIII)

This posting contains sections eleven, twelve and thirteen of twenty-one sections that describe life in Sugar Creek, Louisiana prior to 1902. If you haven't read the post about the significance of her memoir, click here.



The second floor of our house was floored and had windows but was not finished. I think the men slept up there, and the girls down stairs. Our house was built according to the prevailing style at that time. A front porch all across the front of the house, an open central hall with staircase enclosed, two rooms on each side of the hall and dining room and kitchen continuing on one side with porch and bannisters opposite them. Of course the well opposite the kitchen door. Later we built a servant room with fire place next to the kitchen, but I don't think it was used for a servant much. There was a cellar underneath it which was built for storms, but I don't remember going into it but once. In rainy weather it would have water in it and Mamma was afraid some of us would drown. (Also,) there was a picket fence around our house and cape jasmine bushes lined the walk from the gate to the house.


On summer nights the family sat on the front porch while we children played games in the yard. A favorite was "Molly, Molly Bright, can I come home tonight. Yes, if your legs are long and light, but watch for witches on the way." Then a race from the gate to the steps before being caught by those hiding behind the cape jasmine bushes. It was more fun when Aunt Belle's children were with us. They were so near, we saw them nearly ever day. There was a small thicket between our houses where we would meet to play, also a branch where we caught crawfish. In our yard was a potato house which was seldom used, so it served as a playhouse for us. From time to time it was variously used for theatricals, with crocus sack curtains, a bakery where molded mud cakes were sold, beautifully decorated with berries and flowers, a store, and a photographer's studio, after an itinerant photographer pitched his tent near Papa's store and made tin type pictures. Of course we had our pictures made, so that gave us the idea. We galloped over the yard on stick horses and played under the house. I was always afraid I would crawl under a sill too low and might not find my way out again. We played dolls, usually china dolls, but we did have some big dolls which were too pretty to play with. We once had a doll wedding at Anniebel's house. Her cousin, who was visiting her, made costumes for the bride and groom and attendants. They were small stand-up dolls. We loved to play in the cotton seed house because we could mold the cotton seed into beds, tables, chairs, etc. We could also climb up onto the rafters and jump down into the cotton seed. It was important to wear cotton dresses so the lint wouldn't stick to them.


Mamma used to take us and go to see Miss Addie (Mrs. Sherard) and Florrie. We loved playing at Florries because she had a tiny wood burning stove on which we could cook. Florrie says when we got everything out, it would be time to leave and she would have to clean up. The Sherards and Youngbloods lived about a mile away from us and were close life-long friends. I think the Taylors and Sherrards came from Georgia together. Mr. Sherard also owned a store about a mile from us. Mrs. Reid was the wife of a doctor, so always had lots of home remedies. She made Mullen tea and chamomile tea, I don't know what for but for sore throat she mopped it with a preparation made from Rod Oak bark and Slippery Elm bark. She carried a pair of tweezers in her satchel, and it seemed I always had a tooth that needed pulling.

Mr. Sherard's sister, Mrs. Youngblood, lived just across the road. Her husband died early leaving her a young widow with two sons, Claude and Dee. Florrie had a chair swing under a big oak which we enjoyed, and I thought Miss. Addie's tea cakes and plum preserves were the best. I especially remember Aunt Belle's ginger bread and doughnuts. Maybe Mamma's were just as good, but they tasted better away from home.


After reading section XII (Childhood Games) am I now quite taken by the game "Molly, Molly Bright." I spoke with my grandmother about it, and she says that she seems to remember hearing it in her childhood. So I did what any modern, internet-loving, red-headed, determined, old-house-loving renovator would do. I googled the name "Molly, Molly Bright." And here's what I found...

(photo above taken from this book entitled CHILDREN'S GAMES AND RHYMES, published by ARNO PRESS)

The link to the above book will lead you to a fabulous compilation of North Carolina folklore, which is rather fascinating when you realize that the Taylor family moved to Sugar Creek, Louisiana from Georgia. (For those of us that are geographically challenged, North Carolina and Georgia share a common border.) It's very easy for us to assume that the Taylors brought "Molly, Molly Bright" with them when they moved to Louisiana, though the children (Mrs. Vera included) could have easily learned this game from other immigrants to this area. A very large percentage of the early settlers (of european blood) in northern Louisiana were indeed of Scotch/Irish/Welsh descent and moved her from North Carolina. In fact, my family's Scotch/Irish/Cherokee Indian line did just this, settling in northern Louisiana after moving from North Carolina. I wonder if my family played "Molly, Molly Bright," too. I'd like to think that they did.

We're off to spend another weekend working on The House at Sugar Creek, but there's one more wonderful post that I must make before we leave. And trust me, it's going to be a good one.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Vera Taylor Oden's Memoir (SECTIONS VIII, IX and X)

This posting contains sections eight, nine and ten of twenty-one sections that describe life in Sugar Creek, Louisiana prior to 1902. If you haven't read the post about the significance of her memoir, click here.



Mamma had pride for herself too. She was very erect and slender and wore very neat clothes. Some of them she had made in Arcadia and Aunt Maggie Patton, who was very good at sewing, helped her. I was very proud of her and Papa, too, who it seemed to me, stood out among all other people.

Aunt Maggie, who was Mamma's sister-in-law, was like a real sister to her. It was she whom they sent for when any of us were sick. She was a born nurse, so gentle and kind.


For several years there were only three of us children, and we all wanted a baby so badly. It seemed that the doctor was leaving babies all around but had none for us. Finally he did bring us a little baby brother, and we were delighted. We kept him only eleven days. They thought it was pneumonia. We carried him to Lisbon, his little casket on the back seat of the surrey. Aunt Maggie, Papa and we children went to the funeral, but Mamma was not able to go. His little stone in the Lisbon cemetery has the figure of a little baby lamb on it, and the inscription "Little Frank."


Often when we went to church at Lisbon they would have dinner on the grounds. This was spread on long tables under big oak trees, and was quite a happy occasion for friends and relatives who didn't get to see each other very often. There was always such an abundance of food and good fellowship. In fact it was almost all of the social life of the community.

Mamma and Papa used to have house parties for two or three days, for a few young lady and young men relations and friends. Sometimes Aunt Belle's nieces would visit at the same time, Claude and Dee Youngblood, two handsome and popular young men of the neighborhood would join them for the parties. I was a very interested, but shy, spectator who imagined romance among them, and enjoyed their pretty dresses. Refreshments were always custard ice cream frozen in a hand turned freezer and home made cake. I don't know how Mamma took care of so many, but I think they were always in the summer time, and probably pallet parties.


I'm amazed by the detail in Mrs. Vera's memoir. My family has a habit of making "pallets" on the floor for kiddos to sleep on, particularly during slumber parties. We've always piled blankets and pillows together to make a soft bed on the floor, and I can't tell you how many hundreds of times I've slept on one of these makeshift "pallets" with my friends, cousins, and siblings. Can you imagine having a pallet party for grown-ups that lasts for DAYS? I can close my eyes and picture the Taylor family in the dog-trot, surrounded by friends and family members as they turn the handle on an ice cream freezer and introduce young men and women to one another. I wonder how many marriages were a result of these wonderful pallet parties, and how many children were born to young couples that met for the first time at The House at Sugar Creek.

Though we are exploring the memoir of Vera Oden Taylor, I wanted to share a wonderful photo of the Robinson Family that was taken at The House at Sugar Creek circa 1950/1951. The Taylor home (The House at Sugar Creek) was sold to the Sims family in 1902, and the home has been passed down from generation to generation in the Sims/Robinson family.

Jack Robinson on the front porch, holding son Jackie.

Who are the people in this lovely photograph? The man in the photo is Francis Rudolph (Jack) Robinson, Sr. holding his son, Jackie. The are sitting on the front porch of the home, circa 1950 or 1951. This photo was taken fifty to sixty years after the pallet parties that Mrs. Vera writes about in her memoir. Notice that the dog-trot had been screened in by the time this photo was taken. I love finding little "clues" about The House at Sugar Creek, and I truly hope that our project (and our love for this house) inspires you to save a historic building of your own.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Vera Taylor Oden's Memoir (SECTIONS V, VI and VII)

Hello, all! Hubby and I will be on our way to Sugar Creek in a few minutes, but I wanted to share a little more of Mrs. Vera's memoir beforehand.

This posting contains sections five, six and seven of twenty-one sections that describe life in Sugar Creek, Louisiana prior to 1902. If you haven't read the post about the significance of her memoir, click here.



Papa kept cheese, soda crackers and stick candy at the store, but at Christmas time he had barrels of apples, boxes of oranges and big buckets of "fancy candy" and nuts. One of the delights of my childhood was to go to the stare after supper just before Christmas and help unpack the dolls and toys and other Christmas goods. They came packed in big wooden boxes and were hauled from Arcadia in a wagon. I also loved to straighten up the shelves and help clean up the store. The post office was only a large sized cabinet with separate compartments labelled with letters of the alphabet; into which went the mail according to the name. Of course Papa also sold stamps and money orders. There was no parcel post then. On the same side of the store were tobacco, a few simple drugs and groceries. On the other side were some piece goods, some laces, ribbon, thread, face powder and Hoyt's cologne, oil cloth, shoes, hardware, etc. Coal oil for lamps was in a large metal barrel and had to be pumped out. Each customer brought his own oil can. There was a wood stove (heater) in the back of the store, around which customers would gather to talk in winter. In summer they sat on loafers benches on the porch of the store. There was a well there, also hitching racks for horses. A cousin of Papa's, cousin Jeff Taylor stayed with us for a while and helped at the store. He was a bachelor and rather smart, used to teach school. He helped teach us children before we had a school there.


I can't remember when I learned to read but Mamma and Papa began to teach us at an early age. Mamma used to let Aunt Belle's children, Annie Belle, who was my age, Irvin and Glenn come to our house and have school with us. In exchange Aunt Belle would do sewing for Momma. The nearest school was too far away for us so Papa hired cousin Tula Patton (Later Mrs. Mack Caruthers) to stay with us and teach us and our cousins. Later they cleaned out a cabin with a big stone fireplace and made a school room out of it. They then took in children from two or three other families. Finally they built us a new one room school building on the side of a hill, and I think we had about thirty pupils.

When I was about eight Papa bought us a piano, and Berta, Anniebel and I were ready to start music lessons. They employed Miss. Carrie Belle Baker of Athens to teach us. She was about sixteen. She stayed with us about a month, got homesick and quit. Our next teacher was Annibel's cousin, Miss. Zilpah Knowles of Ruston. She didn't stay long, either. Then we got another teacher Cousin Gay McCasland of Homer, still another, Miss. Bertha Bailey of Homer. None of them stayed very long, not enough social life, I guess. With the exception of Miss. Zilpah, they all stayed with us.


There was no church within several miles, so we didn't have the advantage of a Sunday School. Efforts were made to have an interdenominational Sunday School at our little school house, but it didn't last but two or three Sundays. Mama had her membership at Lisbon Methodist Church, about ten miles away, but because of the distance, rainy weather and bad roads, we didn't get to go very often. Our preparation for church started the day before, because we had to leave home very early to get to church in time. We had our baths, hair washed and rolled up for curls, clothes laid out, etc. Next morning we would get dressed except for our dresses and hair and put on an apron. When we reached a certain creek Papa would let the horses drink while Mamma put our dresses on us, tied our sashes and took down our curls. Then she was ready to parade us down the aisle before her friends and kinfolks. Berta and I were usually dressed alike except for our washes and hair ribbons, which were either pink or blue. Our hats were alike, usually leghorn, trimmed with pink or blue for-get-me-nots.


These three sections of Mrs. Vera's memoir really wowed me. In fact, I've become obsessed with Hoyt's Perfume! I've been stalking old perfume bottles on ebay, hoping to find a bargain on a scent from the past. Here is a Hoyt's Perfume "trading card" from 1892, the approximate time period that Mrs. Vera was writing about in this section of her memoir. I couldn't resist attaching these photos to this post. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Vera Taylor Oden's Memoir (SECTIONS III and IV)

Here is another installment of Vera Taylor Oden's memoir. Tonight's posting contains sections three and four of twenty-one sections that describe life in Sugar Creek, Louisiana prior to 1902. If you haven't read the post about the significance of her memoir, click here.



My sister, Berta, was born fourteen months after I was, and my brother, Lamar, was born about a month before I was three years old, so there were three tiny tots in the household, and I'm sure we kept Mamma and Grandma busy. The first servant that I can remember was named America (Meriky). Another was named Thene, who came to do the milking. She was a dwarf, about 4 12 feet. Another was "Aunt Fannie" who did the washing, she was always "polly in the back." Her husband, Uncle Ish (Ishmael) cut the wood. There were many others I remember so well. Papa was always kind to them and did so much for them which nobody knew about.

We were very proud of our house. It was the nicest in the neighborhood and both Papa and Mamma worked hard to improve it. They set out trees and flowers. Papa set out a peach orchard. Later he added a pear, plum and apple orchard. We always had lots of fruit and watermelons. I can't ever forget the mental picture I have of Papa, coming in from the patch with a watermelon on his shoulder. He loved to work in the vegetable garden and vegetables were always plentiful. In the summer Mamma canned fruits and vegetables, and made pickles, jelly and preserves.


In the winter there was hog-killing time, which always had to be done during very cold weather. These were busy times, with the preparation and curing of the meat. I am not sure how all of this was done, but some was packed with layers of salt, and hams and stuffed sausage were smoked hanging from rafters in the smoke house.

The fire was in the middle of the room on a dirt floor. These were the times when we had sausage, hogshead cheese or souse, crackling bread, pigs feet, brains and eggs, back bones and spare ribs. (It was a) rich diet, but I think we thrived on it.

The cured ham was nice to have when Mamma had to prepare a short order meal for the drummers (traveling salesmen) who stopped by our home at mealtime. There were no telephones, so Mamma didn't know whom to expect until Papa brought them to dinner. We had no market nearby and canned foods at our store were limited to salmon and sardines, so we had to use cured meats. Chickens and eggs were plentiful. With fresh and canned fruits and vegetables and sweet potatoes we lived well, or thought we did. We had plenty of milk and butter, but no ice to keep it, so we had to drink it fresh or as buttermilk. After it was strained it was put into a churn, (a large jar about 18 in. high) with a lid and dasher. After the milk soured and turned to clabber, it was churned until the butter separated from the milk and rose to the top. It was then taken up into a bowl, washed and worked with a wooden paddle, salted and put on a place, sometimes into a fancy wooden mold. Grandma usually did this, and made crossmarks on the butter with a paddle.

Another task which was Grandma's, every Saturday she would put the green coffee into a baking pan and roast the week's supply. Every morning a cup of this roasted coffee was put into the coffee mill on the wall and ground for the coffee pot. There was no bread for sale near, so every morning Mamma had to make biscuits for breakfast. Sometimes we had hot cakes or muffins. She made biscuits in a large wooden tray. We bought flour and meal in barrels.

Ribbon cane syrup was an important item of our diet. I have often watched it being made in old syrup mills. The stalks of cane were fed into a crusher pulled by a mule which went around in a circle. After the juice was extracted it was put into a metal vat and boiled to the right consistency, then put into tin buckets. We have several apple and pear trees in the yard, as well as mulberry and persimmon trees. Sometimes we had mulberry pie. There was a scuppernong arbor behind the hen house and grape vines on the garden fence. I can't remember having pecan trees, but we did gather hickory nuts in the woods and black walnuts and cracked them on a big rock. Raisins and hickory nuts often went into Christmas cakes. Some foods which I particularly remember were Grandma's salt-rising bread, peach cobbler, molasses pie and sweet potato pudding.


(Here is a photo of the old smoke house that we took earlier this spring. The smoke house is off in the distance, hidden behind weeds... but you can see it if you really try.)

I grew up on my grandma's muscadine jelly, and I spent much of my childhood trying to convince my younger siblings and cousins to "try" green persimmons. I remember my grandmother telling me that my great-great grandfather brought scumpernong (which we pronounced 'skump-uh-dime') vines with him when he moved her from North Carolina. Much of my family is also of Scotch-Irish descent, so I feel a strong connection to the Taylor family's heritage despite the fact that we're not blood kin (as we say in the deep south.) Perhaps this section of Mrs. Vera's memoir gave you a feeling of nostalgia in much the same way it did me. I can almost smell the scent of homemade biscuits. And it's not hard for me to imagine a little girl named Vera running around a syrup mill, her eyes wide with wonder as she watched the mule walk around in a circle.

I spent the morning at THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK, and I took a few minutes to inspect the old smoke house. Sometimes it's easy to forget that we're not the first people to ever walk the face of the earth. We can stare at something like an old smoke house and see only the rotting wood, the sagging roof, and the crumbling foundation. But if we look a little bit harder, we can see Vera standing there, waiting for her father to haul in watermelons from his garden. We can begin to truly understand the plight of the first european settlers that arrived in Sportsman's Paradise. And that, my friends, makes the restoration of THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK worth every bit of the effort.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Welcome back to our blog! If you haven't visited in a while, you might want to scroll down and read a few of our past posts. This blog entry is dealing entirely with the memoir of Mrs. Vera Taylor Oden, and it will not make sense unless you read the rest of the story.

With that being said, I will now begin to post bits and pieces of the memoir, beginning at the end of the memoir to show you that we know without a doubt that Mrs. Oden is referring to THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK all throughout her lovely memoir. So without further adieu, here is the section of the memoir that made chills run up and down my spine. This, my friends, is how we know that Very Taylor Oden is referring to THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK.


XX. Our School Books and Courses (transmagnificanotubandansiality)

I don't remember when I learned to read but it must have been very early. Lamar learned the multiplication tables at six, when he had to stay indoors because of illness. I loved to read, so Mamma ordered books for us. There was a group of booklets, a dozen or more, of the great men of history, which was found very interesting. There was a kindergarten book which contained verses, songs and games, and an encyclopedia, which I still have. Our writing and arithmetic was done on slates with slate pencils, and erased for the next work. Of course, we had a black board at school.

Penmanship was considered very important, so we would have a sentence written at the top of the slate, and we would copy it, trying to make each copy better than the last. Spelling was important too, and we learned to spell by doing it over and over. There was a long word written in paint, on one of our doors, by one of the painters. "Transmagnificanotubandansiality." I think he was just practicing his penmanship. I loved to draw pictures on my slate and Mamma used to complain that I would have to take time to erase my pictures when she would give out problems.


I can't really tell you how I felt in the moment that I read "Transmagnificanotubandansiality" in Mrs. Oden's memoir. I felt like I had just seen a ghost, and she had told me the entire history of our dog-trot. There is no mistaking the word. There is no chance that Vera Taylor Oden is writing about another home in the area. She's talking about THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK and therefore we have a complete written history about the community and the home, written by an early settler of northern Louisiana.

I read this memoir on a Sunday night, and by Tuesday morning I called the Louisiana Tech Archives in Ruston. Peggy Carter (Louisiana Tech Archives) assured me that the combination of the house and this amazing memoir meant only one thing: we must place this home on the National Register of Historic Places. We must save this unique history and share it with others. We have made a very important discovery, even if it was only by accident.

Tomorrow morning, I am meeting with a retired professor of Architecture from Louisiana Tech. He is meeting us at THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK to give his advice on restoring the home to National Register standards. This is going to be a very difficult project, but we know that we must do it correctly. We truly feel as if we have won the lottery of local history. It's very difficult for me to believe that we now have the complete history of THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK. We know details about this home that we could only dream about, and you're going to love reading pieces of this lovely memoir in the upcoming weeks.

(CLICK ON PHOTO TO ENLARGE IMAGE of the door where "transmagnificanotubandansiality" is painted!)