CCHA Preservation Projects
The Chatham County Historical Association recovered, restored, owns and maintains the early 19th century smokehouse located on the property of the Chatham County Agriculture and Conference Center in Pittsboro. The history of the structure and its preservation is described here.
CCHA’s smokehouse project had its start in mid-2014, when the Chatham County Historical Association was granted access to the parcel in Pittsboro on which Chatham County’s new Agricultural Center was to be built in order to assess and document the various structures and ruins on the property. Over the summer months, volunteers, including two local professional archaeologists, Paul Webb and Linda Carnes-McNaughton, made several visits to the property to assess the various structures and ruins discovered there. These visits eventually resulted in the discovery and restoration of a mid-19th century smokehouse by the Chatham County Historical Association. The progress of that project is documented here.
For several months, volunteers researched and documented the history of the property and the structures and remaining ruins. The earliest owner shown in Chatham County records was Mary Watters, daughter of Continental Army General James Moore, and wife of Colonel William Watters, who also served in the Continental Army. In 1825 Mary Watters sold the 99-acre property to her son-in-law, Frederick Jones Hill, a physician, planter, and legislator known for his early legislation to establish public schools in the state. Raised in New Hanover County, he, like several other wealthy Wilmington families of the period, had ties to Pittsboro. Hill, his father, and three uncles owned elaborate summer homes in and around Pittsboro. The records are unclear whether Frederick Jones Hill built his summer home, “Kentucky,” on the parcel he purchased from his mother-in-law Mary Watters, or whether it was built prior to his purchase of the property. The Kentucky property was eventually inherited (in 1874) by William H. Moore, a presiding elder of the Methodist Church, and to whom both Hill and wife Anne had family connections. Until the property was purchased by Chatham County in 2012, it had been handed down in the Moore family through several generations.
Remarkably, some features and artifacts from the property’s early history survived, and the Chatham County Historical Association sought to document those and to learn whatever possible about that history prior to its development as the county’s long-awaited Agricultural Center. Among the features explored and documented were the remains of what was once a large barn, with adjacent animal enclosures; the ruin of a small residential structure; the still-standing but collapsing guest-house; the site of the now-razed main house known as Kentucky; and an adjacent smokehouse and hand-dug well.
The smokehouse was the most intact of the architectural remains on the property and the Chatham County Historical Association hoped that it could be saved and stay on the property as a reminder of the county’s agricultural past.
The Smokehouse. The largely-intact smokehouse on the property measured 10.5 feet square at its base and approximately 25 feet at its roof apex. The sills were made of hewn logs, with mortised and tenoned corner supports. Vertical wall studs were spaced approximately two feet apart.
The foundation was approximately one foot in height and made of local fieldstones. The exterior was sheathed with lap-board siding—some boards missing—and had flush vertical board corners. The roof was gabled with an apex on a north-south axis. The roof was also cantilevered about one foot on all four sides. The smokehouse appeared to date to the early 19th century in style and construction (based on original square cut nails and its eight-inch wide hewn log sills). The roof likely had been replaced more recently (metal sheeting instead of wooden shingles). Subsequent inspection indicated that the original roof had been a hip roof.
One vertical board entry door was located on the south elevation of the building. This door was approximately three feet wide and five feet tall. The exterior of the entry door was decorated with three rows of brads in diamond-shaped motif. The decorative nail pattern on the entry door is an excellent example of 19th century folk art which has survived.
The interior of the smokehouse had a “dropped” ceiling made of tongue-and-groove boards, equipped with several rows of iron hooks (presumably for hanging meat) and one centrally-placed chain (possibly for a cauldron). Above the dropped ceiling, the original ceiling of the smokehouse was intact at the top, complete with riven sticks or pegs (once used to hold meat) set directly into the upper rafters or building frame. While the square shape of this smokehouse is common (best design for uniform heat and smoke transfer) and tightly sided with few openings (a single door for security and access), the unusually tall design of the smokehouse with its cantilevered roof, made it a unique vernacular structure.
These details and more were included in a report was written by volunteers about the history of the property and the structures and ruins remaining. That report was sent to the Chatham County Commissioners with that request. The Commissioners agreed that if the CCHA would restore the structure it could be located on the Agricultural and Conference Center property when construction was complete. Originally it was hoped that the structure could be moved out of the way of construction but remain on the property. An early setback was the discovery that this would not be possible, so the structure had to be moved off the property to a secure location at considerable expense to await completion of the Agriculture and Conference Center. Eddie Thomas of Earl Thomas Grading donated the storage location.
Renovation Begins. Construction began on the Agriculture and Conference Center in 2015 and was complete by 2017. Early in 2017, CCHA’s Smokehouse Committee—Kenneth Crabtree, Lee Sullivan, and Grimsley Hobbs—re-measured and reassessed material needs for the reconstruction, and appropriate materials were located and ordered. A generous financial contribution from The James Milton Johnson & Laura Blair Johnson Trust helped defray the cost of some of the special materials required for the project
Next, CCHA established a partnership with Central Carolina Community College, which organized a hands-on course around restoring the smokehouse. The course attracted sixteen students who spent six Saturdays working on the project.
Under the supervision of skilled craftspersons—CCCC instructor, Jeff Gannon and CCHA volunteer Ray Carney—the students and volunteers deconstructed the structure, which had been off-site while the new Agriculture and Conference Center was under construction, and moved the parts to the CCCC Pittsboro campus.
There, they crafted new parts needed to restore the structure, ensuring both historical accuracy and that current building codes will be met. Students enrolled in the hands-on course learned a variety of historic construction techniques utilizing both period and modern tools.
Preparation of the site of reconstruction on the Agriculture Center property was also begun. Two local businesses contributed to that effort. Eddie Thomas, of Earl Thomas Grading excavated for the footings at no charge. Chandler Concrete of Pittsboro donated all of the concrete required for the smokehouse footings. A stone foundation was constructed by a professional stonemason to meet building codes.
During 2017, the smokehouse was reassembled on the site of the Agriculture and Conference Center—very near its original location—by volunteers, with Ray Carney, Gil McNeill and Kenneth Crabtree donating many hours to the project. The roof was replaced by a hip roof to restore the original configuraton, and cedar shingles replaced the more recent metal roof on the structure when it was discovered on the property. By April of 2018, the framing was up, the roof was on, and some siding had been applied. The partially complete structure was on display in the courtyard of the Agriculture and Conference Center for the First Annual AgFest celebration.
Over the next months, finishing touches were put on the smokehouse. The interesting system of pegs in the ceiling of the smokehouse were reinstalled, the door, with it’s unusual pattern of tacks, rehung, and stone steps installed.
The stones that comprise front step of the smokehouse have an interesting story of their own. In early 2019, St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church modified the brick wall surrounding its cemetery to add a gate. In doing so, they unearthed several large field stones that were in the original field stone wall the brick wall replaced. These they kindly donated to CCHA to serve as the smokehouse step.
Over the course of the project, CCHA held fundraisers and gratefully accepted financial contributions from community businesses, organizations, and individuals to help cover the costs of the smokehouse restoration. The return of the smokehouse to its original location on the Chatham County Agriculture and Conference Center property where it stood for more than 150 years and where it will serve as a reminder of our county’s rich agricultural past will be celebrated when large gatherings can again be held safely.
Read the full report on the discovery of the smokehouse and the history of the property where it was found and to which it has been returned.
Photos: The smokehouse in 2014, after surrounding trees and brush were removed; sill detail; door detail; ceiling detail and peg structure; CCCC students making new sills; Ray Carney instructing CCCC students in historic construction techniques; reassembling the smokehouse on the Ag Center property; Kenneth Crabtree making replacement pegs; the restored smokehouse.