Saving History on the Caruth Estate
A rare surviving example of the architecture of frontier food production was almost lost, but its successful restoration has not only preserved it for the future but added to the historical and technical knowledge of everyone involved. This precious building will also serve the cause of historical and preservation education in the future.
The Caruth Homestead is deservedly lauded for the preservation of the main house, built about 1872. It won a Preservation Dallas Sense of Place award in 2011 for its fine preservation. The Homeplace would not mean as much without the remnants of the Caruth farm around it. Along with the older farmhouse (c. 1852) the little building the family called the smokehouse still stands. It was part of what was once a vast network of structures for processing food on the Caruth’s large holdings, and dates from the 1850s. Its foundation was undermined by erosion after a wall constructed in 2002 changed runoff patterns, leaving it in what sometimes looked like a pond. Standing water compromised the integrity of the bois d’arc piers, and as the piers sank into the ground, the building began to lean and rack. An aging and failing roof only added to the accelerated pace of deterioration.
Repair costs would be high, particularly for a building for which the owner no longer had any practical use. Demolition was discussed. Ultimately, the Communities Foundation of Texas committed the needed funds and effort to preserve history for the greater good. What a wonderful decision that turned out to be! A historic structures condition report was prepared, and its recommendations were followed to elevate and level the building, conserve and augment the existing piers, and replace the roof. Beyond those necessities, a survey of metal objects buried in close proximity to the building allowed many pieces of historic evidence to be mapped and cataloged.
Curious historians examined details of the building and historical records for information about its original use. Evaluation of its size and shape, its roof and floor structure, the unblackened condition of the original interior roof members, and the fuzzy appearance of shelves and foundation materials all questioned the validity of the term “smokehouse.” Consultation with Carl Lounsbury, who gained his expertise on the subject at Colonial Williamsburg, confirmed that no smoking of meat took place here, despite the family’s use of the term smokehouse. This was a curing shed, for preserving meat by salting, a valuable part of historic southern cuisine. The confusion is not only resolved, but serves as an opportunity to explore topics from southern meat preservation practices to the nature of a family historic memory and preservation of family lore.
The research conducted during the restoration process will serve as the basis for future public interpretation by the Communities Foundation of Texas. This building can be used to talk about the family’s relationship to the land and rise to post-agricultural prominence, as the history of food production and how historic preservation can discover and present the past. The Communities Foundation of Texas had every reason not to preserve this building, but we have every reason to be thankful that they did.his video is about Curing Shed