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Researching This (Really) Old House

by | Feb 22, 2019 | Blog

The Ficklin-Imboden Log House, foreground, as it appeared in the 1940s. Photo provided.

 

We know a little more about Arkansas history thanks to the research of University of Arkansas honors undergraduate Kaylee McAdoo.

McAdoo, an Honors College earth sciences senior, spent a good chunk of 2017 working to accurately determine the age of the Ficklin-Imboden Log House, thought to be the oldest residential structure in Lawrence County, Arkansas, tucked in the state’s northeast corner. The log house is one of several historical buildings at Powhatan State Park, a nine-acre preserve that showcases 19th-century life in this once-bustling town on the bank of the Black River. Historic records including deeds and census documents put the log house’s construction date at circa 1850. Park officials believed that an addition to the house, probably used as a kitchen to keep heat from cooking away from the living quarters, was added sometime later. Records show the house’s first owners – John and Lusinda Ficklin – used it as a home by 1851.

The house as it appears today. Right: Core samples used to determine the house’s age. Photos by Kaylee McAdoo.
At the request of park officials, McAdoo and her advisor Dave Stahle, distinguished professor of geosciences, took core samples from 22 of the bald cypress logs that form the walls. Stahle is an expert in the science of dendrochronology, which is the study of tree rings to recreate past climate conditions and determine the age of wooden structures. McAdoo analyzed the samples and determined that logs were cut between 1843 and 1846. She also found that logs from both parts of the house were the same age, meaning that the two structures were likely built at the same time, probably near the end of the growing season in 1846. Her results were published in January the Journal of the Arkansas Academy of Science.

The work refined the house’s history more than it changed it. Nonetheless, the science led to a conclusion McAdoo says she hadn’t considered. “What we thought would be the case was that the two structures were different,” she said. “When we found out they were built at the same time, it was a surprise.”

About The Author

Bob Whitby writes about bioscience, geoscience, physics, space and planetary sciences, psychology and sociology. Reach him at 479-575-4737, or whitby@uark.edu.

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