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Kentucky's Age of Wood

Kentucky's Age of Wood

Copyright Date: 1976
Edition: 1
Pages: 84
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  • Book Info
    Kentucky's Age of Wood
    Book Description:

    The old tools and wooden objects illustrated in this book are homely reminders of a time when the majestic forests of the frontier were the source not only of the pioneer's house, barn, and fences, but of his children's toys, his wife's egg basket, and a hundred other necessities and pleasures. More than fifty delicate line drawings by Ira Kohn and the clear, nontechnical discussion by Kenneth Clarke of the making and uses of these humble objects -- many of them unfamiliar to the eyes of the current generation of Kentuckians -- give the reader new insight into the life of the pioneer.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5035-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
    (pp. 1-3)

    In a small country store in Western Kentucky an observant customer can see a remarkably simple butcher’s block. It now serves as a work or storage surface behind a meat display case that contains only packaged meat and dairy products. The butcher’s block is a reminder of some earlier time when the store provided more services than it does now. It is also a reminder of Kentucky forests and forest products of the past. The block is simply a section of a sycamore tree trunk, supported by iron pipes driven into the bottom side for legs. More than three feet...

    (pp. 4-24)

    One reason for the astonishingly rapid decimation of the virgin forests of Kentucky is that the pioneers who cleared the land were experienced woodsmen. For more than a century before the construction of Fort Harrod, American colonists had been perfecting their tools and techniques. The original colonists, who brought European woodworking skills to the New World, had to clear seemingly inexhaustible stands of forest to make room for cultivated fields. Coming from European settlements long deforested or containing relatively fewer and smaller species of trees, they found trees of enormous size and species in such abundance that a new age...

    (pp. 25-43)

    The story of a miller’s meal paddle illustrates the idea that neglected artifacts yield insights into the ordinary way of life of ordinary people. The old wooden object hanging on a nail in a neglected woodshed may tell part of the story of Kentucky just as effectively as a guided tour at a park or shrine. A curious customer at a Western Kentucky auction noticed a dusty, worm-eaten slab of wood hanging on a nail. The slab could have been a hand-riven white-oak roofboard, but two holes had been whittled near one end. The piece of wood (illustrated here) could...

    (pp. 44-59)

    One great advantage of horse-drawn vehicles over automobiles is that any man reasonably handy with simple tools can maintain a wagon, whereas the average automobile driver is helplessly dependent on a specialist who, in turn, is helplessly dependent on factory-made replacement parts. When the deacon in Oliver Wendell Holmes’s poem carefully selected lancewood, whitewood, ash, and logs from the “Settler’s ellum,” for his nearly indestructible one-hoss shay he was using the properties of various kinds of trees for their specialized functions. Many a Kentucky farmer would have chosen as well as the deacon, and he would have had as wide...

    (pp. 60-67)

    After satisfying urgent needs such as housing for people and livestock, fencing pasture, providing implements and utensils for domestic activities, and logging for ready cash come less urgent needs such as amusement, pastimes for children, and aesthetic pleasures. In leaner times people depended on the same traditional skills and raw materials to satisfy these lesser needs.

    Some observers of indigenous crafts have pointed out the careful attention given to personal adornment. The walking stick has more often been an adornment than an aid to walking. Gold-headed canes were affected by the well-to-do when canes were in vogue. The countryman often...

    (pp. 68-73)

    Kentucky historian Tom Clark describes inThe Kentuckythe harvest of the forests, especially those in the drainage area of the Kentucky River. By the end of the Civil War, he writes, “Down in the Bluegrass lumbermen and cabinetmakers had systematically cut back the huge black walnuts, wild cherry, river bottom tulip, maple, buckeye, linden, and sycamore.” Even so, logs further up the branches remained to be cut. Clark goes on to tell that a spring tide in 1871 destroyed 3,000 poplar logs cut along the Laurel Fork of Goose Creek, and as late as 1915, a tide carried away...

    (pp. 74-76)

    In the late twentieth century a single substantial walnut tree may sell for more money than a typical pioneer farmer saw in a year’s time. The pioneer’s problem was the disposal of trees. It is a painful thought for a modern conservation-minded citizen who rarely or never sees a tree ten feet in diameter, but the values of people who needed corn more than they needed scenery dictated much of the destruction. As the population grew and commerce developed, inroads on Kentucky forests accelerated. Charcoal burning, keelboat and flatboat commerce downriver, and finally logging with essentially modern methods have effectively...

  10. Index to Illustrations
    (pp. 77-77)