As Rebel’s Rest has been disassembled this winter, its historic elements—including the original timber walls, heart pine flooring, window and door frames, and trim—have been carefully numbered, cataloged and stored. And its architectural history has begun to come into focus.
Jane Millar, C’14, a postbaccalaureate fellow at Sewanee this year, followed the guidelines of the Historic American Buildings Survey to document the architecture and structure of Rebel’s Rest. Working with Gerald Smith, professor of religion and associate university historiographer, and Sarah Sherwood, associate professor of environmental studies and university archaeologist, Millar found a much more complex structural history than was expected. (Above, Jane Millar records details of the substructure.)
Rebel’s Rest was originally built in 1866 as the family home of Major George Fairbanks, and the first post-Civil War meeting of the Board of Trustees was held there in October 1866. The architectural research has indicated that the home underwent the first of many renovations in the 1880s, less than two decades after being built. Kerry Hix, the owner of Antique Log Cabins (the firm conducting the disassembly), has observed that the home is the most modified building on which he has worked.
The team has found many details that give a sense of how the structure evolved over time, such as the base logs that show the original locations of the front and back doors. Ultimately their work may produce documents showing this evolution. It already has revealed some surprises, including a windowed two-room basement under one of the wings.
The dendrochronology (tree ring dating) work continues on the timbers used in the house. It will provide information about the species and ages of the wood, the nature of the forest where the trees were harvested and even possible changes in climate. The work is now transitioning from the architectural history to the archaeological phase of the project. The archaeological study of the structure and its surroundings is expected to run through the spring and fall. In addition to research within the footprint of the house, the team will be looking for evidence of several outbuildings and support structures.
The architectural history has already revealed volumes about the history, not only of Rebel’s Rest itself, but of the early days of Sewanee and of other homes in the Southeast.
Items found in what was the original attic included high quality buttons and cufflinks.
Jerry Smith and Sarah Sherwood sift through fill from one of the fireplaces.
Some of the most interesting information has come from the Rebel’s Rest fireplaces. A surprising variety of bricks were used within individual fireplaces, with different shapes, colors, sizes, and manufacturers. The team is exploring theories to explain the mix.
Part of a newspaper was found between a window frame and wall. It’s the Nashville Tri-Weekly Union and American, dated Dec. 15, 1866.