Dendrochronology Reveals the Construction History of an Early 19th Century Farm Settlement, Southwestern Virginia, USA

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Geography and Geology


Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences


The McDonald Farm (also called the Anderson-Doosing Farm) in Catawba Valley, Virginia dates to 1789 and is registered with the National Register of Historic Places maintained by the National Park Service. According to written accounts, oral histories, and architectural analyses, the construction of four structures (a collapsed cabin, a standing cabin, a barn, and a smokehouse) at the farm likely occurred in the early to mid-19th century. To verify and refine the construction dates of the four structures, we absolutely dated the tree rings in logs used in their construction by comparing their ring patterns with a composite reference tree-ring chronology created from four regional locations. We used established graphical and statistical techniques used in dendrochronology to ensure that all tree rings were dated absolutely with 99.99% certainty. We found cutting dates for the collapsed cabin ranged from 1809 to 1810, making the likely builder Samuel Myers and not Joseph Anderson, who is currently given credit for its construction. The logs in the barn had cutting dates ranging from 1830 to 1831, confirming the 1830 construction date estimated by the historical documents and confirming the builder was Joseph Anderson. The logs from the standing cabin and smokehouse had cutting dates ranging from 1838 to 1840, refining the "mid-19th century construction" listed in the register nomination. Furthermore, the nomination gave credit of the construction of these latter two structures also to Joseph Anderson, but the builder was actually John Gish who owned the farm from 1837 to 1845. Our study demonstrates the benefit and reliability of using dendrochronology to verify and refine construction dates and ownership histories of historic structures in the Southeastern U.S. (C) 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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Journal of Archaeological Science





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