Log Architecture

By: Terry G. Jordan

Type: General Entry

Published: September 1, 1995

Buildings constructed of horizontally laid timbers notched together at the corners once prevailed in the eastern half of Texas. Closely linked to the American frontier, this kind of construction spread from the colonial Delaware valley, where it had evolved from Finnish, Swedish, and German prototypes. Southern Anglos and their slaves, together with immigrant Indian groups such as the Cherokees, introduced log construction into Texas beginning about 1815, and it prevailed as the almost exclusive building method among these settlers for a generation or two after arrival. After about 1880 log construction declined and began to acquire a relict status. The Great Depression years witnessed a brief revival of log carpentry in the East Texas piney woods.

Texas log buildings consisted of timbers shaped in one of three major ways. The crudest were built of logs left in the round, sometimes with the bark intact, a method common on outbuildings and the earliest cabins. The more typical dwelling was built of logs planked with ax and adze, presenting flattened interior and exterior surfaces. In piney areas, split half-logs were often employed, with the smooth surface placed on the interior side of the wall. Logs, regardless of shape, did not touch except at the notched corners, but instead were placed so as to leave chinks between. In dwellings, the chinks were stopped up and plastered or covered with boards to produce a tight wall. Notching types varied in Texas, but most common were half-dovetailing, square notching, the V notch, and the saddle type. The names suggest the shape of the notch. Square notching was most common in East Texas, V notching in the Cross Timbers and Hill Country, saddle notching in pine and cedar woods, and dovetailing where upper Southerners, especially Tennesseans, settled. In Medina County, particularly in the settlements dating to Castro's colony, a highly unusual form of log construction occurred, distinguished by a lack of chinks and by "double notching." This type was perhaps introduced from Alsace or Switzerland by Castro colonists, but it reveals greater affinity to the Hispanic notched-log construction found in certain highland areas of Mexico and New Mexico.

A relatively small number of floor plans characterized Texas log dwellings. Most common was the "single-pen" house, consisting of one log room usually about sixteen feet square, with side gables, a rear shed, and an exterior chimney centered in one gable wall. Aligned front and rear doors facilitated ventilation. Height varied from single-story, usually containing a sleeping loft, to story-and-a-half. Double-pen houses, consisting of two full-sized log rooms, occurred in several types, the most common, particularly in East Texas, being dog-run houses, in which the two pens are separated by an open breezeway. In North Texas, particularly in the Cross Timbers, the "Cumberland" house, containing two abutting pens with exterior, gable-end chimneys, was the most common double-pen type, though occasionally a "saddlebag" house, in which the two pens flank a massive double fireplace, occurred. These double-pen types also varied in height, but appeared most commonly in a story-and-a-half form. A minority contained two full stories, producing what is known as an I house. By and large, these floor plans revealed British influence, but the dog-run and saddlebag types may have been introduced by Delaware valley Finns and Swedes.

In Texas three basic log barn types prevailed, and to a great extent their floor plans correspond to certain dwellings. Simplest is the "single-crib" barn, one log unit with a front-facing gable and board hatch door. The smallest of these is a mere corncrib, but most are of two levels, with a hayloft above the granary. The "double-crib" barn duplicated the dog-run house in plan, consisting of two log cribs separated by an open, roofed runway for wagons. Both cribs had haylofts, and the hay could be unloaded directly from the wagon parked in the runway. Rarer was the large "four-crib" barn, distinguished by a crib at each corner, with crisscrossed runways and a massive gabled roof. Few examples of the four-crib type survived, but one particularly fine one is found at Winedale Inn, Fayette County.

Log construction was used in a great variety of other buildings in Texas, including forts, blockhouses, chapels, jails, schools, stores, taverns, inns, and courthouses. Perhaps the most distinctive among these were the jails, generally double-walled structures. Most of the rest were difficult to distinguish from dwellings. The dog-run plan, for example, provided the basis for the first Atascosa County Courthouse, the fort that gave its name to Fort Bend County, and countless inns and taverns in the eastern half of the state. See also ARCHITECTURE.

Terry G. Jordan, Texas Log Buildings: A Folk Architecture (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1978).

  • Architecture
  • Styles, Methods, and Technological Innovations
  • Peoples
  • Swedes

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Terry G. Jordan, “Log Architecture,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/log-architecture.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 1, 1995