Saturday, April 07, 2012

House History - Mackey Log Cabin

Some of the requests that come into the Archives are to help someone find how old their log cabin is. Many of them have the information right under their noses but just don’t know how to go about finding it. Most of the time if a homeowner still holds their abstract the information is right there. They just need help in deciphering it. There are other methods though that can be used to find the age of a home or at least get an estimated age. The first thing we always check at the Archives are the Tax Records. We start going back from the last known owner. It is best thing to study how the tax records are set up.

In Brown County and probably in many other states tax payers are listed in the Tax Duplicates book. The column headings can be varied having anything that the county might want to tax for that year. I’ve seen taxes charged for buggies, pocket watches, horses, cattle, hogs, wagons, or barns. There are two useful columns though for our purposes that are taxed. The first item we look for is land which will usually have the acreage and the location of the land with a physical description of some sort. The second is a column titled Improvements. If tracked backward you can watch when a change occurs in value in this column. It may not spell out what the improvement was, but you may see quite a jump in value when a house or a barn is built that year. If possible find out what items were taxed that year such as houses but maybe not barns. And as always it is best to corroborate this with personal accounts or county histories when trying to date a house or even an area of the county.

One such case I’m working on now was one where I was asked about a log house that used to be owned by a descendent of the Mackey family. The house is no longer there, but there were stories about the house and the family that this person could recollect. The original owner was Henry Mackey and was a very good carpenter. He was an immigrant from Germany and when he settled in Brown County he laid his hand and hammer to many structures in southern Brown County. He was said to have built one of the first bridges to cross Salt Creek helping to open a vital life line from southern Brown County to the rest of the county. According to family lore it was named the Mackey Bridge.

He also built a very fine log home for that day and time. This description comes from our local newspaper, The Brown County Democrat of May 30, 1990. “At the end of Brand Hollow lane in Van Buren Township was a log house built in the mid 1800s. The house was 27 ft. by 17 ft. The main room on the first floor had corner stairs which led to a full room on the second floor. The interior was paneled throughout with poplar. It was decked with tongue and groove poplar board. The house had two front doors and a huge front porch. The house was part of a self-sustaining farm which also ran a sorghum mill.” Another column written by another reporter in connection to the same house reports a little different story. “The 1830s log cabin from Brand Hollow Road in Van Buren Township has become the elegant, two-story addition to a 1940s log cabin in Hamblen Township. The entire project, disassembling and moving the log home, was done by the Brown County High School’s building trades class.”

So which one is right? Was it built in the mid 1800s or in the 1830s? There could be quite a bit of difference there. It’s time to start checking records. Doing a check on land grants could help. John Henry Macka received his three land grants on September 27, 1854. The earliest land grant of any of his neighbors was in 1849. So the likelihood of this house being built in the 1830s is unlikely. The later estimate of the log house being built in the mid 1800s is the better guess, which would be more in line with when Henry Mackey got his land grant. Unfortunately our tax records are not complete for this period, but the ones we do have it may be helpful to check. The years we do have are 1848, 1849, 1851, 1858, and 1859. The next one jumps to 1864. We may be able to narrow down a closer date from these few tax records still in existence. We can do this by checking the column in the Tax Duplicates book under Improvements. Even with very little information you can get a good estimate of how old a very old home is. There are many more avenues that can be checked also. We just use the same principles as doing genealogical research on a person and apply it as if we are researching that elusive ancestor that we all have been trying to find.

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