Capote Church Nails-3

Capote Nail Cross by Ellen P. Hunt
Capote Nail Cross by Ellen P. Hunt

For several months Ellen P. Hunt, AIA Architect (http://ww.epharchitect.com), and I have collaborated on landscape and architectural documentation and interpretation of the historic Capote Baptist Church in Texas. Every component has some significance and represented some part of the history and culture of its creators, even the nails.
Inspiration (Ellen P. Hunt, AIA) - Something as simple as a nail can be very inspiring.  While working on restoring the Capote Church outside Seguin, Texas, we found handmade iron nails.  The Capote Church was built in 1872 (now more than 140 years old) by freed slaves.  The skill and meticulous attention to detail in the construction of the church and all of its materials leads us to believe that these freed men were talented, trained and dedicated to building a new life for themselves and their families. I was inspired by these nails, and those long ago founders of the church, to design a cross to honor the memory of those creative and resourceful people, and to help fund-raise for the restoration of this historic church.  All the profits from the sale of these crosses will be donated to the Capote Church Restoration project.  They are hand cast of solid sterling silver with sterling silver 18″ interlocking chains.  Each cross and chain is available for $100.00.  Please contact me HUNTDESIGNJEWELRY if you’d like to purchase one and contribute to the continuation of this inspiring bit of Texas and US history.

Historic Capote Church nails (L); Modern Nails (R)
Historic Capote Church nails (L); Modern Nails (R)

Interpretation (Everett L. Fly, FASLA) - The original church structure was erected only using nails as fasteners. Bolt or screw connections were not added until repairs were made in the 1940‘s or 1950‘s. All of the major structural joints and connections were fastened with hand made and square cut iron nails. Of course this helped us verify the historic construction period of the church. As documentation proceeded it became obvious that the freedmen actually planned and built the church using several hierarchical systems, including the nails. That is, they used specific sizes and types of nails for specific conditions. The largest 30 penny nails (30d, 4 1/2″ long) used in floor beams, 20 penny (20d, 4″ long) for floor joist connections, 12 penny (12d, 3 1/4″ long to secure floor boards, and the smaller 6 penny and 8 penny nails (6d, 8d) in the interior wall paneling. And, they were strategic in placing the nails. The nails were driven in locations and alignments that produced the strongest joint or connection. The nails, especially the large 30d spikes, were driven with great human skill. We did not find multiple holes, split wood or hammer marks at any of the nail points. They also used the nails very efficiently.

30d iron spikes @ beam splice, Capote Baptist Church
30d iron spikes @ beam splice, Capote Baptist Church

Nails were not wasted or duplicated unnecessarily. I believe that Capote Baptist Church was built by experienced, intelligent and skilled craftsmen who planned layouts, and designed spaces, in advance of their manual labor.  They serve as examples of the kinds of carpenters, many who went on to become some of the country’s first African American contractors and architects, who helped build the United States.

Capote Baptist Church Cemetery-2

Capote Cemetery, Guadalupe County, Texas
Capote Cemetery, Guadalupe County, Texas

The Capote Black settlement of Guadalupe County, Texas was anchored by a church, school and cemetery on adjacent tracts. All three properties were donated for community use by Hiram (Hyram) Wilson in the late 1800‘s. The school structure no longer exists. The church structure, cemetery and land still carry the physical legacy of the original community. The cemetery contains at least two hundred graves, with the earliest dating from 1880. A variety of marker styles are present, ranging from classical to vernacular. All of the burials have not been African American, or members of the church or extended Wilson family. So, it can be said that the Capote Cemetery is as “American” as any other anywhere in the country. Far too many African American cemeteries have been lost, forgotten or accidentally unearthed. Capote is one of those rare resources with physical integrity and historic content.

Shell motif, Capote Cemetery
Shell motif, Capote Cemetery
Capote Cemetery & Church, Guadalupe County, Texas
Capote Cemetery & Church, Guadalupe County, Texas

Capote Baptist Church Sustainable Construction-1

The Capote Black settlement of Guadalupe County, Texas is a classic example of the origin, evolution and transition of African Americans from life as slaves into lives as American citizens. The church is one hundred and forty years old. I have been working with the Capote Restoration Committee since fall of 2012 to preserve the structure and document its construction.

Wilson 4gal jar
Wilson 4gal jar

There are many lessons of sustainable construction integrated into the structure. I thought it would be appropriate to share one for Earth Day 2013. A significant amount of history has been gathered regarding the pottery works that members of the Wilson family operated from ca.1857 to 1903. The African American business produced things such as storage jars, urns, and churns. One of the reasons for the success of the pottery was the availability of native clay soil with inherent plastic and adhesive qualities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brick pier and “limecrete” footing
Brick pier and “limecrete” footing

In the process of systematically disassembling deteriorating parts of the church I asked the general contractor, Earl Greenwood, to excavate to the base of some of the brick piers. At the bottom, we discovered hand formed concrete footings. After some research I found out that a White medical physician and chemist, Dr. John E. Park, had developed a formula for load bearing “limecrete” in the Seguin area in the 1850’s. Dr. Park used native materials from central Texas, including the same type of clay soil that the Wilson’s used in their pottery. Various historical sources also, verify that Dr. Park used African American slaves as labor to build a number of “limecrete” structures in Guadalupe County before the Civil War. The African Americans who worked for Dr. Park are not given much credit for knowing how to mix the “limecrete”. But none of the thirty five “limecrete” footings at the church have disintegrated or cracked over more than 100 years of service. “Limecrete” has the ability to absorb and release moisture as the moisture content of the surrounding soil changes.  The footings are even specifically shaped according to their particular locations, interior, corner and perimeter. It’s obvious that African American knowledge of local construction materials and techniques has been underestimated. Surely there are other similar untold stories across America.

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