Heritage, Volume 13, Number 1, Winter 1995 Page: 17
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"Picket School," a single pen structure of
palisaded construction that served both as
the family home and the second school in
the area. There he taught reading, writing,
and drawing for a short time before his love
of freighting and lack of interest in farming
called him back to South Texas. To the
east of the house, a small rock fort reportedly
offered protection for the family and
presumably for the students, too. From the
stand point of archaeology, could oral tradition
be verified by what was found at the
As is so often the case, intense archaeological
survey and clearing of vegetation by
energetic volunteers rejected some hypotheses,
but happily revealed new information.
First, the structure at the site showed
no evidence of having been of picket construction.
Both on-the-ground evidence
and archival photography confirmed that
the house was board-and-batten construction.
Whether or not the cabin at the site
was the "Picket School" described by oral
tradition remains unclear pending further
Other site features revealed the uniqueness
of this fine example of a small, postCivil
War North-Central rural Texas farmstead.
First, a search of the archaeological
literature provides no examples of irregularly-shaped
cavate root cellars such as the
one found at the site. Second, the opening
of the hand-dug, stone-lined well is the
smallest mouth (18 inches) reported in the
region. Third, the rock lines roughly defining
rectangular areas to the north and south
of the house are rare features at historic
sites in North-Central Texas, and finally,
foundation outlines of a small rock fort
attest to a concern for safety of the residents
at the farmstead.
The original size of the root cellar is
uncertain, since it appears to have been
filled in by natural processes, erosion, and
silting. There is a crescent-shaped depression
extending three feet in front of the
opening that probably marks the stairway
that led into the cellar. The cellar itself
appears to have been excavated into the
native rock and clay that underlie the surface.
Observations from the root cellar
opening indicate that the cellar is a handexcavated
cavity that extends seven feet to
the back wall and has a maximum height of
three feet from roof to the top of the fill that
has washed into the entrance. The maximum
width is nine feet when measured
from the back walls of small cavities that
flank the entrance opening. In plan view,
The photograph above shows the opening to the root cellar with a view to the east. Opposite page photo shows
the old family home at the Coho and Nancy Jane Smith Farmstead.
the cellar is irregular in shape but might be
visualized as a three-lobed clover leaf with
two eight-to-nine inch wide "chimney"
holes in the cellar roof. No evidence was
found of masonry outside or inside the root
A cursory review of published literature
on historic sites in Central and North Texas
indicates that root cellars, or storm cellars,
are absent at many sites. Of those root
cellars that have been reported, the majority
were created by excavating a hole into
the ground and then roofing over the hole.
Stepped entrances are common and in many
areas the root cellar walls are lined with
brick or rock. The roofs may be vaulted and
self-supporting or be supported on beams
that are laid flat. Except for a circular root
cellar at the Penn site at Joe Pool Lake in
southwestern Dallas County (Jurney et al.
1988:107), root cellars are square or rectangular
in plan shape. No examples of
irregular-shaped root cellars such as at the
Smith site are reported.
HERITAGE * WINTER 1995 17
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 13, Number 1, Winter 1995, periodical, Winter 1995; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45408/m1/17/: accessed April 29, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.