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Lexington Court House 1790 Colonial-Era Building

archaeology of standing buildings

L.W. Franklin, MA, RPA

archaeology of standing buildings L.W. Franklin, MA, RPA This is a very old building for this

This is a very old building for this area. Known mostly from oral history. The original intent of the project, to describe a simple colonial-era structure and to confirm a construction date, has expanded with the discovery that the building could be the last structure from one of the earliest inland towns. It is now perhaps possible to let the building show us something about the people and town that have disappeared into time.

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possible to let the building show us something about the people and town that have disappeared






Fig. 1, front plaque


Fig. 2, view of the building





Fig.3, chronology of nails




Fig. 4, front view of the building


Fig. 5, nails


Fig. 6, wall boards


Fig. 7, wall and ceiling


Fig. 8, roofline repair


Fig. 9, east side view


Fig. 10, interior wall


Fig. 11, ceiling


Fig. 12, schematic of original size










Fig. 13, location


Fig. 14, floorplan


Fig. 15, front view


Fig. 16, west side


Fig. 17, back


Fig. 18, east side




Lexington Court House, 1790 Colonial-Era Building

The Gantt/Simmons/Harth Building


On the grounds of the Lexington County Museum is a small building described on an attached

plaque as:

“Built c. 1790 as a lawyer’s office at Granby on the Congaree River, this building was rolled to

the new County seat called Lexington Courthouse in 1820 and used as a medical office for Dr.

Thomas Simmons (1794 - 1853). His widow, Mary, kept the post office here, 1866 -1867, and

their daughter Mrs. Mary S. Harth, (1868-1894) during their tenure as postmistress for the town.

It was re-located to the museum from the courthouse square in 1975.”

for the town. It was re-located to the museum from the courthouse square in 1975.” Fig

Fig 1, plaque on museum building


It has been described in other publications as perhaps Lexington’s oldest building, as Lexington’s

first post office, and as “Dynamite Joe’s old house.” It is a very old building for this area and has quite a

story to tell.

It is a small simple wooden frame structure, rectangular in shape with a side chimney and single-

gable roof (fig.2). It is located on the museum grounds in Lexingon, S.C. It is being used as the museum

director’s office.

S.C. It is being used as the museum director’s office. Fig. 2, Lexington museum building There

Fig. 2, Lexington museum building

There are a number of books recounting the history of our state from it’s earliest days, but the

story can also be seen without words by looking at the surviving buildings. Old homes, taverns, churches,

and even barns, the few that are left, tell the drama of colonial times with documents written in pine, oak,

brick, and stone. These buildings were constructed out of need, with materials that were obtained with

difficulty. Examination of these buildings can tell us much about the people of that era and the interactions

among them, their objectives, motives, and struggles even when written documents do not exist.

It is understandable that structures from the colonial era are very rare in South Carolina, especially


Structures were generally of wood, it was plentiful, easily obtained, inexpensive, requiring little

skill to construct; but not long lasting in South Carolina’s humid climate. Movement inland was difficult;


of necessity it was by water, upriver, or via an old Indian trail pressed into service as a road. Travel was

frequently hampered by hostile natives and lawless frontiersmen.

As the story goes, this building was re-located at least twice; the first possibly about 1820 from a

nearby river-front town called Granby, conjectures Horace Harmon, retired Lexington County Historian in

a 2010 interview. Granby was one the earliest inland settlements from Charleston. The English settled in

Charleston in 1670 at the mouth of the Ashley River. Settlement was upriver and a trading post was built

around 1718 at the upper end of the navigable section of the Congaree. Settlers began building around the

trading post, and Granby was laid out there in 1735. It was a frontier town at the edge of civilization.

Navigable rivers were extremely important to the early colonists and Granby became the most important

inland town east of the Mississippi. By 1747 an old Indian trail had been turned into what would become

Old State Road from Charleston to Granby. By 1785, the town occupied both sides of the Congaree River

and consisted of a trading post and approximately 200 houses. It was established as the county seat of

Lexington County in 1785, and visited by George Washington in 1791 (Drayton, 77). It was located

alongside the river, near the confluence of the Saluda River and the Broad River, subject to frequent

flooding, and made unhealthy by marsh and mosquitoes.

The county seat was moved 13 miles further inland to higher and healthier ground in 1817 to a

place at first simply called Lexington Court House. Granby began to be abandoned following a disastrous

flood the following year. The courthouse that was in Granby was moved into Columbia and used as a

church for many years. The other buildings were either hauled away or demolished by scavengers or the

river. A new courthouse was directed to be built in what would become the town of Lexington, and the

building under study appears at the same time.

All of the legal documents from the Granby courthouse were transferred to the new courthouse in

Lexington. Forty five years later, during the civil war, General William Sherman’s troops burned

Lexington on their way to Columbia. Virtually all documents of that era, public and private, were

destroyed. By some miracle, the little building, next door to the courthouse, survived with scorches. It is

one of the few Lexington buildings to survive the Civil War, and perhaps the only surviving structure from



Years ago, Horace Harmon, then the Lexington Museum Director, interviewed a number of

elderly Lexington residents. Those unpublished interviews and his perceptions, formed the basis for the

conjectured history of the building on the plaque.

Research Aims

The aim of this research is to seek that point where the historical record and the archaeological record

correspond. To determine the changes to the fabric, form and function of the building through time, and

consider why, how, and when the changes were made so it can reveal something about the settlement of the

area and the early settlers.

The first question to be asked in tracing the building’s roots is: when was it built? All the property

records were destroyed when Sherman burned Lexington. However, an analysis of the building materials

and construction methods reveals many clues. Also, a close examination of how the building was

constructed offers us insight into the early economy, travel and trade and perhaps influences from other

settlements. Consideration of the function of the building offers us a view of the interactions between the

early settlers and how they functioned as a community. Analysis of the building method and style allows us

to draw tentative conclusions about the character and nature of the people, their abilities, motives, and



During the period conjectured, nail technology and the production of building materials changed

rapidly. Prior to the 1790’s nails were made one at a time of hand-wrought iron from square nail stock by a

blacksmith. A rod was pounded on all four sides to a point and then the opposite end was pounded to a very

distinctive head. It was a very expensive and time consuming task and nails were so precious that old

buildings were often burned down just to recover the nails (Bentley, 203).

In 1786, a Rhode Island inventor produced the forerunner of modern nail-making machines and a

more or less mass-produced nail emerged, cut from iron rather than wrought. By 1815 or so, the use of cut

nails was widespread in the U.S. During this period, rolled iron plates of varying width and thickness were


fed into early clipping machines and diagonally cut across their breadth by a guillotine-like shear set at a

fixed angle. In these early treadle operated machines the nail plate itself was turned over after each chop of

the overhead shear producing wedge-shaped blanks (Fig 5).

At first, heads were still hand hammered, but soon machines were developed to pound a

head on the end in a separate operation, in a process resulting in irregular nail heads. This characteristic is

particularly important when only the heads are visible, as in the case of the Gantt building.

Fig. 3, types of early nails

(after Visser)

Gantt building. Fig. 3, types of early nails (after Visser) During the 1820’s machinery was developed

During the 1820’s machinery was developed to cut and head nails in a single operation. These

nails had a similar shank, but the head was stamped level by a single machine blow. These nails, classified

here as Type-B, were common generally from 1830 through the rest of the century. Type-B nails have both

shear burrs on the same side, a product of the stamping process. Burrs are difficult to detect on rusty or

pitted nails but are quite obvious on unused examples and older nails that have been protected by

surrounding wood. Iron nails were made of malleable iron and with their blunt end and sharp edges

mashed or cut their way into wood and when properly oriented to grain direction reduced splitting.

However, the cut nail had one major drawback. The brittle iron nail plates produced a nail which could not

be clenched nor could a badly bent one be successfully straightened (Hutchinson, 2007). Distinctive round

shafted nails did not become common until the 1880’s.

This dateable technology change gives us the opportunity to determine the probable date of the

building’s construction based on the nails used. In addition, the drawbacks of the iron nails meant that they


were unlikely to be reused in subsequent repairs. Therefore, changes during the antebellum period and

subsequent additions or repairs can be identified by the type of nails used.

The nails in the structure of the building were classified by carefully examining what was usually

the only visible part, the nail head. Although most exterior nails are covered with several layers of paint,

there were numerous nail heads exposed and twelve nails that could be retrieved from rotted wood. The

nails were not retrieved by a sampling method, thus extrapolation should not be made from the sample.

Next, the chronology of saw marks may be useful for dating the structure. Hand-powered pit

saws were common prior to 1790. They created slanted and irregular but sometimes parallel saw marks.

Water-powered “sash” saws (also called “up-and-down” saws) were introduced ca. 1790. Those left

regular, vertical saw marks. Circular saws only became widely used around 1830. They left distinctive

circular arcs on lumber (Howard 9–11; Wilbur, 48).

The hardware in the GSH house was compared to examples in The Illustrated Catalogue of the

American Hardware of the Russell and Erwin Manufacturing Company, 1865. No comparable hardware

was found. It appears likely that any hardware that was representative of a colonial heritage was scavenged

at a later period.

The windows were compared to other, although perhaps somewhat later, colonial-era structures on

the museum grounds and established as being similar, but the glass panes were of modern manufacture. In

addition, the nails in the window frames were post-1890 manufacture. Evidently these entire windows

have been replaced. For these purposes, the age of the windows will be assumed based on the nails used to

mount them into the walls as being a 20 th century replacements of the original windows designed into the

structure. Mr. Harmon in a 2010 interview stated that, in his opinion, the size and placement of the

windows is an indication of Granby origin, based on his experience with Lexington’s colonial-era


This initial examination was carried out by me, on occasion with an assistant to help hold the

ladder, the other end of the tape measure, and with photography. The only equipment available to us in the

field was a ladder, tape measure, flashlight, a camera, and a big can of bug spray. At a later period we had a

snake-necked camera available to peer into tight areas.


As compelling as it was to pry off a board, or pull out a nail, our examination was limited by the

fact that this is an historic artifact on museum property. Access to the ceiling and underside of the building

was extremely limited, measurement and examination was only available very near small openings.

Description of the Building

This building is a simple one story, two-room wood-frame building with a single-gable roof in the

“single-room Georgian Box” style. Such structures were common in Virginia, built as a “fractional house”

usually with the door placed so that it would by symmetrical when other rooms were added to the sides

(Glassie, 126); with a single-end chimney and overlapping pine board siding (Fig. 2). It has relatively large

sash windows in all walls. Vernacular, simple, functional in design, and constructed in the area’s plentiful

and easily worked pine. It is presently painted “goldenrod,” but the original paint as determined from the

color on nails and the bottom color on rotted wood was white, applied with a coarse-bristled brush.

Presently the building is supported on a running-bond brick foundation, on a buried concrete

footing of new construction, 22” high with access only through a 15” X 18” square door. Wooden shims

are being used between the piers and the joists to level the building, similar to the method being used on

other Lexington Museum buildings.

Access to the underside is severely limited, but a very close examination indicates that the

structure was erected on a framework of double layered 6/X6 pine sills. The lower sills are presently sitting

atop the modern brick foundation but appear to have been in ground contact at some point. The frame is

divided into separate front and rear consisting of dual front/rear/side sill beams sitting on the brick

foundation, with rough-cut joists sitting atop the beams. The front sill beam and the entire rear frame

appear to have been cut with a circular saw. The right side front sill beam and the joists in the front are of

rough-cut pine with bark still present. I was unable to reach the left side sill-beam, or view to the joists in

the rear. At the museum location, the underside of the structure has been fiberglass-batten insulated and 12”

insulated air conditioning/heating conduits have been attached to the wooden frame leading to vents cut

into the floor. Further investigation of the underside of the building is not feasible and photos were virtually



The beams visible in the front of the structure were joined by mortise and tenon. I could not

determine how the rear beams were attached, how or if the rear frame was attached to the front, or if the

joists were joined to the beams. It would appear that the large, heavy, timbers used for the front half of the

foundation, with the possible exception of the front sill-beam, were locally obtained and cut. Considerable

checking and splitting can be observed on the timbers and could be evidence that the wood was cut for

immediate use, and no time was allowed for curing (Kieth, 235). The joists are irregularly spaced and do

not appear to have been placed by measurement. This pattern of seemingly haphazard placement continues

with the rest of the building’s framework.

The floor throughout is constructed of varying-width pine board, generally about eight inches

wide, running parallel to the front and rear walls,. The boards are nailed directly to the joists with machine-

stamped L-Head nails. These nails were manufactured as early as 1790, but passed out of general use by

1810; however, Black Mingo Church in Williamsburg used these nails as late as 1848 (Na. Reg., Marsh-

Johnson house , 5).The wall frame was then erected over the flooring by diagonal nailing. This is a method

common for a platform frame before balloon framing was invented in the 1830’s. A number of nails were

bent in placement and simply pounded over rather than being removed. Access to the walls is limited to a

few small areas where shrinkage has left a gap, but there do not appear to be any sill plates. The studs are

irregularly placed, nailed directly to the floor, appearing not to have been placed by measurement.

Four-course modern brick stairs lead to the front door, a concession to its current use as the

museum director’s office. At the Gantt St. location, a porch built of two by fours was attached to the front.

It was removed before transport to the new location.

The front entrance side of the building is a rectangle 16’ wide x 10’5” high, with a central solid

six-panel (colonial style) door that is 43”x 78” in size. The door is hinged left, with an egg-shaped brass

door knob on the right and a modern deadbolt lock above the knob (fig.4).

door is hinged left, with an egg-shaped brass door knob on the right and a modern


Fig. 4, front of building

The door appears old, but not original. A circular hole, 1” in diameter has been cut through the

weatherboard above the door, but does not go all the way through the interior paneling. The present door

appears to be smaller than the original, and the door frame has been shimmed with two courses of modern

milled half-inch thick, 1 1/16” pine board. The outer board has a beaded edge. The hinges are modern

brass-plated replacements, date unknown. Mr. Harmon recalls a tale that during the period when the

building was used as a post office, a small “hatch” was cut next to the door so that mail could be dropped in

when the office was closed.

One twelve-pane sash double-hung window is horizontally central to the wall to the right of the

door. The window is shuttered with pine three-panel functioning shutters, reflecting the design of the door,

with wrought iron latches and modern-constructed brass hinges. The glass panes are not original and are of

modern manufacture. The nails used to install the windows are of modern manufacture. The window

frames were installed with early cut nails.

The exterior wall is faced with painted weatherboard, overlapping pine board siding, and overlaps

1” with a consistency of about ¼”. The siding is uniform in size and thickness: ½” x 6” of undetermined

original length. The longest observed board was 16’, running the entire width of the building. The lapped

weather-board siding appears to be of a quality and uniformity that indicates it was manufactured in a mill,

not made onsite. The weather boards are through nailed using two nails per vertical course per board to the

studs. The studs were placed irregularly, from left to right: 16”, 50”, 66”, 106”,155”, and 171” based on

the nail pattern. Early cut nails, as described by Visser as type-A, were used throughout, but it is

impossible to tell if the nail heads are stamped or hammered due to the heavy coats of paint (Fig. 5).

but it is impossible to tell if the nail heads are stamped or hammered due to


Fig. 5, nails recovered from rotted wood

The interior wall reflects the exterior size and construction of the building but is covered with flat-

planed pine board of varying size from 3” to 15”, nailed horizontally to the studs. It appears to be purely

functional, with no intent for ornamentation. The front wall has been replaced or repaired at some point in

the past with apparently a desire to maintain the original look of the structure. The boards match the rest of

the walls, but all the nails are of modern manufacture. Nail holes and repaired holes can be observed, so it

appears that the original boards were reused. Modern electrical wiring has been attached to the surface of

the wall.

Fig. 6, interior wallboard 13 Fig. 7, interior wall and ceiling The west side of

Fig. 6, interior wallboard


Fig. 6, interior wallboard 13 Fig. 7, interior wall and ceiling The west side of the

Fig. 7, interior wall and ceiling

The west side of the house is roughly a rectangle, 19’6” wide x 14’ at its highest point, with a

“salt box” style appearing side-gabled roof with asymmetrical roof faces. There are two double-hung sash

windows; one in the front and one in the rear.

The exterior wall is faced with the same clapboard described earlier. The studs are placed

irregularly at: 2”, 18”, 39”,73”, 93”,113”,134”, 154”,188”, 203”, and 229” based on the nail pattern from

left to right .

The roof line appears “broken” near the apex from the rear. A short section of fascia has been

nailed in place using nails of modern manufacture to close a gap near the apex from the rear.


14 Fig. 8, roofline repair Fig. 9, East side The west-side interior wall reflects the exterior

Fig. 8, roofline repair

14 Fig. 8, roofline repair Fig. 9, East side The west-side interior wall reflects the exterior

Fig. 9, East side

The west-side interior wall reflects the exterior size and construction but is covered with flat

planed pine board of varying size from 3” to 15”, nailed horizontally to the studs. The design appears to be

purely functional, with no intent for ornamentation. The paneling appears original, with early cut nails

used throughout. Modern electrical wiring has been attached to the surface of the wall using metal conduit.

The rear exterior wall is a rectangle 16” wide by 8’4” high, with a 74” x 36” door frame 38” from

the eastern corner. The door opening is presently sealed shut with a slatted modified barn door, cut to fit

and nailed in place. The door sill was seriously damaged by fire at some point in the past and was not

replaced or painted over. Instead it has been sealed with clear shellac, allowing the fire damage to be seen.

It was a common practice following the civil war to leave a war-damaged area on display to show the

barbarity of those invading Yankees!

As is the rest of the building, the rear-exterior wall is faced with painted weatherboard. The studs

were placed irregularly: 2”, 34”, 72”,106”, 142”and 174” based on the nail pattern from left to right. It is

from this area that a type-B nail was recovered from a rotted board under the door.

The rear interior wall reflects the exterior size and construction but is covered with flat planed pine

board of varying size from 3” to 15”, nailed horizontally to the studs. A number of modern nails are mixed

with early cut nails. The design appears to be purely functional, with no intent for ornamentation. Modern

electrical wiring has been attached to the surface of the wall with metal conduit.

The east side of the house is roughly a rectangle,

19’6” wide x 14’ at its highest point, with a

“salt box” appearing single side-gable roof style as described earlier. There are three double-hung sash


A brick, running bond chimney is erected on a fieldstone base, located at the apex of the roof,

toward the front of the building (fig. 9). It would have been necessary to destroy the fieldstone base in both

of the moves, but the bricks used in the chimney and the fieldstone appear to be of the proper age and type

to be from the original source. Mr. Harmon recalls that when the chimney was torn down in 1974, a lot of

the bricks were stolen, or taken as souvenirs; the chimney was reconstructed with what was available.

The east-side wall is faced with the same painted weatherboard, as described earlier appearing on

the rest of the building. The longest observed board was 143”. The studs are placed irregularly at: 2”

18”,38”, 72”, 92”,112”,117”,143”, 196”, and 282”, based on the nail pattern from rear to front). Early cut

nails were used throughout, with the exception of the windows as previously noted.

The east-side interior wall reflects the exterior size and construction but is covered with flat-

planed pine board of varying size from 3” to 15”, nailed horizontally to the studs. It appears to be purely

functional, with no intent for ornamentation.

The interior of the building is divided into two rooms with a plane-board covered wall that runs

from ceiling to floor (Fig.10).

covered wall that runs from ceiling to floor (Fig.10). Fig. 10, center wall The center wall

Fig. 10, center wall

The center wall appears to be original to the construction and not a later addition. It is nailed

directly to the studs on either side of the building, and the paneling on the side walls and ceiling do not run

under the wall. Observations made in the ceiling establish that this interior wall represents the former back


wall of the house. Repairs in the wall, to the left of the door, evidently represent a previous window in the

back wall. There does not appear to have been a back door originally.

The ceiling is constructed in the same manner as the side walls, consisting of flat planed pine

board of varying size from 12” to 15”, and nailed directly to the joists (Fig. 11).

12” to 15”, and nailed directly to the joists (Fig. 11). Fig. 11, ceiling Access to

Fig. 11, ceiling

Access to the ceiling is through an 18” square panel directly over a working area in the director’s

office. An examination of the underside of the roof construction reveals that the original trusses have been

cut at the apex of the roof and extended. 4 x 4s have been stacked over the wall at the center of the

building, but is now revealed as being the former back wall, to support an extended roof and cover a 9’

addition to the rear of the building (Fig. 12). This also explains the awkward dual-box, and later-appearing

rear foundation as described earlier.


17 Fig. 12, Original size and addition to building The roof is of the side-gable style

Fig. 12, Original size and addition to building

The roof is of the side-gable style with an asymmetrical pitched roofline, 40 degrees for a 6’ run in

the front, and 20 degrees on a longer slope 17’ to the rear. This is similar to a New England saltbox style,

commonly called a catslide in the south.

The roof overhangs the front wall by 12”, the rear and side walls by 15”. There is a small, 67 inch

shed-roof covering the front door entry. It is covered with cedar shakes, duplicating the roof style and

angle. The entry cover is of modern construction, made of factory-cut 2x4’s and modern type nails.

Prior to the 1974 move, the roof was covered in tin. That was replaced with cedar shakes over

modern plywood at the museum location, and again replaced with tin during 2009. According to Mr.

Harmon, the cedar shakes were chosen simply because they looked authentic to the period.


Documentary Research

The National Register of Historic Places inventory was consulted, and this building was

mentioned only as an aside in a group nomination. The Simmons home, built in 1868 was nominated for

inclusion, and mention is made that :

Mary Simmons Harth was appointed postmistress for Lexington Village. She operated the post

office from a small wooden building on the property, which was moved in 1974.

Records at the South Carolina Archives were examined, and nothing relating to the house was

found. Almost all property records from Granby/Lexington were burned during the Civil War.

Nancy Fox observed the building and described it in the 1974 Central Midlands Historic Survey as

“adjoining the old (Simmons/Harth) residence is a row of negro tenements, one of which was the first

separate post office in Lexington,” and an attached map lists the building as “Post Office/Shoe Shop.”

Although the plaque at the Lexington Museum states that the building was “a lawyer’s office in

Granby”, it does not state the lawyer’s name, or who the original owner might have been; but the building

was located on Gantt Street on the earliest maps through 1974.

In “Remembrances of Old Lexington,” “Uncle Josh” Harman (1845-1931), a long-time resident

of Lexington, and the founder of the Lexington Dispatch in 1870, recalls: “there was a dwelling, said to

have been about the first house built here, by Judge Gantt, after the capital was moved here from Granby,

and was used as Dr. Simmons medical office about 1830 (Harman, G.,19).”

Also, in “Random Recollections of a Long Life, 1806-1876,” Edwin Scott recalls Judge Gantt and

the small single-room building: “on the brow of the hill south of the courthouse stood a small single-room

building, erected by Judge Gantt on one of his whims”, “when nothing else but the woods, pine trees and

blackjacks stood within twenty yards of the rear of the courthouse,” and “in our Circuit, which comprised

the Districts of Richland, Newberry, Orangeburg and Lexington, with some from Edgefield who attended

our Courts. The Judges were Richard Gantt”.etc.

South Carolina federal census records were used to track Richard Gantt. The Lexington County

1800 census was attested to at James Shaw’s store in Granby on 4/28/1801. No Gantt was listed. The 1800


State census listed very few Gantts. There was a Richard Gantt in Edgefield County. The History of

Edgefield County, lists Richard Gantt, as:

Being born in Prince George County Maryland in 1767, married to Sarah Allen in Augusta

Georgia in 1794, having resided in Georgia the two or three years prior, admitted to practice in

Charleston 1794, settled in Edgefield the same year. Elected to Clerk, SC House of

Representatives 1804-1818, when he was elected Judge. He generally leaned to mercy’s side and

was disposed to favor prisoners, except in the case of homicide, when his whole nature revolted

against him.” (Chapman, 175)

The 1820 state census listed Richard Gantt in Richland County, and Edwin Scott, in Random

recollections of a Long Life, stated that Judge Gantt had a house in Columbia, Richland County. Granby is

generally thought of as being about two miles from present day Columbia.

The History of South Carolina College lists Richard A. Gantt as a trustee in1805, as Associate

Judge Richard Gantt in 1815, and as Circuit Law Judge Richard Gantt in 1825. Court records list Richard

Gantt as the presiding Judge, Court of General Sessions, in Union District in 1828 (American Revolution

Pension Statements, W21792); and by the 1830 census, Richard Gantt was listed as a Judge in Greenville

County. He retired in Greenville in 1840.

He possibly practiced law in the Granby-Columbia area while he was Clerk of the House, from

1804 until he was appointed a judgeship. Lexington Court house was the start of his circuit judge career,

but only one stop. He had moved on by 1830.

Discussion and Analysis

I counted 5,372 nails in the building. Most of the nailheads were obscured by several layers of

paint, but they appeared to be flat, and varied widely in size and appearance. I could completely remove

and examine only 12. Ten of the shafts revealed burrs on opposing sides and cross grain as described by

Visser for early nails. No wrought nails were observed and only a single type-B cut nail was recovered;

however, peering into the wall cavity revealed a number of nails that were bent and pounded over. Early

nails will generally break rather than bend, so these nails could well be Type-B. That would not be


unexpected, types A & B overlapped during the period conjectured for this building. The type-B recovered

nail was not randomly sampled, but was retrieved from rotted wood, beneath the rear door, based on it’s

appearing to be different. It may represent a repair made following the Civil-War era burning.

Careful analysis of the house revealed that a room was added after the original construction. The

smaller size (16’x10’) makes the reported trip from Granby to Lexington more plausible; however, Edwin

Scott, in “Random Recollections” states that he was the tax collector at Granby in 1825 so he would have

been familiar with Granby buildings, and would have been very familiar with the Gantt/Simmons building,

as his son was born there c.1830.

He used the word erected when describing the building. He states in

Random Recollections” that he was recommended for his job by Judge Gantt, and tells of other buildings

being transported from Granby, and of “all the remaining buildings” being bought by the Saluda Mill for

$300. Yet, he fails to include any mention of the Gantt building coming from Granby.

Sometime between the 1820 observation that it was a “one-room house” and before the nail

technology changed in the 1830’s, a 9’6” addition was made to the rear wall and roof. (Fig.15). What had

been the rear wall became an interior wall, creating a two-room structure.

The weatherboard on the exterior walls have been neither added to nor patched where the

additional room was added. Several boards run the entire length. The exterior walls were therefore

installed, or completely replaced, at the time of the room addition. A number of the boards reveal holes left

where nails once were but were removed and splits on edges leading to where nails once were, indicating

that the boards were pried off of a former location and reused. Upon reflection it became evident that since

the exterior weatherboard ran the full length of the building and did not reflect the addition, the

weatherboard had been replaced – probably at the time of the addition; and all of the nails that had been so

diligently examined in the fabric of the building represented a later-period remodeling.

It turned out to be a moot point, a review of the nails in the interior frame, and in the foundation

under the building, indicated the same type nails throughout. The addition was evidently made soon after

the original construction.

Lexington’s original courthouse was built of wood in 1817-1818, but replaced with a stone

structure by 1835 (Dreher, 7). The building under study was next door to the original wooden courthouse, it

would appear that building materials and the desire for improvement were available, and Judge Gantt’s


successor possibly took advantage of the opportunity, and joined in the progress of the town by remodeling

the old building with salvaged material.

The framework of the building appears to be crudely, even haphazardly made. It would seem that

the building was quickly erected, to be inexpensive and functional; with longevity of little consideration,

ironic considering it has now lasted over two centuries. It is likely that with the possible exception of the

foundation beams and joists, the lumber for the frame was cut elsewhere and delivered to the construction

site. A number of the boards were either too short and were shimmed to fit, or too long and a notch was cut

in the upper joists to allow the board to fit. There were several instances observed where framing was

trimmed with an axe rather than with a saw. The type of workmanship observed would appear not to have

been done by a professional carpenter, but by either “clapboarders,” workmen that generally erected barns

and outbuildings, or by hired out slaves, familiar with clapboarding but generally unskilled. That type of

labor could be perhaps more common to a rural setting than a sophisticated and commercial town such as


Oral history records that the building was used as doctor Simmons office sometime between the

Judge’s occupancy and when post office records show that it was used as the Lexington post office from

1865 – 1912. The fact that this old building was put into use as the post office, and that the doctor’s widow

and then her daughter were made postmaster, gives us a degree of insight into the economic conditions and

social interactions of the population following the civil war. The building’s continued and adaptive use as

a shoe shop and “negro tenements” gives us a further perspective on the South’s depressed economy and

social construction right through the current era, as well as the ownership and inheritance patterns within a

close-knit community. Even the phrase “negro tenements” opens a revealing window into the South’s past.

The building wasn’t maintained as a cherished relic of the ante-bellum era, but was pressed into service and

modified as needed for functional use.

A problem arises with the observation of circular saw marks on the front sill beam. Even if an

1820 Lexington construction is postulated, circular saw marks are out of date. This dilemma raises two

possibilities. The first and most obvious is that the front sill beam has been replaced. Many of the buildings

of that era were designed so that the sleepers or sills could be replaced, a way of coping with rot and

termites, but there is not visible evidence in the attached timbers to indicate that, and the mortise and tenon


joint appears original, unchanged and undamaged. However, I will remind you of the difficulty of

examination in this area. The second is that the Lexington area was a very early adopter of circular-saw

technology. Although circular saw marks are generally considered to be indicators of late 1830’s (or later)

construction, the first circular saw use in a sawmill was in 1813, and there is ample evidence of earlier use.

The Leroy Springs House in SC, on the National Register, indicates circular saw cuts and it was

documented as constructed between 1820-1830.

Mr. Smart’s Circular Saw Mill, published in 1816,

advertises planks cut by circular saw in 1815, and “it is quite possible that circular saws were already in use

along the east coast of the U.S. at the time of their publication” (Carrol, 58). Although records are hard to

find, there appear to have been at least sixteen sawmills around the Lexington area in the early 1800’s

(Mills Atlas, 1825). It is quite possible that someone had a very early circular saw.


It appears likely that the building is the one described as “Judge Gantt’s one-room house,” based

on the consistent location and description on Gantt Street from 1820 through 1975.

A careful examination of every visible nail in the structure indicates no use of hand-wrought nails,

the type of nail generally thought of as being used prior to 1800. However, cut nails actually were invented

in 1786, and by 1790 the machines to produce cut nails were in general use throughout the coastal cities of

the country (Visser, 25). Instead of jeopardizing the c.1790 date, this early appearance of the cut nail could

potentially tell us something about the trade between Rhode Island, Charleston, and Granby. Had the

building been constructed much earlier, square hand-wrought nails would have been found, any later and a

different type of nail would likely have predominated. For these purposes, the age of the building will be

estimated, based on the nails used and supported by literary evidence, as being initially constructed

between the late 1790’s – and before the late 1820’s, with the most probable date being c.1818; when

Judge Gantt was appointed to a judgeship and the court was established in Lexington.

The workmanship that went into the building is also a clue. A great degree of skill is not

indicated. Nails are bent, angles are off, joists and studs are placed haphazardly, etc. It appears that the


building was hastily constructed with unskilled labor, the type more likely in the countryside than near

Columbia or Granby; perhaps under the borrowed supervision of a carpenter working next door on the

courthouse, perhaps in both instances.

Based on the description in c.1820 as being one room and the addition being constructed with

nails produced prior to the 1840’s, the building was enlarged with a room added after 1820 and before the

late 1830’s. Based on documentary research, Judge Gantt had moved by 1830, and the building was being

used by Doctor Simmons. The addition was probably added to suit the new owner’s needs. That was also a

period when the old wooden courthouse was being demolished and the (recycled) building materials would

have been at hand. The rear of the roof was replaced and extended to include the new addition, giving the

building a “saltbox” style look, probably coincidentally. Sometime in the twentieth century, based on the

nails used, the windows were replaced and electricity and air conditioning were added. Based on

documentation, in 1974 the building was moved to the museum grounds where it now resides.

The most likely explanation, one that fits all the evidence, is that the building was constructed at

the same time that the original wooden courthouse was constructed in Lexington. But, we cannot rule out

that Judge Gantt bought the building at salvage, as so many others were, or hauled what might have been

his old office from Granby, as the tale goes. Mr. Harmon is correct in pointing out that the little Georgian

style building was out of place in a German-speaking farm community “out in the middle of nowhere.” So

was Judge Gantt, a Maryland native, educated and with refined tastes, who appeared a bit “eccentric” to the

German settlers.

Judge Gantt’s “whim” goes to the very spirit of this vernacular building and explains

much about it. Vernacular is folk building, done without benefit of formal plans; often built by their

occupants or someone who is within the immediate community. Vernacular structures are the immediate

product of their users and form a sensitive indicator of these persons' inner feelings, their ideas of what is or

is not suitable to them. Consequently, changes in attitudes, values, and world view are very likely to be

reflected through changes in vernacular architectural forms (Deetze, J., 93)

The issue of origin is elusive. Although the evidence conflicts with earlier theories about origin,

there is nothing that requires us to dispute the oral history, just perhaps to view it with just a little caution.

Regardless, the Gantt building allows more insight into the settlement of the area. First, consider

that it was a frontier town in the late 18 th century, and that they already had need of a lawyer, and a judge.


Granby, and Lexington might have been frontier towns, but they evidently were not unconstrained or

lawless. Next, Judge Gantt came from Maryland, married a Virginia woman in Augusta, lived in

Edgefield, was elected to office in Columbia, and travelled as a Judge between Lexington and Greenville.

Travel evidently was not as difficult as some texts might lead one to think. Finally, the building materials

used: planed weatherboard, glass-pane sash windows, brick and mortar for the chimney, and store-bought

nails were not crude frontier materials gathered by what was around them. They were sophisticated

manufactured materials that were purchased or traded for, indicating the development of advanced

commerce and manufacturing.

Considerable and frequent contact and trade with other areas is indicated, as is trade between

Charleston and the New England colonies as evidenced by the early adoption of the new nail technology.

Another indication of the influence is the building style. The saltbox style roof is typical of England and

New England, not Charleston. The roof design is probably a coincidental by-product of adding the room,

but the appearance probably would not have been acceptable unless the resident was familiar with it.

This building is a messenger from another age, but still working. It has perhaps gone from a law

office on the frontier, a Judge’s home away from home, to a doctor’s office, burned by Sherman, a post

office, “negro tenements”, even the phrase opening a revealing window into South Carolina’s troubled past.

It has survived possibly two relocations, three fires, a war, and South Carolina’s termites and weather. It

would be very rewarding to trace the building, or Judge Gantt, to Granby; but there is little evidence to do

so. In fact, all the evidence tends towards caution in that respect. Nevertheless, Mark Twain is often

credited with saying that he wasn’t one to let facts stand in the way of a good story; but, we must be aware

that like a lot of recorded history, it might be just a good story, albeit a very good story.




25 Appendices Location Fig. 13, current location, 321 S. Lake Drive (after Lexington, S.C., United

Fig. 13, current location, 321 S. Lake Drive (after

Lexington, S.C., United States


Photographs and Drawings

26 Photographs and Drawings


Fig 14, floor plan

27 Fig 14, floor plan Fig. 15, front view Fig. 16, side view - west

Fig. 15,

front view

27 Fig 14, floor plan Fig. 15, front view Fig. 16, side view - west

Fig. 16, side view - west

27 Fig 14, floor plan Fig. 15, front view Fig. 16, side view - west
27 Fig 14, floor plan Fig. 15, front view Fig. 16, side view - west


28 Fig. 17, rear view, back wall

Fig. 17, rear view, back wall

28 Fig. 17, rear view, back wall
28 Fig. 17, rear view, back wall


29 Fig.18, side view - east . Bibliography Bentley, R., Historic Nails , 1958, Waterford Foundation,

Fig.18, side view - east



Bentley, R., Historic Nails, 1958, Waterford Foundation, Waterford, Conn.

Carol, O., 1973, Mr. Smart’s Circular Saw Mill, Association for Preservation Technology, Springfield, Ill.

Chapman, J., 1897, History of Edgefield County, Elbert Aul publisher, Newberry, S.C.

Deetze, J., 1997, Small Things Forgotten, Anchor Books, N.Y.,

Drayton, J., 1887, A View of South Carolina, Walker, Evans & Cogswell Co., Charleston, S.C,

Dreher, E., 1902, Leaves from History, Lexington Dispatch, Lex., S.C.

Fox, N., 1974, Central Midlands Survey, Central Midlands Historic Commission, Columbia, S.C.

Glassie, H., 2000, Vernacular Architecture, Indiana Univ. Press, Ind., Indiana

Harman, G., 1990, Uncle Josh, Remembrances of Old Lexington, Lex. County Hist. Society, Lex.,S.C.

Howard, H., 1989, How Old is This House?, Noonday Press, New York, N.Y.

Hutchinson, S., 2007, Pasttools, available from:, [8,Sept.2007]

Kieth, C.,1992, Home Building & Woodworking in Colonial America, Globe Pequoit Press, Guilford,Conn.

Nails for Historical Archaeologists, 2007, University of Iowa, WWW.Digital

National Register, 1980, Marsh-Johnson House nomination, US Dept.of Interior, Wash.,D.C.

Scott, E., 1980, Random recollections of a long life, reprinted by R.L. Bryan Co., Columbia, S.C.

Visser, T., 2007, Nails, Clues to a Buildings History, adapted from Field guide to New England barns and farm buildings, Historic Press, University of Vermont, Vermont