Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Local Landscape

The Gardner House itself isn't the only thing on display at this week's open house. Students have put together an exhibit on the local biology, ecology, and geology. Folk studies graduate student Sarah McCartt Jackson explains: "We want to show what the house looked like in the landscape of the area at the time it was built."

The land around the house is still teeming with life nearly 200 years after the first brick was laid.

On the Upper Green River Biological Preserve there are caves, barrens, uplands, bottomlands, and riverscapes. There are songbirds and cave shrimp, butterflies and snakes, woodrats and mussels. There are wildflowers, native grasses, and many, many tree species.

WKU's Department of Biology is dedicated to caring for this diverse land under their charge. They've established several projects to reintroduce or sustain endangered native species and they continue to protect the natural heritage found surrounding the Green River in Hart County. The department is also committed to community involvement and education.

To read more about the preserve, you can visit their website, where you'll also be able to hear some examples of the local birdsong.

To hear many of those birds in person or to see this incredibly rich landscape for yourself, come visit the Gardner House this Friday and Saturday. You'll also see the other exhibits on display in and around the house. Just email or call 941-626-0116 and let us know when you'd like to come by. We'd love to have you!

 Photos by Amanda Hardeman

Monday, April 25, 2011

Don't Forget to Visit!

Don't forget: this Friday and Saturday you can visit the Gardner House! On April 29 and 30 from 10 a.m to 4 p.m. both days, you can view exhibits on the restoration of the house, the ecology of the area, and the history of Hart County. You'll also be able to see basket making demonstrations, learn how archaelogy has helped us learn who built the house, see just how tuck pointing works, and even mix a little mortar of your own.

If you'd like to make sure your visit includes everything you'd like to see, please take a look at the schedule of events below. Then call 941-626-0116 or email to make your reservation and get directions.

11 a.m - 3 p.m. Basket making demonstrations by Charles and Charlene Long
All day    James Miller: Tuck point demonstrations.
                                     Available to answer restoration questions
All day    Amanda Hardeman: Musical lecture and banjo demonstration

1 p.m. - 3 p.m.  Basket making demonstrations by Michael and Boneda Childress 
All day    Dr. Darlene Applegate: Local archaeology discussion
All day    James Miller: Tuck point demonstrations.
                                     Available to answer restoration questions 
All day    Amanda Hardeman: Musical lecture and banjo demonstration

Now airing on WKYU: Rachel Hopkin's "Gardner House Restoration." Listen online or on the air Tuesday morning at 5:50 a.m. and 7:50 a.m. CST.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Home Sweet Home

Sometimes it's easy to focus on the historical aspect of a house like the Gardner House and to forget that many families called it home. Hart County Judge Terry Martin (right, below) and his brother Glen lived in the house as boys just a few decades ago.

WKU Folk Studies Graduate student Rachel Hopkin, joined by Hart County News editor Jerry Matera, recently interviewed the Martin brothers about their time in the house. This was the first time they'd been back to the house since 1970 and they were very interested to see all the restoration work that has been done.

The Martins showed Rachel where the added kitchen (now removed) had been situated and which upstairs bedroom they shared. They even laughed about falling down the steep, handrail-free staircase -- neither seems any the worse for wear, despite any possible tumbles.

To hear more about the history of this unique house, tune in to WKU Public Radio to hear Rachel's complete program, which will be airing in the last week in April. The program will also include:
  • how the Department of Folk Studies was honored with the task of restoring it;
  • how the Biology Department is involved;
  • first impressions from historic preservation craftsman Tonya Taylor, who coached students through restoration for two years; and 
  • the mysteries solved by archaeological detective work and archival research, or why the Gardner House might be going by the wrong name.

You can also come see the house in person, just like the Martin brothers did! We'd love to have you at our open house -- reserve your spot today by calling 941-626-0116 or byemailing

Photos by Jerry Matera

Monday, April 18, 2011

Who's In Charge Here?

Meet James Miller.

James is the current Graduate Assistant in charge of directing the restoration of the Gardner House and student engagement, succeeding Tonya Taylor (WKU '08). He has been working in the construction trades since high school. Even when he had other jobs, he usually still had a side job repairing or building something. He worked on his first restoration project in 2002 and is currently restoring his own historic house, a 1915 foursquare home in Bowling Green.

When he came to Western Kentucky University to the Folk Studies program, he applied for a graduate assistantship. Given his experience in construction and his interest in preservation, directing the Gardner House restoration was a great fit. But it wasn't always easy, despite his background.

"A lot of the work had to be done in such a way I wasn't used to because I couldn't just be there every day. Normally I work a project 5 days a week until it's done," says James. "I also had to modify the tasks for the students a bit and have a variety of things available to do to fit skill levels. That was a learning experience."

In fact, training students to do the different tasks was one of the more difficult challenges of his assistantship. "I did have to do a lot of training, some groups more than others. There was a time or two when a group just had a hard time with what I had planned. I only really had a few people with construction experience and even less with restoration experience. Those are somewhat different skill sets." Also, some jobs were more popular than others, he says. "Most people enjoyed the tuck pointing, but no one really liked sanding or scraping. People liked going to the river to get sand until it was time to haul it back up."

There were other challenges as well. The house is approaching 200 years old; trying to repair it with accurate materials sometimes proved tricky. "For example, the plaster is a bit older than plaster I have worked with and required more working time and water to keep it from cracking," James explains.

In his two years directing restoration at the Gardner House, James and the students he oversees have accomplished a lot. "In my tenure I have put on a new wood shingle roof, repaired plaster, built new doors, tuck pointed, repaired brick work and repaired some framing issues," he says. And while there have been frustrations, there have also been many rewards: "I have enjoyed the ability to work with my hands and teach the students something new."

James will graduate this May with his M.A. and the direction of the restoration will be passed on to the next person in line.

If you're interested in the work James and other students in WKU's Folk Studies program have accomplished, we would love to have you come to our April open house! James will be available to answer questions. The event is free of charge, but because space is limited, reservations are required. Just email us at and let us know when you plan to be there.

Top photo: photographer unknown. Other photos by Amanda Hardeman.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Baskets: Carrying Tradition

South Central Kentucky has one of the richest heritages of basket making anywhere in the country. It began during the pioneer era when settlers brought their knowledge of the craft from elsewhere, then adapted it to work with locally available materials like white oak and willow. Back then, baskets were made for necessity – people needed something to carry and gather things in.

During the twentieth century, Kentucky craftsmen and women continued to make baskets for their own use, but they also began catering to the tastes of travelers driving along 31W – then the main thoroughfare between Louisville and Nashville - and who would frequently stop to buy souvenirs at the tourist-stands that lined the route. Then later, after I-65 opened (taking away traffic from the smaller roads), they began attending the craft fairs that were becoming popular.

Basket making styles changed accordingly. Initially, baskets were built to be sturdy for use around the farm. Now they are made more for looks than work and are intricately crafted into a wide variety of shapes and sizes.

Kentucky today is home to some of the finest basket makers in the United States - and during the April open house, you'll have the opportunity to meet a few of the stars.

Michael Childress and his wife, Boneda, both come from several generations of basket makers. In fact, the tradition has been passed down from right around the time the Gardner House was originally built.

Charles Long also has an extensive family tradition in basket making. His wife, Charlene, fell in love with the craft after marrying Charles and has certainly made up for lost time. The Longs work in willow and honeysuckle, rather than the more typical white oak.

If you'd like to see the craft in action and hear about basket making traditions from the very people who carry on today, be sure to reserve your spot at the open house as soon as possible!

Community Open House

Thanks for stopping by the Gardner Historic House blog! If you'd like to visit the actual house, now's your chance.

The Gardner House will be open to the public THIS SATURDAY, September 27, 2014 from 9:00am to 3:00pm. SEE YOU THERE! For more information, go to

We look forward to seeing you there!