Kitchen Reconstruction

The archaeological research at Riverside has led to the interpretation and reconstruction of a detached kitchen. In 1995, Riverside and archaeologists from the Kentucky Archaeological Survey began to search for a detached kitchen, which were common to most 19th century plantations in the south, and was mentioned in Moremen family oral history. The location of the building, its size, construction, and appearance were unknown from the oral history and written records. Thus, archaeological investigations were important to the discovery and interpretation of this important outbuilding.

The kitchen was perhaps the most important outbuilding associated with the main house on any plantation. It was the place where most of the domestic work for the plantation took place, most important of which was the preparation and cooking of meals for the plantation inhabitants. A variety of other domestic tasks, such as laundry, ironing, minding children, cleaning, and food preservation took place around the kitchen. The creation of the detached kitchen and the separation of many other household tasks from the main dwelling have its roots during the colonization of America in the late 1600s. It has long been suggested that environmental factors faced by the colonists was a major reason for this separation.

The drastically different environment of America, particularly in the southern colonies instigated the adaptation to the landscape in the formation of a complex of outbuildings that surrounded the main house. For the kitchen, the heat of the summers and the odor of work inside were primary factors that led the removal of this important feature of the house to its own building. Also, the abundance of pests that congregated around food sources, such as the kitchen, was an important factor in the removal of the kitchen from the main house. In addition to the physical environment, changing social uses of kitchens and the institution of slavery also helped create the detached kitchen. By the late 1700s, this new concept of American farm architecture had become a tradition and the detached kitchen was focal point of the outbuilding complex.

KAS archaeologists deduced that Riverside’s detached kitchen was most likely at the rear of the main house outside of the dining room door, as was common on 19th century plantations. Furthermore, a large amount of architecture related artifacts was recovered from the area during an archaeological survey of Riverside conducted in 1989 by the University of Kentucky. Initial excavations in this area were conducted in association with several public archaeology weekend events and subsequent work by KAS archaeologists. This work uncovered thousands of 19th century architecture and kitchen related artifacts, as well as portions of a large brick hearth. Excavation of the entire kitchen area was completed during the “Building Blocks of History” field trip program.

Archaeological data was used to reconstruct the detached kitchen as it looked in the 1840s during Farnsley’s time at Riverside. Since there was no description of the detached kitchen in oral history or written records, the archaeological data was used to interpret the basic structure of the building, such as its size, what it was made of, what kind of roof and floor it had, and where the windows and doors were located. Based on the types and sizes of nails found at the kitchen site, it was learned that the kitchen was a wood timber framed building, with wood siding, shake roof, and flooring. The window glass fragments were found concentrated in two main areas where windows were likely located. And door hardware, such as a doorknob and lock assembly was found in the area where the door was likely located.

Once the basic structure of the kitchen was identified, architectural surveys of existing similar structures around Kentucky helped fill in the details of what the kitchen likely looked like. In order to make the reconstruction of the kitchen as accurate as possible traditional techniques of construction were used, such as mortise and tenon joints for the framing, lime mortar in between the bricks, and hand split shingles. The details of the reconstruction were as accurate as possible down to the direction of saw marks on the lumber and the use of replica square nails.

The use of archaeological data and the attention to detail make the Riverside detached kitchen one most authentic reconstructions of its kind.

Furthermore, the focus of public participation, programming, and education during the entire research and reconstruction process has made the research and reconstruction of this building an interactive experience for the public. Since it is a functional kitchen, 19th century cooking demonstrations take place there continuing the educational focus at Riverside.

Continued archaeological research at outbuilding sites and additional oral history suggests that the Riverside detached kitchen may have been the first of three kitchens at Riverside over time. After the first kitchen was dismantled in the 1870s, another detached kitchen was constructed at another location near the house. Artifacts from the area consist of architecture and kitchen related objects from the late 1800s. Finally the third kitchen was constructed attached to the house in the 1930s, demonstrating the change in technology of kitchen appliances that made a kitchen inside the house practical.

More information about the reconstruction of the Riverside detached kitchen can be found in the booklet Brining the Past into the Future: The Reconstruction of the Detached Kitchen at Riverside, part of the Kentucky Archaeological Survey Education Series available from Riverside, the Farnsley-Moremen Landing and the Kentucky Archaeological Survey.