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.
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.
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.