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 Farmstead Modernization ___________________________________________________________________________________

Between 1995 and 1997 while I was in graduate school I collaborated with Melanie Cabak and Mary Inkrot at the SRARP on their farmstead modernization research project.  This research effort examined the influence of farmstead modernization upon rural life in the middle Savannah River valley between 1875 and 1950.  The findings of the study were presented in the report Old Farm, New Farm and in a Historical Archaeology journal article.

 

 

Report Abstract 

The following study has three interrelated goals.  First and foremost, we critically evaluate the research potential of modernization theory as a vehicle for interpreting archaeological resources of the recent past.  During the period when many farmers were adopting mechanized equipment and dismantling agricultural labor systems that had prevailed for the the previous 75 years in the South, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) purchased property from landowners in Aiken, Allendale, and Barnwell counties to form the Savannah River Plant.  As a consequence, all active farms in the study area were abandoned at approximately the same time in 1951.  This event created a unique opportunity to study rural material life during a period when modernization was substantially restructuring agriculture.  Analysis of the built environment in the study area indicated that very few of the farmsteads resembled the modern commercial farms that were emerging across the nation by 1950.  Tenants comprised more than 50 percent of the farming population and most rural families lived in dwellings constructed in vernacular architectural styles.  Despite the paucity of evidence of modern farm operations, analyses of the material culture that most rural households, regardless of tenure class, were purchasing a wide range of commercially produced goods.  Contrasting information thus illustrates the uneven character of culture change and historical process.

Secondly, we present a detailed reconstruction of the material culture associated with the Aiken Plateau farms between ca. 1875 and 1951.  A relatively reliable approximation of material life in the study area is reconstructed through an archival data set composed of 112 rural residences and a complimentary archaeological data set consisting of 54 farmsteads.  The results indicate that there was uniformity to the post-bellum/modern period landscape.  The most common dwelling style was the hall-and-parlor house.  Conversely, I-houses and modern style dwellings were often used as a form of social differentiation among a minority of affluent farm operators.  Typical outbuildings consisted of chicken houses, barns, privies, and smokehouses.  Although household material culture differed little between tenant and yeoman farmers, dwelling size and style as well as the number of outbuildings are the most sensitive indicators of social differentiation between tenure classes.  Based upon results generated from analysis of the archival and the archaeological data sets, we constructed a model that defines the material characteristics of a typical operator and tenant farmstead in the region.

Recommendations for managing 20th-century archaeological resources on the Savannah River Site (SRS) are also offered in this monograph.  We attempt to demonstrate that relevant and archaeologically interesting data can be efficiently extracted from sites of the recent past--even resources that for the most part are clearly not eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.  We demonstrated that the land appraisal records completed by the AEC in 1951, along with archaeological data, offer a good source for investigating research topics at the SRS such as regional architectural trends, socioeconomic differences between tenure classes, and the extent of farmstead complexity.  Acknowledging the limitations of the archival sources, we recommend that archaeological testing must be concluded at all 20th-century sites on the SRS as a part of routine compliance procedure.  Our research clearly demonstrates that chronological information indicating when a historic site was first occupied can be obtained only through the archaeological record.  Ironically, although acquisition-era residences possessed the best historical context, preserved by the federal government in 1951, these sites contained very limited archaeological integrity.  However, based upon modernization theory, we recommend that the research potential of 20th-century sites that were abandoned before 1951 should be seriously evaluated on an individual basis.

 

Cabak, Melanie A. and Mary M. Inkrot  1997  Old Farm, New Farm: An Archaeology of Rural Modernization in the Aiken Plateau, 1875-1950.  Savannah River Archaeological Research Papers 9.  Occasional Papers of the Savannah River Archaeological Research Program, South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of South Carolina, Columbia.

 

Journal Article

Cabak, Melanie A., Mark D. Groover, and Mary M. Inkrot  1999  Rural Modernization During the Recent Past: Farmstead Archaeology in the Aiken Plateau.  Historical Archaeology 33(4):19-43.

 

 

Journal Article Abstract

Modernization theory is used in this study as a vehicle for interpreting archaeological resources of the recent past.  During the period when many farmers were adopting mechanized equipment and new technology for the home, the federal government purchased property from landowners in the Aiken Plateau of South Carolina to create a defense research facility.  As a consequence, all farms in the study area were abandoned in 1951.  This event created an opportunity for studying rural material life during a period when modernization was restructuring agriculture in North America.  Analysis of the built environment in the study area indicates that very few of the dwellings resembled the modern-styled homes that were emerging across the nation by the 1950s.  Despite the paucity of evidence for modern farm dwellings, archaeological analysis indicates that most rural households were purchasing numerous commercially produced goods.  Contrasting information thus illustrates the often uneven character of culture change and historical process in rural contexts. 

 

Vernacular Cumberland style dwelling on the SRS.

 

Modern Craftsman style dwelling on the SRS.

 

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