House at LSU Pioneer Heritage Center
By Mary K. Hamner
The Thrasher House stood near the Pine Grove Community east of Castor, Louisiana, for 131 years, and then was relocated as a joint project of LSUS and the Shreveport Junior League. Disassembled, moved, and then put together again at the Pioneer Heritage Center on the LSUS campus in Shreveport, the 159-year-old log dogtrot has a story to tell all who visit her. History comes alive for students visiting the complex of historic houses. Others experience a nostalgic journey into the past.
The Thrasher House, built by Thomas Zilks in 1850, is a classic example of the log dogtrot. It consists of two single pen rooms joined by an open hallway. The dogtrot derives its name from the open central hallway that was supposedly the favorite spots for dogs to catch the summer breezes. It is constructed of pine logs with a half dovetail notch at the corners. The roof boards are hand made from cypress or cedar logs. It makes use of the Georgian symmetrical floor plan, two rooms divided by a central open hallway, and uses the log construction techniques that were of German influence. Aubrey Thrasher, now deceased, donated the historic family home to Pioneer Heritage Center in 1981.
"My grandfather bought the house and 160 acres," said Maurice Thrasher, brother of Aubrey. "After my grandparents died, the house and land was passed down to their six children. Some of the land was eventually sold, some changed hands within the family, and Aubrey ultimately inherited the house.
"Aubrey and I grew up just about a quarter of a mile from the old home with our brother, Herman, and two sisters, Hazel and Iris. My dad, Herbert T. Thrasher, farmed and my mom, Rosa, was a typical farmer's wife. Our food came mainly from the farm; peas, corn, and other vegetables were staples in our diet. Pork from the pigs we raised and preserved by smoking in the smokehouse along with chickens, squirrels, fish, and other game was our meat supply. Our family grew up healthy and strong and was educated at Saline High School. We all moved away when we were grown and got good jobs. I worked with Swepco and other companies until I retired.
"My Uncle Bobby lived in the old home for several years. After he died, it sat empty for a while. Members of the family used it for a hunting camp during deer season. My nephew, Derrell Thrasher, often brought a friend when he came to hunt. The friend found the half dovetail notch construction of the old house unique and as a result of his interest and the support of the Shreveport Junior League, the house was donated and moved to the Pioneer Heritage Center.
"Moving the structure was quite a challenge," Thrasher continued. "It was completely disassembled, the parts numbered, even the nails were saved, and then all was moved and put back together at the new location. Since I live in the Summer Grove area of Shreveport, I see the house occasionally. They did a good job moving it and putting it back together. The only thing I can tell that is not original is the brick chimney. The old house had two mud chimneys, one on either side. I guess it's not practical to reconstruct mud chimneys.
"Our family is pleased that the house has been preserved. Young people on history tours may not really understand the distance we have traveled in the past century. They may not connect with the wood burning stoves, food grown on the farm, and water brought from a dug or bored well outside. But the Thrasher House is a testament to those times and to those early pioneer types who endured. Most of all, I am proud that my ancestors' old home was preserved, not torn down and burned like so many other historic buildings." Thrasher said.
The LSUS Pioneer Heritage Center comprises seven plantation structures, including the Thrasher House (a log dogtrot) and Caspiana House (the big house from Caspiana Plantation), both listed on the National Register of Historic Places; a detached kitchen, (in use on plantations and farms until the 1930s); a doctor's office; a commissary, (typical of the plantation store of the late 19th century); a riverfront mission from the Batture near downtown Shreveport; and a log single pen Blacksmith Shop.
Red River Blacksmith meets monthly at the Pioneer Heritage Center, generally on the 3rd or 4th Sunday of each month from 1-4 PM. Occasionally the group does working forge demonstrations at other locations in lieu of meetings. Demonstrations are open to the public. For information call Marty Young at 318 797 5339.
Other special events at the Heritage Center include Authors in April the annual fundraising luncheon, May 2-3, Le Tour of Gardens, and Pioneer Day in October featuring folk life demonstrations and living historians. The center is open for tours by appointment. For more information, call 318 797 5339, or access their WebPages at www.lsus.edu/pioneer/aia.asp .