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Stone foundation of house in foreground and barn in background.


Site ID: 15Ni44

Kentucky Archaeological Survey
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​​​​​​​​​​​​​Archaeologists from the University of Kentucky, aided by North Central 4-H Center campers, investigated the remains of an African-American stone mason's late nineteenth-century homeplace.  Examination of intact architectural remains and a review of historic records indicated that Morris Rice purchased the 4-acre parcel of Nicholas County land in 1880. Rice, his wife Harriet, and their three children (Maggie, Bruce, and Stanley) made this place their home for 31 years.  

Rice was not a farmer and his land was not well-suited for farming. However, its rural location allowed him to make a living repairing and building stone structures, foundations, and fences on nearby farms.  

Ruins of a barn.


​Architectural remains at the Rice Family's home site reflected Rice's trade as a stonemason. They consisted of stone building foundations, stone root cellar stairs, and a stone-lined well.  

The house foundation measured 20 by 20 feet. A small wall foundation divided the house into two 10 by 20-foot pens. The size and shape of this foundation, along with the presence of a chimney, indicated that it was a dwelling.

​​Another structure foundation was documented just east of the house. Its main pen measured 16 by 16 feet and its western pen measured 12 by 10 feet. Its size and shape, and the fact that it lacked a chimney, suggested that it likely was an outbuilding, possibly a barn.

Northeast of and slightly downslope from the house was a large pile of stone that covered a 10 by 16-foot area. Stone removal revealed a small set of stone stairs dug into the ground. These stairs led down into a shallow, narrow opening. At the opening was the remnant of a wooden door frame - the door to a root cellar. 

Hidden in dense vegetation, 80 feet down slope and north of the house, was a circular ring of stone. The stone-lined well shaft measured 3 by 2.5 feet.

Artifacts from the site reflected the Rice Family's daily life​.  The bulk of the ceram​ic vessels - plates, cups, bowls, saucers, and storage crocks - were likely associated with food preparation, storage, and serving. Other types of food preparation/serving artifacts included eating utensils, like a fork, knives, and a spoon.  Canning jar fragments indicated that the family ​canned some of their own food, but the recovery of metal cans suggested that they also bought canned food.  

Ceramic doll parts and marbles.

Rice's three children were archaeologically well represented. Artifacts included doll parts and marbles. Slate pencils suggested that someone in the household could read and write, or at least was learning to do so. The family bought patent medicines, as revealed by bottle fragments.  

In general, although the Rice Family lived in a rural area and were relatively poor, they had access to manufactured goods. These came, most likely, from mail order catalogs and stores in African-American communities.  

Slate writing board fragments and pencil fragments.

White granite plate base (left) and bowl base (right) with maker's marks.

What's Cool?

​An African-inspired House Plan

The layout of Morris Rice's house revealed a possible link to his African heritage. Close examination of the house foundation, and characteristics of associated nails and window glass fragments, revealed t​hat the structure had originally been one 10 by 20 foot-​rectangular room (the family added a second, smaller, room later). 

The dimensions of Rice's original house plan are different from the typical European-American house plan dimensions of the period, which favored a 16 by 16-foot square floor plan. But they are identical to the dimensions of traditional African houses: architectural historians have found that traditional African houses are 10 by 20 foot​-rectangular houses. 

It is not likely that Morris Rice learned how to build a house from his enslaved African ancestors. However, he may have retained traditional concepts of space from his African heritage, which influenced the way he designed his home.

Site map showing the arrangement of the Rice Family's homeplace: outline of house, barn, root cellar, and well.

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