Graduate Research: Michael Pulice

The Log Outbuilding at Solitude

An Architectural and Archaeological Investigation of Virginia Tech's Second Oldest Building


Solitude is a National Register historic property that is today a central part of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University campus. The property was purchased in 1872 to create the site of the land-grant college that later became VPI. The focus of this study is a log dependency associated with the extant nineteenth century mansion on the property. Both buildings have suffered extensively from deterioration in recent years, but are now receiving some attention. By substantially augmenting a historic structure report on the outbuilding filed in 1989, this thesis contributes to the building's documentation and accurate interpretation. As one of two early structures on the site that still retains a large percentage of its original fabric, it is an important artifact that should be preserved for posterity. Documentation through meticulous research is an important part of preservation. When the building is physically gone, knowledge of it will survive.

Little was known about the dependency prior to the completion of this research. The best guess on its age appears to have erred by thirty years. The building's original function has long been the subject of debate. If it was a dwelling, there are no historic documents by which to identify the occupants.

This study examines various aspects of the building, including its present condition, construction practices and materials, dimensions, form and function, location, age, historical context, and buried cultural deposits around the building. The biological agents that have attacked and caused severe deterioration of the building are identified, as well as the conditions that precipitated the attacks.

The methods employed or explored in this research include archaeological excavations, artifact analysis, relative dating methods, wood identification and pathology, dendrochronology, basic chemistry, database generated spatial imaging, library searches, measured drawing, and photography. Use of these methods has provided insightful information regarding construction materials and their properties, construction practices, date of construction, and the history of the building's use and maintenance. Information about the building's occupants has also come to light, such as their socio-economic status, their standard of living, i.e. the goods they consumed and the comfort of their quarters, and their refuse disposal practices. Considering all the information revealed, a strong case is made that the building was originally a domestic slave's dwelling, constructed in the early 1840s.

For complete reference of the thesis: electronic thesis