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Re-Building an 1890s Smokehouse: An Eagle Scout Perspective

Thursday, October 19, 2017

George Ranch Historical Park Teen Volunteer

When I reached the point in my Boy Scout journey that it was time to begin my Eagle project, there was no question in my mind where I wanted to give back and help.  Having been a lifelong visitor to the George Ranch with my family and through school field trips, I had long ago discovered what an exciting experience the Ranch was as history was brought to life in front of me and I could participate in the same activities as my ancestors.  When I was selected to be a teen volunteer through the Ranch’s GRITs (George Ranch Interpretive Teens) program, my interest in and connection to the Ranch grew much stronger.  I knew that in order to complete a project as important as the Eagle I needed to be inspired by the place I would be serving.  I also knew that the Ranch had many needs on their wish list and I was honored that they entrusted me with one of those.

During Texian Market Days 2015, the smokehouse at the 1890s Sharecropper Farm burned down. I had my work cut out for me, but I knew that was the project I could tackle.

The 1890s Sharecropper smokehouse caught on fire during Texian Market Days 2015.

A project of this size did require a lot of materials and I was concerned at first about where and how I would obtain these.  I applied for a grant to Disney’s Summer of Service/Youth Serving America program and was awarded a $500 grant to cover some of my expenses.  Through a discounted materials program offered through Lowe’s and generous donations of materials from McCoy’s, Stahlman’s, and Home Depot, I was able to procure most of the building supplies with little expense on my part. Uncle Bob, the 1890s Ranching Heritage and Farming site lead, helped out with finding a firebox and we were ready to begin construction!

Before I even purchased a nail, I needed to research about smokehouses that sharecroppers would’ve used in the 1860s – 1890s. I collected as many ideas about the size, strength, and burning methods of the time as I could find. I then combined the best ideas together to create an incredible smokehouse — large enough to smoke a good amount of meat that would get sufficient smoke, strong enough to withstand extreme weather, and an exterior smoke box so that the smokehouse would not burn down again.

The hardest part of constructing the smokehouse was definitely cutting and attaching the planking to the smokehouse. After consulting with some experienced builders, my confidence and abilities grew to meet the demands.  The planking took the second longest amount of time to finish, but once it was completed I saw how much my helpers and I had accomplished.  I can see the completed smokehouse, but I can’t wait to smell the process and taste the results!  I hope that many Park visitors will enjoy this addition to the Sharecropper’s site for years to come.

I am very hyped about Texian Market Days this year! The thing I am most excited for is definitely to hear the boom of the cannon.  The Park really comes alive with all of the guest re-enactors and their activities.

— Andrew Phillips