The Big House setting was characterized by a distinctive array of out- buildings. Besides the freestanding kitchens and smokehouses already considered, there were more buildings that sheltered tasks related to food production, preservation, and storage. These buildings might include a dairy, an icehouse, and a chicken coop as well as other small sheds. In fact, by the middle of the nineteenth century, a large gathering of outbuildings commonly identified a place as southern. Union officer Theodore Lyman, while stationed in northern Virginia, was quick to note the distinctive pattern of rural estates. He wrote of southern planters, "They have a queer way of building on one thing after another, the great point being to have a separate shed or out-house for every purpose. . . . You will find a carpenter's shop, tool room, coach- shed, pig-house, stable, kitchen, two or three barns, and half a dozen negro huts, besides the main house."1 Emily Burke joked that on a southern plantation "there were nearly as many roofs as rooms." 2 A similar comic observation was made half a century earlier by architect Benjamin H. Latrobe when he wrote that outbuildings seemed to cluster around southern houses "as a litter of pigs their mother." 3 Although the number and purposes of the structures on any given plantation could vary with the size of the holding and its degree of self-sufficiency, no estate-however modest-lacked a set of small service buildings.
Regarded as an ensemble, a set of outbuildings could be used to define the boundaries of a planter's yard in much the same way that they were used to outline the slaves' work space. A photograph of Kendall Lee's Ditchley plantation, located in Northumberland County, Virginia, for example, shows that Lee placed his dairy and icehouse behind the mansion, where they stood like sentinels at the ends of an imagi
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Publication information: Book title: Back of the Big House:The Architecture of Plantation Slavery. Contributors: John Michael Vlach - Author. Publisher: University of North Carolina Press. Place of publication: Chapel Hill, NC. Publication year: 1993. Page number: 77.