I have spent a rather large amount of time over the last month trying to grasp the concept of a tiny house history, how it plays into a more obtuse history of domiciles, and the inspiration spots we tiny housers regularly resort to. It has been eye opening to say the least. I am even using it as a basis for a lecture at this weekends upcoming Tiny House Jamboree Dayton Mini Jam. Entitled ‘Tiny House 101: Tracing Little Digs Through History’ the presentation begins with a look at the “tipping point” of houses post-WII, travels back to the Ice Age and continues through Tudor houses, Igloos, teepees, modular homes of the mid-1960s, and ends with the modern tiny house movement. Continue reading
I submit this to the annuals of tiny house history.
On December 21, 1620, the first landing party arrived at the site of what would later become the settlement of Plymouth, Mass and thus began the North American tiny house movement.
Due to weather conditions on ‘the Rock’ plans to begin house construction was delayed until December 23. In the interim the majority of what we now know as Pilgrims returned each night to the Mayflower to eat, sleep, and otherwise live. As building progressed some twenty men remained ashore at all times though for security purposes. Women and children were not permitted to go ashore at first making their time aboard the vessel upwards of six consecutive months! It was a tense situation for all involved.
The first known structure was that of a ‘common house’ which was little more than an open space used to store tools and provide immediate shelter for those without any. History has it that it took between fourteen and twenty-six days to complete the first common house even though it was more than likely significantly less than 800 square feet. Built of wattle and daub – a composite building material used for making walls, in which a woven lattice of wooden strips called wattle is daubed with a sticky material usually made of some combination of wet soil, clay, sand, animal dung and straw – the common houses remained even after families began building private residences.
All said and done seven residences (of a proposed nineteen) and four common houses were constructed during the first winter. The structures were built on top of Cole’s Hill (directly across from Plymouth Rock) because of its flatness and compacted soil. Why such slow construction though? Were these not the same Separatists who, with great skill, had built entire kingdoms and homesteads back in England?
Like all tiny house builds weather was the primary factor in delay. For anyone who has lived in Massachusetts during winter it is easy to see how days can slip away in the snow and ice of New England. Beyond even that though the occasional fire slowed construction. Because of the dried thatch on the roof and the open fires used by workers to stay warm it only took a spark or ember to start a blaze. Progress was made though and in the fashion of today’s tiny house community conversation, community was formed as on December 28, 1620, the Pilgrims assigned out lots to the nineteen family groups on board the Mayflower. Each family was responsible for building their own house as well as supplying labor support for common houses, storehouses, a small military outpost, fences, sheds, and even barns! It was community by mandate.
Each family was also assigned a land plot that was 50 feet deep by a width determined mathematically. Each member of the family received 8 feet. So if a family had 9 members their lot would be 50 feet by 72 feet. In theory this was an excellent proposition and one that would get families established quickly on the new land. However winter bore down in 1620 and a large percentage of Pilgrims continued to live aboard the Mayflower the entire first year. Those who did manage to complete their homes were treated to solid footing in a home that included a main room for living, eating, and sleeping. There was also a fireplace for temperature control. It is also important to note that as time progressed and homes continued to be constructed with an emphasis on permanency they began to resemble traditional English cottages more and more. They were timber framed with a steep pitch roof to allow for storage or even extra sleeping room above the main room.
We see this idea continued even now as a number of tiny house trailer designs as well as small homes, cabins, condos, and the like are steeply pitched for storage lofts and even sleeping lofts. So while early settlers were not huddling on ‘the Rock’ and discussing building codes and sustainable flooring options there is room to contend that yes, there was a tiny house on Plymouth Rock!
by Amy Gregory
Our cabin is a tiny 10 x 20 located on property that has been in the family since the 1800’s. The cool part is that I was reunited with my family after being separated for 32 years. I lost both parents in a car accident as a child. They died a year apart. The tragedy caused the families to separate. I lost contact with my mothers side for 32 years.
Now I am lucky enough to own a piece of my family history! Family and history are everything to me. Especially after spending a life time looking for them. I’m including a picture of my cousins and I just to let you know how special this place is to me.
The area is just beautiful! The cabin is nestled in the woods and has a great view of a waterfall known as the Mill Dam. It got its name from our ancestors. There used to be an old mill there.
Our cabin is a dry cabin and it is off the grid. The Amish built the shell for us. It has a sleeping loft, kitchenette, cathedral ceilings, porch, metal roof, and a wood stove. Since it is a dry cabin, we plan to build an outdoor shower similar to the photo below.
I hope you enjoy the photos. Let us know if you have any questions. FYI our cabin is called JaCk’s Place. This stands for my families first name initials. Joe Amy Connor Keagan. (My husband, myself and my children!)
“JaCks Place” from KY
Our land before we cleared it
Our land after we cleared it.
The proud owners 😉
Our view of the waterfall
The dam years ago when there was a mill. Our ancestors are in the picture.
Our cabin before our front steps were complete. The husband built the firepit.
Building the steps
Us on the front porch after building
Our kitchenette. Made out of a workbench. Shellacked , cut a spot for the sink, add fabric and it’s done!
The family pond
The girl cousins aka “women of strength”
Ahhh the field of wildflowers
Our watermelon on our porch from the summer
The latest look at our tiny cabin.
Time for a break, until next spring. View from the porch!
Next spring project 2015… To be continued 😉
“Tiny House History” is not so much an actual academic topic as it is a supposed idea of how we got to the place of sustainable homesteading, as it were. While it may come with some argument or even disdain I propose that tiny house history did not begin in the late 1990’s with a man, his 100 sq.ft. house on wheels, and a discipline in beautiful, functional, little dwellings. I propose rather that tiny house history began in the “old world” with caves, huts, squats, and other primitive but very natural dwellings. I also propose that tiny house history is not just an exploration into the architectural aspects of a dwelling but also the philosophical, academic, spiritual, and relational aspects of a housing movement. Because of this definition I find myself more and more curious about the homes built in the last 2,000 years. And so it is because of this curiosity that I have come across the Usonian Houses developed by Frank Lloyd Wright beginning in 1936.
Usonia was a word used by Wright to refer to his vision for the American landscape including urban planning and building architecture. Wright proposed the use of the adjective Usonian in place of American to describe the landscape as being distinct and free of preceding architectural conventions. The homes would be smallish, single-story dwellings without a garage or even storage options. The majority of the designs were L-shaped so as to compliment a garden terrace on unusually shaped lots. They incorporated passive solar heating and natural cooling by way of flat roofs and large, cantilevered overhangs, natural lighting with high windows near the ceiling line, and radiant-floor heating. Even at this point it is easy to see how the influences of Usonian houses work into tiny houses, small houses, and sustainable homes.
Usonian is the term used in reference to 60, middle-class, homes designed by FLW. The first home was the Jacobs House built in 1937 in Madison, Wisconsin.
As history has it Madison newspaperman Herbert Jacobs – a friend of FLW’s – challenged the architect to design and build a home for $5,000. (with current inflation that equates to $80084.70 in today’s currency.) Wright went about designing and L-shaped house with an open floorplan and just two bedroom. To make the build more economical Wright developed a 2-1/4″ thick plywood sandwich wall for the house. (think SIP in today’s building world).
Wright continue to explore his Usonian idea even after the Jacobs challenge. Wright saw this as an opportunity to redefine architecture and economy just as the nation was in the throws of the Great Depression. FLW knew his homes could control costs on a number of levels while still providing style and substance to American homeowners.
Besides being small, one-story structures on concrete slabs, Usonian homes also had kitchens incorporated into the living areas. They had open car ports rather than garages. In short, they eliminated ornamentation in favor of function. In the 1950’s as FLW got older he continued to explore the notion of affordable housing by expanding into Usonian Automatic homes which were – in short – Usonian style houses made of inexpensive concrete blocks. The three-inch-thick modular blocks could be assembled in a variety of ways and secured with steel rods and grout. Wright hoped that home buyers would save money by building their own Usonian Automatic houses. Unfortunately assemblage proved to be a bit more difficult than intended and most buyers ended up hiring pros to construct their homes.
While Usonian homes actually built was limited to just 47 and while the costs to build often exceeded Wrights own projections causing them to overshoot the middle-class, they had great influence on what we now know as ranch style homes (complete with open floor plans, flat roofs, and connections to nature through glass and natural materials) that have helped define the American suburb experience.
Even today a number of Wright’s Usonian houses are still lived in by the families of their original owners. A couple have recently come on to the real estate market commanding millions of dollars. While this price point may be a long shot from FLW’s initial intention of affordability they are a great testament to his design ability and commitment to homes for the masses.
Here is our little house story in Spokane, Washington.
In the spring of 2006 I was walking through my neighborhood, as I had done so many times over the years and for some reason I really noticed this small, tired and neglected building with its Mission Revival architecture, very unusual for Spokane. As an Albuquerque, New Mexico transplant, I was automatically drawn to its style. It turned out the owner was a local contractor preparing to demo the building and construct a duplex. My partner, Val, and I made an offer and were soon the new owners of the North Hill Substation, built in 1930 as the local utility power distribution site with a mere 374 square feet and 13ft ceilings. We started ever so slowly, huddled in a corner with an electric heater, pen and paper and tried to wrap our heads around our vision for this great piece of history. It has evolved to what it is today affectionately called “The Little House.”
One big obstacle to this adventure was learning to let go of all my stuff. As a dealer and collector of antiques I had a daunting task ahead of me! For 4 years with the help of eBay, Craig’s List, thrift store donations and the dump I was able to whittle things down. Two years ago I was ready to vacate my 1500Sqft apt and see if I could really be happy in one fifth of the space. I made due with a woodstove for heat. I also had a propane cook top and refrigerator I used previously for camping. I found not only was it do-able, but soon realized that less is truly more. After 13 years, Val and I decided to move in together into her house. But with 2600 sqft, 3 bathrooms and kids grown and moved away plans have changed once again. Together we are diligently working towards the “small move” back to the Little House. Continue reading