Cobb Kitchen being rebuilt the old-fashioned way, like the original

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 3, 2007

COURTLAND—With a painstaking effort to get things just right, workers are slowly putting the pieces of the Cobb Kitchen back together.

A termite infestation put plans on hold for the tiny, historic building after it was donated and moved to the Southampton Agriculture & Forestry Museum & Heritage Village. After its donation in April, the building was completely dismantled so it could be treated for termites.

Visitors to the museum for Down Home Days at the end of April saw only the floor joists that would have supported the rest of the building, along with piles of lumber awaiting treatment.

It was a blow to the museum’s plans for the building where Paul D. Camp and Ella Cobb Camp ate their wedding supper. But volunteers soon got to work on the restoration, and there are hopes the project will be complete in time for Heritage Day in September.

Regardless of the time it takes, though, workers are determined to put the building back together much as it would have been done when it was built. Hence, hand-carved pegs attach the roof to the building, and wall studs are set into notches cut into floor joists.

When volunteer Harold Cook went looking for a carpenter to help with the project, he quickly thought of Kelly Belcher of B&G Contracting of Black Creek. Belcher agreed to do the work, with one condition: “He said, ‘I’ll do it, but I’m going to put it back exactly like it was.’”

As it turned out, some of the materials could not be salvaged. Enough was saved, however, to re-side the exterior faces people will see when they visit the village. New flooring was made especially for the project by employees of Olde Virginia Moulding and Millwork Inc. in Franklin.

But the construction techniques recall those of the old days. Though the site has electricity and power tools, Belcher said he has spent quite a bit of time on the project using old-fashioned implements—things like draw knives and wood chisels.

Though familiar with the construction methods he is using in rebuilding the structure, Belcher said this is the first time he has done that kind of work “from the ground up.”

Doing it right, though, is a point of pride—for Belcher, for Cook and for the others who have worked with them on the building.

“We’re going to put it back better than it was, but just like it was,” said Cook. “We were thinking about the importance of a Camp being involved (with the building), and the Camps have been good to us.”

From the beginning, the project has posed challenges.

When volunteers arrived at the home of Bobby Cobb to prepare the building to be moved, they found they would have to lift the structure with jacks in order to separate it from its massive chimney. They also learned they would have to take pains to save a fig tree that grew adjacent to the chimney.

Those two goals could have been mutually exclusive. Following the move, though, the tree stands uninjured, and enough of the old, handmade bricks were saved to use them on the parts of the fireplace that will show.

Work release inmates from the Southampton Jail have helped clean those bricks and organize the other materials on the site.

“That was a good bunch of kids,” Cook said. “I was real proud of them; I told them that.”

The Cobb Kitchen will join a one-room schoolhouse, a dentist’s office, a mercantile, a small home and other buildings available for viewing in the museum’s Heritage Village.