PASCAGOULA -- The oldest house in Mississippi, actually the oldest standing structure between the Appalachian and Rocky mountains, is about to be dated.
It was built in the 1700s using longleaf pine. And a team of researchers and students from the University of Southern Mississippi who specialize in the science of dating wood through the use of tree rings, is working to put an exact date on the La Pointe-Krebs House.
It's not that the history of the house is in dispute. Historians know it's old, based on the type of construction, journals and historical maps. It has occupied property overlooking Krebs Lake on the Pascagoula River for almost three centuries, on land that was part of a 1716
But when these guys are through, there won't be any more wondering when it was built -- 1730s, 1750s, 1720s?
Determining the year
Grant Harley, assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Geology, is leading the team and said chances are good they will be able to put a year on the house.
"We don't say unless we're 99.9 percent sure," he said.
Harley is head of the Dendron Lab at USM, where data from drilled samples will go for testing. The science is called dendrochronology and it's been used to test historical structures all over the country.
Harley worked on a team that used it to prove the rough-hewn house at Lincoln's Boyhood National Memorial couldn't have been Lincoln's boyhood home. The science proved it was built later.
"They weren't too happy about that," Harley said. "But I remember my adviser telling them, 'Trees don't lie.'"
Harley and his team spent Friday at La Pointe-Krebs taking core samples from the main 5-by-5 post that holds up the roof trusses. They also drilled into a footing, wall posts and rafters and glued the samples into wooden trays.
Later, they will sand the samples from the house and study the rings in the wood with a microscope. They chart the patterns the rings create, then they take those patterns and charts and compare them with the existing timeline of data on longleaf pines from the area. They have a data line dating back hundreds of years, pieced together from samples of live trees, old stumps from the De Soto National Forest and other wood collected.
The plan is to find the point on the timeline where the pattern in the La Pointe-Krebs House samples match a year. It could be May before they know.
To pinpoint when the wood was cut, and the house built, they had to have samples that include the outermost ring of the tree. So the first task was to find beams in the house that had not been trimmed to a neat rectangular shape. They needed samples that had the curvature of the outer edge.
And they found them.
Why now, why this house?
Similar sampling was done in 1992 at La Pointe-Krebs, but the scientist doing the work didn't have the right type of wood data for comparison.
What's happened since then is the compilation of longleaf pine data.
And after the USM team finishes work at La Pointe-Krebs, it plans to head to the Mississippi Sandhill National Wildlife Refuge for more longleaf pine samples. The researchers will drill old stumps and live trees there to add to the data.
The more the better.
It all goes into an international tree-ring database used by scientists all over the world.
"In the tree-ring community, everyone shares data," Harley said. NOAA maintains it.
The tree information does more than offer dates, it also is used for global climate studies. It can show years of drought and years of plenty.
The La Pointe-Krebs House is getting love from the team because a geography student from Petal, Josh Bowman, nominated it for a USM Eagle Spur Grant. It was selected from among projects proposed university-wide in all fields.
The grant pays for the team, the use of the equipment and the research.
Marks "Mc" Wixon, executive director of the La Point-Krebs Foundation, said it is a welcome grant, because the foundation is putting all its funding into preserving and stabilizing the house.
Bowman was part of the team at the house Friday.
When asked why he picked La Pointe-Krebs, he said he knew its historical significance.
And he thought dating it once and for all -- no speculating -- might get it some attention.
He said, "I'm hoping it will build tourism back to the site."