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  • Writer's pictureDonna Hechler Porter

Homes Tell Stories: The Whitehead Home in Polk County, Texas

A continuing series drawn largely from Laura Powers Marbut and Sarah Powers Thielbar's book David M. Chaney, 1809-1859, Allied Families and Descendants. The book has long been out of print, having been published in 1971 by Heritage Papers of Danielsville, Georgia.


Your home should tell the story of who you are and be a collection of what you love.

Nate Berkus, Designer

It will be remembered, from our previous posts, that John Whitehead arrived back in Polk County, Texas, the spring of 1856, with a new wife, widow Emily Margaret Chaney (Watson) and a two-year old stepdaughter, Sarah Elizabeth Watson. His family, now doubled in size, was likely no match for the rougher, perhaps smaller log cabin that he had been living in with sons Walter, aged 10, and Joseph, aged 8.

Whitehead Home in 2009. (Photo by Jim Evans, May 2009, found on Historical Marker Database,

After John and Emily's marriage in January of 1856 in East Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, they moved to his home in Polk County, Texas, alongside Caney Creek. John, a school teacher at the time, decided either before the marriage, or upon his arrival back home, to commission a Mr. Slatter, a log house building contractor, to him a build a more substantial log home.

More than likely, as was the custom, pine and other timbers on the property were used for log walls and for boards to fashion the roof, floor, and more. Such wood was handsawed and handhewn. Other building necessities, such as nails and glass, were shipped up the Trinity River from Galveston by boat to Drews' Landing, Swartwout, or other points along the coast. From these landings, the supplies were then taken by oxen-drawn wagons to local merchants in the area. John, or Mr. Slatter on John's behalf, would have purchased these supplies from local merchants. John may have even purchased them from his brother, Dr. William W. Whitehead, who at one time owned a mercantile in Peach Tree Village, not far from the Whitehead homestead.

A main house, completed in typical Texas dog-trot style with a central open hallway between two sides, provided living quarters. Two rooms on either side of the ten foot square open hallway were sixteen by sixteen feet square. A porch rambled across the front of the home. Blocks from native virgin pine trees two and a half feet high and two feet thick with twelve by twelve inch sills, three of them as long as 42 feet, ran the full length of the house. Logs of the the required length for each room and hall were used, with each log being twelve inches thick and hewn on one side. The hewn part could be seen on the walls.

Original piers that supported the house. (Photo by Jim Evans, May 2009, found on Historical Marker Database,

Ends of the original handhewn logs. (Photo by Jim Evans, May 2009, found on Historical Marker Database,

The floors were built of boards handsawed to one inch by six inches with sixteen foot long unplaned planks. Forty-two foot beams on the front and back of the house ran the full length of the house. Square nails were used throughout the construction, except where wooden pegs were used to tie the logs and other large timbers together. A separate kitchen and dining room were built about 18 or 20 feet behind the main house. Slave quarters, now or later, were built as well.

Mr. Slatter was not well-known in the area, and may have been simply passing through, for he seems to have disappeared shortly after finishing the house. The home became known to locals as the Whitehead Home, and when the house was later honored with a Texas State Historical Marker in 1967 by the State Historical Survey Committee, it was registered under that name.

While the house has gone through some updates and changes over the years, the main house has remained intact. (More on those changes in my next post.) It has also been continually in Whitehead family hands for over 160 years since it was built by John and Emily in 1856.


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