The Little Texas Tabernacle is located in Little Texas, an unincorporated town near Tuskegee, Alabama. The Tabernacle is part of a United Methodist Church camp-meeting ground and includes the Williams Chapel.
According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation:
The “Little Texas” Methodist Tabernacle and Campground has been the site of Camp meetings since the 1850’s. The Tabernacle’s place of worship was built by black and white settlers of the area. . . . Worshipers camped in open air or in temporary wooden barracks called “tents” during long revivals. When revivals were in progress, the campground was governed by camp rules adopted and enforced by religious leaders. This site includes a tabernacle that was constructed by slaves without nails. It is one of the last structures of its type in the state.
A descendent of one of the area’s early settlers wrote:
The Tabernacle was a place of worship for the early settlers of that area of Alabama. Camp Meeting Services were held once a year in October after the Fall harvest. The services lasted a week, beginning on Sunday. At that time, small cabins surrounded the Tabernacle and people who lived away stayed in them or in tents they brought. Services are still being held there each year, beginning on the last Sunday in July and lasting through Thursday.
“The Little Texas Campground Cemetery,” Forrest Appleby Shavers
The Little Texas Tabernacle is a “post and beam” building constructed of heavy timbers. It has a three-aisled frame with a nave center aisle (used for two rows of pews of pews facing an altar). It has a hip roof.
Supports are timber posts which appear to be implanted in the ground. However, some posts stop several feet above the ground, where the post sits on top of a shorter timber post. All posts carry timber roof girders and perpendicular roof beams for lateral stability.
The Tabernacle has a hip roof framed with 2 X wood rafters with cross ties. Purlins of wide boards cross the rafters. Relatively new sheet metal roofing has been installed on top of these.
The building frame is braced throughout to increase lateral strength. This includes corner bracing. The triangular bracing bays are sheathed on their exterior which contributes to their strength.
Bracing also occurs at interior – intermediate – posts. The bracing bays on these is also sheathed with clapboard.
The timber frame members are jointed together with pegged mortise and tenon joints. The pegs are riven and are tapered. Diagonal timber bracing is used to stiffen the frame.
Most of the timbers appear to be hewn. The timbers’ cross-sections tend to be square. Their surfaces tend to show the types of surface-wear associated with hewn rather than sawn wood. Hewing is a process in which a tree trunk is shaped into lumber using an ax.
Hand Hewn beams have been squared by hand, most often with a broad axe, transforming a round tree trunk to a square beam. To hand hew a beam takes a tremendous amount of work. Before the prevalence of saw mills, craftsmen would have to fell a tree, score the length of the trunk with evenly spaced notches, and, with an axe, knock off the pieces of wood between each notch. This process is what gives hand hewn beams their trademark roughness.
The roof purlins appear to be riven – hand-split radially from a log.
The only exterior wall materials are fence rails along the sides and clapboard at the bracing bays. The roofing is sheet metal panels. The floor is earth covered in sawdust.
“Little Texas Campgrounds and Tabernacle.” http://www.preservationnation.org/forum/african-american-historic-places/locations/southern/little-texas-campgrounds.html
© Donald E. Armstrong and Material Practices, 2013