The earliest standing European structure in Mississippi may soon have a specific date associated with its construction. While it is agreed that the La Pointe Krebs House is the oldest extant structure, it’s not known exactly how old the building is. Differing reports place the Pascagoula building as being constructed as early as the 1720s to as late as the 1780s. The structure is currently being stabilized and conserved with aid from a 2014 MDAH Community Heritage Preservation Grant. Hoping to add more data to the conversation, the Dendrochronology Lab of the Department of Geography and Geology at the University of Southern Mississippi are studying wood samples from different parts of the building.
…is the scientific method of dating based on the analysis of patterns of tree rings, also known as growth rings. Dendrochronology can date the time at which tree rings were formed, in many types of wood, to the exact calendar year.
According to a Sun Herald article on the work at the La Pointe Krebs House:
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.
Since there are almost no 18th or early 19th century buildings in the immediate region to sample this makes a comparative study difficult. This was the problem when a dendrochronology was attempted at the La Pointe Krebs House in the early 1990s. What’s happened since then is the compilation of long leaf pine wood data that can be used for comparison to samples taken from the La Pointe Krebs House. The structure’s earliest framing members are likely from very local sources (1720s-1760s) so the collection of the Dendron lab pieced together from samples of live trees, old stumps from the DeSoto National Forest and other wood collected can be used for comparison.
But there are other questions beyond “how old is it?” that dendrochronology can help answer. The structure has changed significantly since it was first construction. The 1940 HABS investigators might have been the first to make an educated guess as to the early appearance of the structure. Since then each report compiled on the property has used the best information available to speculate on the growth pattern of the structure.
Due to its appearance and construction technique, it is assumed that the attic framing dates to three distinct periods. By taking samples from all three framing periods, relative time differences between periods of construction can be established, information that is currently unknown. By the early 18th century, framing may be coming from centralized sources located elsewhere, which can limit how closely one can date when a tree quit growing. The Dendron lab has anticipated this and will use a broader database of samples to compare and contrast with.
Hopefully by May the results will be made public.