Construction Materials and Methods


Four types of raw material was used to create the various calabooses in this sample.  These materials are concrete (poured in place and blocks) wood, stone, and brick.  Three buildings were made of wood and covered with tin and this method is discussed below.  When I began this project I was curious if there were some strict regional variations in the types of materials used. East Texas, for example, has long been a rich source of timber and I expected a higher number of wooden calabooses in this area as opposed to other parts of the state where stone was plentiful.  This was not the case.  Calabooses made using poured concrete are found in every region of Texas and are twice as numerous (n=32) as their wooden counterparts (n=14) and much more common than those made of stone (n=3), and brick (n=7).  Only the stone calabooses and two of the brick ones appear to be linked to the expedient use of available raw materials.  The calabooses in the towns of Blanco, Fort Griffin, and Ringgold were made of readily available native stone and the calabooses in Desdemona and D’Hanis were made of brick.  These are perhaps the most convincing evidence of a reliance on local materials since the Thurber Brick Company was only 21 miles east of Desdemona and the D’Hanis brick company was located in that town.  The tiny calaboose in Snook may have been built with readily available material as well.   The only standing building of the era when the calaboose was supposedly built is made of brick.  It is entirely possible that the citizens of Snook chose to use leftover brick from the two-story commercial building rather than seek another source.  The number of buildings made from the various materials discussed below changes as new calabooses are found.  The numbers stated here were tallied on 12-01-14.


Concrete using the “poured in place” method was the choice for the construction of thirty-two calabooses in this sample.  If a floor or slab was desired, that was the first step.  A wooden form much like those used to build driveways and patios today was used.  The concrete would be mixed and poured into the form over rebar to add strength and stability.   The walls were made the same way except the concrete was poured in layers the width of the boards used to fashion the forms.  This process was continued (layer after layer) until the desired height and shape was achieved.  In some cases, horizontal lines visible on the outside of the finished building indicate the width of the boards used to create the forms and the number of pouring episodes needed to finish the walls.   In the photograph below, eight pouring episodes were needed for the walls and one for the roof.


Odell Calaboose

Door openings would have been created as part of the form for the wall.  Roofs were the last pouring episode.  Wooden boards were laid flat to form the ceiling and the number of boards used to create the rest of the form depended on the desired thickness of the roof.  Any holes for ventilation pipes had to be created before the concrete was poured.  The impression of the wet concrete against the boards sometimes resulted in a ceiling that mimics the look of wood, a false impression that the ceiling is actually composed of boards.  In a few cases (e.g., Boling, Carbon, Chillicothe, and Stockdale), facades sported elaborate pediments and other architectural expressions.


The use of concrete blocks is evident in three calabooses in this sample.  Sometime during the early 1930s, new automatic machines manufactured large amounts of smooth concrete blocks faster and more economically than the earlier molded blocks. These modern smooth concrete blocks are commonly known these days as “cinder blocks” or “concrete masonry units.”   Some blocks were made by hand.  The calaboose in Eagle Lake is an example.


Bricks were used to make seven calabooses in this sample.  At first, this is a surprising statistic since brick factories were common in Texas.  However, the use of concrete may have been more cost effective and brick layers might have not always been available. The two notable exceptions (Desdemona and D’Hanis) are discussed above.


Fifteen calabooses in this sample were made of wood. Two methods of construction were utilized.  Some were constructed using vertical studs with the siding attached horizontally or vertically (see Flatonia) often creating double walls for strength (see Monahans below).


Monahans Calaboose

Others deviated from the norm in that the walls consisted of boards laid flat on top of each other.  With this method, the width of the walls corresponded to the width of the boards selected.  Most were 2 x 4 inches, but a few were 2 x 6 inches.  In order to make the building sturdier, the corners were cut and fitted resulting in notches similar to log cabins made with hand-hewn timbers (see Hermleigh below).


 Hermleigh Calaboose


There are three calabooses that have an exterior covering of tin over a wooden frame.  It is possible that the tin was added later as a cheaper replacement when the original wood became rotten. One local informant in Crawford told me that the calaboose in that town was originally all wood but the tin was added when George Bush was elected President because the town wanted it to look nice. The exterior of the calaboose in Sabinal is tin over wood siding.  This may have been a later treatment as well.  No documented source for the origin of the tin on the calaboose in Trenton was found.  It is possible that the three calabooses described here as examples of structures where tin was used to cover the wooden frame were always only wood.


 The calabooses in Blanco, Fort Griffin, and Ringgold,  were made of quarried stone that is presumed to have been locally available.

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