A yard is an enclosed division of uncultivated land usually attached to, or enclosed by a dwelling or public building or outbuildings usually defined by a fence or a wall.
At private homes in rural settings, defined yards often were attached to service buildings used to house livestock or to store firewood or to outdoor kitchens. In Southern towns, yards sometimes were paved with bricks or crushed shells. In 1753, in South Carolina Gazette, a dwelling for sale ad noted "a garden at the south front, and a yard lately paved in."
Brick walls often surrounded public yards at court houses, state houses, hospitals, churches, cemeteries, prisons, and inns. Wooden fences usually surround yards at private dwellings, but some gentry homes also had brick or stone walls. By the last quarter of the 1700s, folks referred to the enclosed area, where those incarcerated take exercise, as a prison yard.
In the 18C, the term yard was used to designate practical & often commercial work areas such as, hemp yards, wood or timber yards, and even dock & ship yards.
The term court yard usually referred to a public or private entrance greeting and meeting area. Because most courtyards were built to receive carriages and horses, they usually were located on the road side of coastline houses, not on the water-facing facade.
Other yards on larger rural properties were meant for livestock such as cow yards, pig yards, barn yards, poultry yards, chicken yards, turkey yards, & goose yards. Domestic work yards, especially those used to house animals, were usually separated from kitchen & floral or pleasure gardens by fences or walls.
On smaller properties, homeowners often divided the land closer to the rear of the house into yards. These often included a woodyard or a stackyard for storing straw & a fenced family yard, which served as a barrier against potential domestic & wild animal intrusion.
In his Essays and Notes on Husbandry and Rural Affairs, John Beale Bordley wrote that the family yard should be planted in clean, closely cut grass & that its margins alone should be allowed to contain purely decorative flowers. Bordely explained that the well often stood near the family yard & wood yard. Sheep houses & pigsties commonly had their own individually fenced yards, & many poultry houses, or coops, had a distinct poultry yard often covered with fresh sand & gravel. Sections devoted to animals usually had watering troughs within their yards. The women in the family did the washing & ironing in washhouses, which were usually within or near a separately fenced area where the wash was hung on lines or spread across shrubs to dry. Contemporaries called these areas “bleach yards.”
Often colonials & early Americans would simply refer to their yards. Occasionally writers, especially visitors from England or the Continent, would leave the term yard off of a description of a court yard, simply referring to acourt.
The term yard appeared in the British American colonies in 1647, when a tenant agreed to "maintain the old dwelling house and quartering houses and Tobacco houses in repair, as well as the pales about the yard and gardens."
In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that in 1678, while visiting the coastline of New York, Charles Wooley used the term yard to refer to a mammal's penis. (Not 36 inches, but in the sense of a stick or rod.) "As to the nature of a Whale, they copulate as Land-beasts, as is evident from the female Teats and Male's Yard." Shakespeare had used the term similarly in 1598, in Love's Labour's Lost.
In Virginia in 1686, a visitor noted of Green Spring, the former home of Governor William Berkeley, that the orchard was "well fenced in with Locust fence, which is as durable as most brick walls, a Garden, a hundred feet square, well pailed in, a Yeard where in is most of the foresaid necessary houses, pallizado'd in with locust Punchens."
In 1687, hungry French visitor Durand of Dauphine in A Huguenot Exile in Virginia, wrote that "There are also many doves, turtle-doves, thrushes, partridges in such numbers that they come into the court-yards; they are smaller than those of Europe, but taste the same."
Public Yard - Courtyard at Governor's House
In 1706, the act of the Virginia legislature authorizing the building of the Governor's Palace allocated 635 pounds for the construction of the garden with these instructions, "that a Court-Yard, of dimensions proportionable to the said house, be laid out, levelled and encompassed with a brick wall 4 feet high with the balustrades of wood thereupon, on the said land, and that a Garden of the length of 254 foot and the breadth of 144 foot from out to out, adjoining to the said house, to be laid out and levelled and enclosed with a brick wall, 4 feet high, with ballsutrades of wood upon the said wall, and that handsome gates be made to the said court-yard and garden."
By 1723, Rev. Hugh Jones reported that the courtyard was "finished and with beautiful gates." But by 1776, the wooden components of the fences had begun to deteriorate, when note was made in the Virginia Council Journal that they were "Repairing Fodder Houses & paling round the Garden."
Twenty five men were appointed "to repair fences of park" in 1777. And it was recorded that "60 foot of plank, 250 nails" were purchased for the task.
Public Yard - Courthouse Yard
In 1743 Spotsylvania County, Virginia, A workman was hired to "rail in the Courthouse yard."
Reflection of the Old Courthouse Tower in Washington County, Tennessee.
In 1778 Alexandria, Virginia, a valuable one half acre lot "fronting the whole Courthouse yard and market place" was offered for sale.
Public Yard - College Yard
At the college which would become Harvard, as early as 1637-39, Nathaniel Eaton referred to "the frame in the College Yard & digging the cellar." At Harvard, the original college buildings formed a quadrangle. Visitor James Birket wrote that 1750 Harvard College at Cambridge, Massachusetts, "Consists of three Separate Brick buildings...one of which is called Stoughton hall, And although the 2 wings do not Join to the Middle building yet they are So placed As to form a very handsom Area or Courtyard in the Middle."
Harvard Court Yard in 1726.
Ebenezer Hazard visited the college of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1777, noting that "At this Front of the College is a large Court Yard, ornamented with Walks, Trees cut into different Forms, & Grass."
Court Yard at the College of William & Mary. Detail of Bodleian Plate England. 1740.
In July of 1778, a large political meeting of men in Phildelphia, became rowdy. "At length General Cadwallader was invited down from the stage, and was followed by a majority of the citizens present to the College yard, where, ROBERT MORRIS, Esq; being appointed Chairman."
College of New Jersey, Princeton. Court Yard in 1764.
Moreau de St. Mery visited the College of New Jersey at Princeton, New Jersey in the 1790s wrote, "Before it is a huge front yard set off from the street by a brick wall, and at intervals along the wall are pilasters supporting wooden urns painted gray. This front yard is untidy, covered with the droppings of animals who come there to graze...Behind the college there is an extremely large courtyard. It is dirty and uncultivated, and everything in it is evidence of neglect."
Public Yard - Inn Yard
James Gordon of Lancaster County, Virginia, reported in 1759, "The Ministerial Play was read in the ordinary by Mr Parker, who received it from Mr Pinckard, who said he found it in the Courtyard."
Englishman Thomas Twining visited Baltimore, Maryland, in 1787. "We drove in good style into the court-yard of the 'Indian Queen,' a large inn of very respectable appearance...and was shown into the largest room I had ever seen in any hotel even in England. It extended the whole depth of the house, from Queen Street to the great court-yard...At four o'clock we drove into the great yard of the Indian Queen."
Public Yard -Statehouse Yard
In Philadelphia, citizens often met in the Statehouse yard during the Revolutionary period to discuss politics. In October of 1776, the Pennsylvania Gazette reported on "a Meeting of a large and respectable Number of the Citizens of Philadelphia in the Statehouse Yard."
In Philadelphia during June of 1777, the newspaper announced, "The two Classes of the City and Liberties Militia... are to parade with their arms and accoutrements in the Statehouse yard at five o this afternoon." During the war, militia regularly met there to perform exercises.
Walled State House Yard in Philadelphia.
The citizens of Philadelphia met in 1779, "in the State house yard, in order to determine upon the mode of choosing a new Committee."
When the war with Britain concluded, the Statehouse yard was often used for public celebrations. In 1782, the newspaper reported, "In the afternoon a dinner was provided by Congress for the Minister of France and his suite; and the evening was closed with a brilliant display of fireworks in the Statehouse yard."
Charles Willson Peale's (1741-1827) 1789 Depiction of the Statehouse in Annapolis, Maryland, with no visible yard, looks far less people-friendly.
In his 1789 Geography, Jedidiah Morse reported on the capitol in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, "The state house yard, is a neat elegant and spacious public walk, ornamented with rows of trees; but a high brick wall, which encloses it, limits the prospect."
Public Yard -Hospital Yard
1817 William Strictland (1787-1854). The South Front of the Philadelphia Hospital with Brick-Walled Yards.
Peter Kalm wrote of New York City, "In addition to the hospital...there is another farther up Broadway... There is a yard where patients are allowed to walk, and plans call for planting trees in it." The hospital in Philadelphia also had a walled yard planted with trees and criss crossed with walks for its patients and their visitors to walk in.
Public Yard -Church & Burying Yards
Newspapers often announced the burials of citizens in local church yards. The deceased were usually reported to be interred or deposited in the church yard. The 1732 South Carolina Gazette reported, "On Monday last, after a very long Disorder, died Mrs. Mazyck, the Wife of Mr. Isaac Mazyck, Merchant of this Town... she was interr'd in the Church-Yard of this Place, in a very handsome Manner, being attended to her Funeral by most of the chief Merchants, and publick Officers of the Province."
Church Yard with old Trees in Norfolk, Virginia.
The 1737 Williamsburg Virginia Gazette reported, "Last Monday Night died in this City, after a short Illness, Mr. Charles Chiswell, of Hanover County, aged about 60. He came to Town last Wednesday, in perfect Health, and was taken ill of a Pleurisy and Flux on Friday Night, which was so violent, that it carried him off the Monday Night following; and on Wednesday Night, he was decently interr'd, in our Church yard." In the colonial period, the deceased often were reported to be buried in the church yard "in a very decent Manner."
When a proud, perhaps even a little arrogant, London stone mason arrived in 1739 Philadelphia, he advertised his work by sending people to the Church yard. "Masons-Work in all its Branches, and with the greatest Speed and Accuracy, is performed by WILLIAM HOLLAND, lately from London; who being truly instructed in that Art, justly assumes the antique Name of the Mason, and owns not that vulgar calling of a Stone-Cutter ... has given the Publick a Specimen of his Performance in a Tomb-Stone now in the Church -Yard of this City."
Walled Church Yard at Ware Church, Gloucester County, Virginia.
The Church yard was a place well-known in most locations and was often used as a point of direction, as when the Charleston newspaper announced in 1732, "AT Dan. Bourget's, Brewer, in old church street, behind the old Church -Yard, is good Stabling, and Entertainment for Horses." For a public sale in 1734, "A Catalogue of all the Particulars, with the Price to each Article, may be seen from Monday morning till all are sold at the Blue House, against the French Church Yard in Charlestown."
Brick walls surrounded many church yards. The 1752 Virginia Gazette announced that an "Addition is to be built on one Side of the Brick Church in Bristol Parish, Prince-George County, 30 by 25 Feet in the Clear, with a Brick Wall round the Church Yard , 5 Feet high; the said Work is to be completed in June 1754."
During the same period, wooden fences were being built around other churches. In the summer of 1749, the vestry of Saint Anne's Parish in Annapolis Maryland, put out a contract for "any good Workman, to find Materials, and pale in the Church-Yard at Annapolis, with saw’d Poplar Pales, four Feet and a half in Length, three Inches broad, and one Inch think; saw’d Poplar Rails, 8 feet long and 6 Inches broad on the flat side, three Rails in each Length; the Posts to be of Cedar or Locust, to hew to six inches square at Top, to be 7 feet long and to be set 30 Inches in the Ground; the Posts to be morticed, and Rails tenanted in; the Pales to be nail’d on with Double Tenpenny Nails, three to each Pale." But by 1771, the vestry of Saint Anne's Parish decided to "have the yard secured so as to prevent the cattle from going therein."
Looking Over the Brick Wall at the Burying Yard at Saint Anne's Church in Annapolis, Maryland, which came into use in the 1780s.
Wandering livestock & wildlife interlopers also bothered the gentry in Virginia. Philip Fithian Vickers, teaching at Nomini Hall, Virginia, in 1774, noted that, "Mr. Carter observed that he much dislikes the common method of making Burying Yards round Churches, & having it almost open to every Beast." In 1771, the upper church in Saint Margaret's Parish in Caroline County, Virginia, also began walling in their churchyard. However, in New York City in 1749, Peter Kalm reported a church yard without a traditional fence or wall, "Quite a large churchyard surrounds the temple, and about it are planted trees which give it the appearance of an enclosure."
Occasionally, a church yard was the scene of a violent act. Just after Christmas, the Pennsylvania Gazette reported in 1759, that in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, "a young Man, genteelly dressed, shot himself in the Church Yard at Burlington" with a "short Fowling piece loaded with large Duck Shot."
The Moravian Cemetery at Old Salem, North Carolina. The graveyard is surrounded by shady groves.
As political unrest began to stir in the British American colonies, even the church yard became involved in the protests. In 1766 Wilmington, North Carolina, "in the Evening, a great Number of People again assembled, and produced an Effigy of LIBERTY, which they put into a Coffin, and marched in solemn Procession to the Church Yard, a Drum in Mourning beating before them, and the Town Bell, muffled, ringing a doleful Knell at the same Time; --- But before they committed the Body to the Ground, they thought it adviseable to feel its Pulse; and when finding some Remains of Life, they returned back to a Bonfire ready prepared, placed the Effigy before it in a large Two armed Chair, and concluded the Evening with great Rejoicings, on finding that LIBERTY had still an Existence in the COLONIES."
Occasionally, the church yard became a place for recreation & reflection. Dr. Robert Honyman reported in 1775, Boston, Massachusetts, that he "went into a large church yard & viewed the Tombs & grave stones." William Loughton Smith wrote in his journal on May 5, 1791, of visiting Salem, North Carolina. "The church yard is on a hill above the town, surrounded by shady groves." The Moravian cemetery at Salem, God's Acre, has gravestones & burial plots which are exactly the same size and grouped together by marital status & gender - married sisters, single sisters, married bretheren, & single brothers.
Yards at Private Dwellings
Private Yards - Court Yards
The 1746 South Caroliana Gazette carried a notice about a missing horse, "SRTAY'D or stolen out of my Court -Yard formerly belonging to Mrs. Sarab Frott, a Roan Horse, with a black Bow Main, branded on the mounting shoulder B, shod his Fore Feet, and is brown by ten Name of Firefly."
Peter Kalm noticed on his travels throughout the colonies in 1748, "Mulberry trees are planted on some hillocks near the house, and sometime even in the court yards of the house."
Green Spring by Benjamin Latrobe, Showing Walls Surrounding the Court Yard at the Entrance Facade. (The garden was at the rear of the house.)
In the Pennsylvania Gazette of 1753, a house-for-rent ad noted, "To be lett, A large commodious house, 4 rooms on a floor, 3 stories high, with neat court yard, garden and good orchard, conveniently situated on Germantown road, about a mile distant from Philadelphia." Several months later, this description appeared, "a large commodious brick house, 40 feet square, 3 stories high, four rooms on a floor, a genteel court yard, neatly pailin, a brick wash house, necessary house, and pump in the yard, a good garden and orchard."
In an issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette of 1761 was a notice for a "A commodious Country Seat... a new Stone House three Stories high, being 41 Feet front, and 24 Feet deep, with Cellars under the whole; a Court Yard in the Front of the House, a Piazza joining the House, and a new Stone Kitchen, with a Pump before the Door."
Entrance to Court Yard at Mount Clare in Baltimore, Maryland. Here, as in most instances, the court yard was at the public entrance facade of the dwelling. The more private garden facade was usually on the opposite side of the house.
Virginia visitor Mary Ambler in 1770, observed at Mount Clare in Baltimore, "There is a Handsome Court Yard on the other side of the House."
In 1777, in his Virginia letter book, George Braxton recorded, "I agreed with Alexander Oliver Gardener to make a Court yard before my Door according to Art."
Courtyard at Mount Vernon in Virginia.
Just outside of Phildelphia in 1785, a country seat went on the market. "An elegant seat for a Summer residence of a genteel family, situated on the main street in Germantown, just beyond the six mile stone. This healthful retreat consists of a spacious house, two stories high, with four rooms on a floor, a piazza in the rear, 36 feet in length and 12 feet wide; a court yard about 80 feet square, neatly gravelled, sodded and surrounded with trees."
In his diary for August 30, 1785, at Mount Vernon, Virginia, George Washington reported that the workers had "Finished gravelling the right hand Walk leading to the front gate from the Court Yard."
1791 Edward Savage. Mount Vernon from the Court Yard Carriage Entrance.
Elbridge Gerry, Jr. visited Mount Vernon, about 14 years after Washington's death noting that, "On one side is an elegant garden, which has a small white house for the gardener, and a row of brick buildings back of it. All these are enclosed by a wall in an oval form, and leaving a large area before the house for the yard."
When artist Robert Edge Pine died, in Philadelphia his property went for sale in 1789. including "an elegant new Brick House 42 feet front by 50 feet deep, completely finished, and well accommodated either for a large family or for a public house; a good pump in the yard; a neat garden in the rear of the house, and a court -yard in front."
The Plantation 1825 Virginia.
In 1753, the South Carolina Gazette reported a dwelling for sale in Prince William Parish which included "a garden at the south front, and yard lately paved in." In the South, especially at urban sites, the yard was often paved with brick, tile, or crushed shells.
18C century Thomas Banister House with front yard.
The Moravians who settled in at Salem, North Carolina, wrote in 1772, "The family houses are to fence in their yards, in order better to keep the children at home and not let them run around the streets. Also, if the open building-sites could be fenced in, the cattle could be kept out of town."
Early Houses and Fenced Yards at Old Salem, North Carolina.
New England tutor Philip Fithian Vickers was working at Nomini Hall, Virginia in 1774. He reported, "From the front yard of the Great House."
1796 Ralph Earl. Detail Houses Fronting on New Milford Green with fenced yards.
Elizabeth Drinker wrote in her diary in 1796 of her home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, "Our and Garden looks most beautiful, the Trees in full Bloom, the red, and white blossoms intermixt'd with the green leaves, which are just putting out flowers."
Fenced Utility Yard "Well Paled In" at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia.
Private Yards -Court (Yard)
Jonathan Schoepf reported on the toilet facilities in 1783, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, "a little court or garden, where usually are the necessaries, and so this often evil-smelling convenience of our European houses is missed here, but space and better arrangement are gained."
Necessary House in Colonial Williamsburg.
Henry Wansey toured New England in 1794. He wrote of Worcester, Massachusetts, "most of the houses have a large court before them, full of lilacs and other shrubs, with a seat under them, and a paved walk up the middle." And in Connecticut, he wrote, "I arrived at Newhaven...Many handsome well looking houses, though chiefly built of wood and separated by a court or garden from its neighbour."
Private Yards -Livestock Yards
Trying to Escape the Goose Yard.
Private Yards -Goose Yard
You are going to have to humor me a little now and again. I just spent the past year in my book club reading all of Chaucer's writings, including Canterbury Tales, so references are bound to pop up in these blogs occasionally. In 1386, or thereabouts, Chaucer wrote in the Nun's Priest Tale, "A yeerd she hadde enclosed al aboute Withe stikkes and a drye dych with-oute In which she hadde a Cok." Here was a woman tending a poultry yard, just as women would in early America!
Often in the plantation society of the southern colonies, the mistress of the house would leave the raising of common chickens to the slaves, while she would concentrate on raising the more elite ducks, turkeys and geese. A visitor to a Mount Vernon quarter in 1797, noted that “a small vegetable garden was situated close to the hut. Five or six hens, each with ten or fifteen chickens, walked around there. That is the only pleasure allowed to Negroes: they are not permitted to keep either ducks or geese or pigs.” A 1768 newspaper reported that on a plantation in Fairfax County, Virginia, "Carpenters all...went to sawing railing for a goose yard."
Private Yards -Poultry Yard
The rooster ruled the poultry yard.
An account in a 1772 Queen Anne's County, Maryland deed book noted the presence of "one new paled garden 150 by 100 in good repair with a paled yard between the dwelling house and garden in good repair." Women usually tended the poultry close to the house.
Poultry Yard at George Washington's Birthplace in Virginia.
When Jacques Pierre Brissot de Warville visited Virginia in 1788, he reported "I hastened to arrive at Mount Vernon...In a spacious back-yard are turkies, geese, and other poultry."
Private Yards -Farm Yard & Barn Yard
The term barn yard was used in the British American colonies by the 1760s. In 1766 Pennsylvania, a parcel of land was offered for sale with "a fine run running through the barn yard." In 1771, Pennsylvanian Mordecai Cloud reported that his brown mare was stolen "out of the barnyard of the subscriber, in East Caln township, Chester county." Just a few months later, a black horse was "STOLEN out of the barnyard of the subscriber, living on Bread and Cheese Island, in Mill creek Hundred, New Castle county" Delaware.
Near Savannah, Georgia, in 1774, property was advertised, "choice Tide Land, on which are Two fine high Knolls fit for Buildings and Barn Yard." Near 1778 Philadelphia, a soldier was said to have made his escape, "by getting over a fence in the barn yard."
The term farm yard was seldom used until well after the Revolutionary War. It came into popular use after the 1790s publication of John Spurrier's "Compendious System of Husbandry, adapted to the different soils and climates of America; containing the mechanical, chemical and philosophical elements of agriculture; wherein the different soils and manures are analized, shewing their real properties, with their proper applications to each other, and the atmospherical influences; the best method of constructing and managing the farm-yard." John Beale Bordley's publication of "Sketches on Rotations of Crops, and other Rural Matters" also popularized the term.
In the late 1790s, Isaac Weld reported on a house at Lake Charles, near Quebec, "The dwelling house, a neat boarded little mansion painted white, together with offices, were situated on a small eminence; to the right, at the bottom of the slope, stood the barn, the largest in all Canada, with a farm yard exactly in the English style."
Private Yards -Cow Yard
A 1751 advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette described a plantation in Burlington fronting the Delaware River for 3/4 of a mile with 208 acres containing "a Dairey house, coach house, chaise house, a fine stable, a large barn, barrocks, hovels, a well in the cow yard."
In 1756, the same newspaper noted in New Jersey, "Commodious plantation, well watered and timbered, about four miles from Trenton, on the great road leading to Amwell, containing 236 acres, or thereabouts, of good land, with a good house, and a good cow yard, fenced with stone."
A good cow yard, fenced with stone.
Twenty years later, Pennsylvania Gazette land-for-sale in Newgarden, Chester County, Pennsylvania was described as a plantation of "112 acres...a two story square log house, with a cellar under, a well of good water at the door, a barn, with stabling and cow yard."
An 1800 newspaper noted that behind a house for sale in Savannah, Georgia, was "a garden 34 by 45 feet, a cow yard 20 by 15 feet."
The cow yard, pig yard, or barn yard was not just a pen for livestock, it was a hotbed of fertilizer production for the gardens & grounds of most industrious landowners in the colonies & early America.
Joseph Prentis (1754-1809), a judge of the General Court of Virginia, lived in Williamsburg, and wrote in his Monthly Kalender between 1775-1779. It survives as a manuscript at the University of Virginia. He noted in his Kalender, "Dung your Grounds. Such of the Garden as may be vacant should be well manured in October and also well spaded that it may have the advantage of fallow from the sun, snow, and air of the winter season...In December use every oppy of laying Dung on such parts of the Garden as may want it."
18C English Woodcut of a Dung Barrow
In Annapolis, Maryland, during the 1790s, clockmaker & silversmith William Faris planted most of his kitchen garden near his stables. Faris consistantly carted dung from his own stables to his garden, and he employed neighborhood haulers to bring extra cartloads of "tan" to his garden throughout the growing season into the fall.
Private Yards - Hog Yard
The Pennsylvania Gazette recommended creating a hog yard as a means of increasing manure to be used as fertilizer in March of 1791. "Adjoining the stye where your swine are shut up, which should be dry & warm, fence a yard for them to wallow in; 20 or 30 feet square will be large enough for 6 hogs; cover this in the fall or spring with mud...The hogs... will render this mud or earth, if not more than 2 feet deep, an exceeding rich compost in a year's time.
"They will keep it stirring & fermenting with their dung & urine, which will be incorporated with the mud, and thereby their whole strength will be saved; for the mud or earth will prevent the virtues of the dung & urine from being washed in the ground by the heavy rains, or evaporated by the sun and air --- it not only saves them, but makes them stronger, by keeping them in a state of constant fermentation; the fermentation will be increased, and the whole mass will be improved by making this yard the receptacle for the weeds of your garden --- throw into it your soap-suds, brine, and all the greasy slop of the kitchen; you may add potatoe-tops, which should be carefully saved for the purpose when you gather the potatoes; the stubborn corn stalks, which rot slowly in the cow-yard, will soon consume in the hog-yard."
Some 18C Chesapeake farmers dug fenced "dung pits" near their "cow houses" & pig yards to systematically collect future garden fertilizer.
New Yorker John Nicholson wrote about barnyards in The Farmer's Assistant in 1820, "The practice of having a barnyard on a declivity is a bad one, as in this way very much manure is washed away, without essentially benefiting the adjoining grounds. The yard should be level, and lowest in the middle, in order to prevent the escape of much fertilizing liquor, that will otherwise run off from the dung during heavy rains.
"It should be cleared in the Spring of the dung made during Winter; and if the Milch-cows and other cattle are to be kept in it at night, during Summer, much manure may be made in it by carting in rubbish of various kinds...to mix with the dung of the cattle and absorb their stale.
"The yard should also have a high close fence round it, as well for securing the cattle as for breaking off the winds; and, in order to make the most of the dung, the cattle should be kept constantly in the yard during the season of foddering, and have a well close adjoining to supply them with water."
Commercial Work Yards
Work Yards -Tan Yard
One edition of the 1732 South Carolina Gazette noted a "tanyard" for sale in Dorcester. In 1733, a tan yard in Delaware appeared for sale in the Pennsylvania Gazette, "Sold or Let, A Dwelling House, Tan House and Tan Yard, in the Town of New Castle."
The South Carolina Gazette offered for sale in 1737, "a fine Tan yard." In 1748, the same newspaper offered an estate for sale consisting of, "Field Slaves, House Wenches, several good, shoe-makers and Tanners, with a Tan-yard, a parcel of Bark, Oyl, and a large Quantity of Hides."
Another ad in the South-Carolina Gazette on June 10, 1751, offered, "One tract of land, about 30 acres, in St. Andrew's-town at Ashley-Ferry, with a good dwelling-house, out-houses and garden, hath been a tan yard, and stands very convenient for that and a shoemaker."
Work Yards -Timber and Wood Yards
The term timber yard usually referred to a commercial enterprise selling wood, while wood yard usually was a place for gathering and holding wood at a private dwelling.
In 1736, the South Carolina Gazette advertised a commercial Charleston ">Timber-Yard...where any Person may be supplied with all sorts of Boards, Scantling, Laths, Cedar Posts for Gardens, and Frames for Houses."
An edition of the 1740 South Carolina Gazette also advertised a private wood yard, "A House joining the Crown-Inn, with 6 Rooms, a Kitchen, Store Room, Garden and Wood Yard."
The 1761 Maryland Gazette in Baltimore, Maryland, advertised, "To be sold...a good Dwelling-House 80 Feet in Length...Garden...Wood-Yard, Etc."
Some business ventures required wood for fuel. The Pennsylvania Gazette noted in 1768, "a DWELLING HOUSE and BAKEHOUSE, very convenient for Loaf Bread or Sea Biscuit; with a large Wood yard, Stable and Garden, and a Pump at the Door."
Work Yards -Brick Yard
Near Charleston, South Carolina, a brick yard was advertised for sale in 1748, "at the landing a good brick-yard... and a good Brick Cafe for burning them, about 45 Feet in Length near 20 in Breadth, and 9 in Height, with 12 Arches, and a Division in the Middle, a large Quantity of Wood near at Hand... a Number of Slaves, among whom are... Brick Moulders."
Individually Stamped Bricks from a Brick Yard.
The 1764 Pennsylvania Gazette advertised for, "Able bodied Negroe Men and Boys, to work at a Brick yard."
In 1786 Alexandria, Virginia a newspaper noted a commercial, "Brick-Yard about a mile from the Court House; it has a case or wall built for burning bricks."
In the 18C, bleaching clothing was done as it had been for centuries. Shakespeare’s jokester, Autolycus, in The Winter’s Tale loves to see a “white shirt bleaching on the hedge.” In his 1745 Directions to Servants, Jonathan Swift suggests that “the place for hanging” laundry “is on young Fruit Trees, especially in Blossom; the Linnen cannot be torn, and the Trees give them a fine Smell.”
Pieter Gysels (1621-1691) A town with figures working in bleaching fields in the foreground
To bleach household & personal linen was spread on the grass, hedges, bushes, or on poles; soaked with buckets of lye at intervals; and eventually rinsed & dried. The lye was obtained by placing wood ashes in a barrel & pouring water over the ashes, until a brownish liquid oozed out the bottom of the barrel.
There were variations, such as using plain water & no lye. The bleaching process could last 3 days or longer, depending on available sunlight; and it took up valuable space. Bleach yards were sometimes called bleaching greens. Sometimes high-quality linen that was dried on grass yards was called lawn.
David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690) The Bleaching Ground
Because both bleaching & drying were outdoor activities, it was good to have an enlosed, grassy yard for these chores. As one 19th century housewife noted one needed a, "grassy corner well open to the sun,...sheltered from high winds...the attentions of wandering poultry... and the incursions of pigs, puppies and calves...they not only soil the clothes, but will tear and even eat them"
A Philadelphia newspaper in 1740, noted a public yard set aside for bleaching as a business enterprise, "Customers of James Rogers' bleach-yard are requested to leave cloth at the Three Tuns Tavern in Philadelphia."
In the spring of 1772, the Philadelphia "Managers of the House of Employment... prepared a piece of ground...suitable for a bleach yard, and provided utensils necessary for the bleaching and finishing of linen in a compleat manner."
The Pennsylvania Gazette advertised for sale in April of 1774. "18 acres... about 2 miles and an half from the Courthouse ...adjoining lands of Robert Morris, Joseph Shippen ...there has been a bleach yard on the lot, some of the bleaching utensils still remain, which will be sold at the same time."
By July of 1774, Philadelphia had a new enterpise, "A CALICOE PRINTING MANUFACTORY, and BLEACH YARD , is just opened...JOHN HEWSON...begs leave to inform the public... Linen sent for bleaching, from one yard to a thousand, shall be punctually returned in three weeks, compleatly finished, at 4d. per yard."
Linens Fresh From the Bleach Yard.
John Hewson (1744-1821), the first well-documented textile printer in America, arrived from London in September 1773 at the invitation of Benjamin Franklin. Trained to produce the highest quality block-printed textiles at Bromley Hall in London, Hewson set up his "Calicoe Printing Manufactory" in Philadelphia.
The Pennsylvania Packet advertised a piece of land to be sold in the summer of 1778 in Germantown near Philadelphia, "containing 24 acres, whereon is a compleat bleach yard , wash mill, and other conveniencies for carrying on the bleaching business."
Apparently, the bleach business, which seemed to be flourishing in Philadelphia, had dwindled by 1788, when the report of The American Cotton Manufactory to the Board of Managers of the Pennsylvania Society for promoting Manufactures and the Useful Arts noted, "it may be observed...the want of proper bleach yards, and the difficulty of procuring persons well skilled in bleaching."
Sweeping the Yards in Rural South Carolina.
In the South, yards were often kept swept clean of any debris. Martha Ogle Forman wrote from Cecil County, Maryland in 1818, "preparing for company: made cake, and had all the yards swept."
Eventually the term yard evolved throughout the 18C into the description of a cultivated area enclosed or attached to a dwelling that might contain flowers, orchard or shade trees, or a lawn intended to be used as a pleasure ground and exercise area. Other 19C yards remained entirely utilitarian.
Entrance Facade of Montpelier. Baroness Hyde Neuville( 1750-1849).
Archaeological studies at Montpelier, the home of President James & Dolly Madison in Virginia, reveal details of the yards associated with the slaves, who lived near the main house in an area known as the South Yard. The yard between the garden & the mansion in the early 19th century included 3 duplex slave quarters & 2 smokehouses. Here slaves would prepare the Madison family's meals, do the laundry, and provide for their own sustenance.
The slaves swept Montpelier's South Yard free of trash & debris. The quarters were in direct view of the rear lawn of the mansion, so that the Madison's could supervise the slave activities. Excavations show that the slave quarters backed up against a paling fence that likely contained a kitchen garden or barn yard for the stable. The South Yard was shielded from the view of guests approaching Montpelier along the carriage road by a row of trees & shrubs directing the visitor's line of sight to the mansion & away from the utilitarian outbuildings.
North Carolinian William Martin visiting Richmond, Virginia in 1813, wrote, "every private yard is decorated with the handsomest shade trees which our Country boasts." We have children and grandchildren living in Richmond today. And Richmond's yards still have the handsomest of shade trees, a beautiful town.