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batten / lath

batten. n. A piece of board, or scantling, of a few inches in breadth, used for various purposes. v.t. To form or fasten with battens. — Webster, 1882

lath. A thin, narrow board, or slip of wood. — Webster, 1882

Not too many years ago the plank and batten siding of the Loftus Store was covered with drop siding. – De Smet News, September 1966

Batton and lath are similar in that they are both long, narrow strips of wood, but in the Little House books, they are used for two different purposes in building construction. Tar paper was used as a temporary exterior covering of shanties and other frame buildings or to provide insulation and a wind and moisture barrier between exterior siding and interior walls. Since the edges of tar paper could catch in the wind and be stripped off in pieces, it was held down by nailing strips of lath on top of the tar paper, placed vertically and usually about a foot apart. The lath was often applied rather haphazardly, as it was meant to serve a function and was not necessarily there for its looks.

An alternative to lap siding was board-and-batten, or long, wide boards nailed vertically to cover the exterior of a building from eaves to foundation, with no space left between the boards, which were usually of uniform width. The vertical cracks between boards were covered with separate narrow pieces of wood called battens, which kept insects, wind, and water out of the cracks, and thus insulated the interior and helped control warping. Still, raw lumber might shrink over time so that battens didn’t cover all the cracks. Lath could have been used as battens, or slightly thicker lumber with a rounded edge might have been used. Both lap siding and board-and-batten might have tar paper beneath them.

The replica “Ma’s shanty” on the Ingalls Homestead in De Smet has a board and batten exterior, shown above. The Surveyors’ House in town currently has exterior siding, but it originally had board and batten, as mentioned in By the Shores of Silver Lake (see Chapter 14, “The Surveyors’ House): It stood up in front of [Laura] suddenly. It was a big house, a real house with two stories, and glass windows. Its up-and-down boards were weathering from yellow to gray, and every crack was battened, as Pa had said. The door had a china knob. It opened into the lean-to over the back door. When you tour the Surveyors’ House, be sure to notice the bit of original board and batten exterior exposed for viewing in the lean-to addition as you exit; is it gray or yellow? Are the battens plain or fancy? How wide are the boards? How wide is the current siding?

Carrie Ingalls had a preemption claim in Haakon County, South Dakota, in the early 1900s, and a portion of her shanty is shown below. Notice the dark tar paper and lath on the exterior. It is not known if Carrie ever covered the tar paper and lath!


batten (SSL 14; TLW 1, 3, 31; THGY 1, 2, 13)
lath (SSL 29; LTP 7; PG), see also tar paper