Examining the type of nails used in frame construction is one of the most reliable methods of dating such a building. Wrought iron nails were the only ones available up to around 1795, when square cut nails with hammered heads became more common. They were used until the 1830’s, and followed by stamped-head square nails. This type remained until round nails became common towards the end of the nineteenth century. The Harvey house was constructed with stamped-head square nails of varying sizes.
Following the common Southern I-house plan, there are two main rooms on the ground floor, each about seventeen feet by eighteen feet, separated by a central hall with stair approximately ten feet in width, and the same plan on the second level. An original ell contains two rooms, probably a kitchen and food preparation area, bordered by a long, open porch on the west side. Evidence from beneath the roof of the ell indicates there was a kitchen fire at some point and the chimney on the south wall may have been removed at this time.
The north chimney is visible atop the roofline of the ell, but does not extend to the ground. Rather, the top portion rests upon a large board above the ceiling. Central passage houses often had a wing, or ell, built perpendicularly to the main house giving the entire plan the appearance of an L or T in shape. These wings often contained kitchens and other service rooms. Scholars continue to investigate the significance of these ells, but it appears they were built in an effort to accommodate the presence of slaves as they served the household. The ell allowed the home owner to observe the coming and going of servants even as he maintained a segregation and hierarchy of space. Although these theories of the central passage and ell might apply to some regions of the South, scholars have yet to systematically study this house type in Tennessee.
The breezeway and rear porch have been closed-in and attached to the house. Wide galleries cross the entire length of the front façade on both levels, with square columns and rails at eight-foot intervals. Facing south, the house is designed to catch prevailing southerly breezes and to encourage airflow between rooms. Ceiling height is around ten feet throughout.
For early houses in Tennessee, three house plans were common: the central passage plan, the hall-parlor plan, and the Penn-plan. The central passage plan, also called an I-house by cultural geographers, is a house with two rooms on either side of a passage, usually built to two stories. When the central passage house is two rooms deep, it is often called a Georgian plan. Although they are similar, scholars believe that the I-house and the Georgian-plan house developed for very different reasons that reflect social attitudes. Moreover, a great deal of experimentation in house forms occurred around 1800 to produce a large variety of house types. The result of this experimentation was a decided preference for a two-story, two-room house divided by a central passage.
Four fireplaces, each with simple, but elegant mantels are recessed within the outside walls of the house. The resulting chimney nooks have been enclosed to form presses or closets in both upstairs bedrooms and on one side in the east downstairs room. The house retains its original floors, moldings, interior doors, and windows, although invariably some glass has been replaced. Two of the original ground-floor windows extend from ceiling to floor. While not true jib windows, they likely served much the same purpose.