Two of the most interesting architectural features in the original adobe structure are up high and often commented upon by visitors. The first is the transom opening above the south wall door in the adobe kitchen leading to the formal parlor/sitting room and the second is the cloth or manta ceiling throughout the structure.
Transom openings are named after the crossbar or structural beam, the transom, that separates the framing of the door from the framing of the opening. They have been used since the 14th century and were originally placed above exterior doors to increase ventilation in homes. By using hinges, the transom could be opened or closed independently of the door providing air circulation and light without opening the door. The usefulness of the transom concept in interior doors increased their popularity over the centuries. Even today transoms are common although they are typically made of glass and serve a purely aesthetic purpose.
While there is scant definitive historic evidence of the configuration of the original doors and windows in the circa 1872 adobe built for the Sikes family, it is believed the south wall door was fitted with the solid, hinged transom above it during construction. Archeological studies performed prior to the first restoration of the building in the early 2000’s uncovered a rammed earth floor underneath the present sitting room floor indicating that this south side of the adobe may have been used as a ramada front porch or a kitchen making this door the front or entry door to the structure. There was evidence that the original transom was hinged on the top. Including the transom was important to maintain the original architectural detail of the adobe.
Because of the inherent weakness of adobe brick construction, lightweight roofs were typically constructed by layering woven twigs or plant material across the roof rafters. Manta (Manta de Cielo or “Blanket of the Sky”) cloth ceilings were commonly added to provide simple protection from debris and vermin for the adobe occupants. Canvas was often the fabric of choice in the west as it was easily obtained, washable and very durable. Often the manta ceiling would be decorated with colorful designs.
During the original restoration in the early 2000’s, remains of a fabric ceiling were found in the adobe. It appeared to be some sort of canvas material which was attached to the rafters using small round headed nails of 19th century origin. From this evidence, it was surmised that a manta ceiling was installed soon if not immediately after the construction of the adobe and that it followed the underside of the roof rafters then turned to run parallel to the floor. When the second reconstruction was done after the 2007 Witch Creek Fire, the Manta ceiling was reinstalled with 2 functioning air circulation openings which vent directly outside through the roof. The placement of the air vents was based on architectural evidence of the “sky lights” installed in the bead board ceiling during the renovations of the adobe during the Melancton Barnett era of occupation (1910-1918).
On your next visit to the Sikes Historic Farmstead be sure to look up and admire these two interesting architectural features.