Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Log cabin therapy

The pioneer cabin on the Lucas County Historical Society Museum campus, which dates probably from the 1850s or early 1860s, was discovered within a farm outbuilding in the northwest part of the county, disassembled, moved into town and reassembled several years ago.

I'd have taken a few more photos Monday morning, but the temperature was zero at the time.

One of these days, I'll get around to telling the cabin's story, but not until spring. Right now, it's stuffed to the rafters with the contents of Puckerbrush School, evacuated last summer so we could lift the floor and repair its 1870s support system. 

The goal is to finish the Puckerbrush project as soon as it's warmer, then have it back in operation --- and the cabin back to its usual self --- by late May. Then I'll take some interior photos, too.

In the meantime, you can count the growth rings on one of the hewn logs --- if you've got a little time on your hands.


Vintage log buildings don't get much respect in Iowa. They're curiosities, tucked away on museum campuses here and there, but preservationists don't seem too interested in Iowa's earliest pioneer homes; perhaps because they tend to be very plain and lacking in architectural detail. Plus, a majority of the survivors are embedded in what appear to be newer buildings, dressed inside with lathe and plaster, clapboarded outside.

One young man who is trying to change that is Paul Cutting, who lives way up north near the Minnesota border in Winneshiek County, near Decorah. He's been at it since 2007 when, still a student at the University of Iowa, he rescued an old log house slated for demolition in his home county by disassembling it, then rebuilding it on his home farm.

In the years since, he has disassembled 10 log houses, rebuilt four, six still in storage on the family farm waiting. He also has recorded and documented approximately 160 log houses within a 40-mile radius of Decorah and found a total of about 250 in the general area.

That beautiful part of Iowa is especially rich in log buildings in part perhaps because many of its early settlers were Norwegian. Lucas Countyans built plenty of log cabins, then cast them aside as soon as they could and rebuilt in milled lumber. More provident Norwegians tended to recycle their cabins or log houses into larger homes, making them almost invisible in the process --- unless you know what to look for, and Cutting does.

I've been enjoying a little log cabin therapy this week, getting better acquainted (virtually) with Cutting and his work --- and learning a lot about log buildings in the process. You might, too, and there are several approaches.

Cutting's blog, Trout River Log House, is located here. Be sure to check out "About" and his "Portfolio," linked from the blog but at another site.

There's also a link on the blog to Trout River Log Cabin, the first cabin rescue, rebuilt on the family farm and now available as a holiday or special events rental. I believe Cutting, his partner and a dog all lived in this tiny house for a time. Trout River Log Cabin also has a Facebook page with lots of great photographs.

I ran across Cutting first via the video I've embedded below, from the Fair Companies site. I'm a big fan of Fair Company videos --- focused on small-scale sustainable dwellings, and came across this one as a YouTube subscriber. It's a half hour long, but really interesting.

While you're about it, take a virtual look around more of Winneshiek County (and Decorah). It's a really cool place (although cold is the best descriptor now, in January), home of Luther College. I'm a big fan of Vesterheim, the Norwegian-American Museum. It's the sort of place that makes a guy want to be a real Norwegian, rather than one who absorbed the nationality by osmosis after living among them for so long. It's also the home of Seed Savers Exchange.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've always been fascinated by the idea that one might learn something of the builder's origins by which style of corners they cut.

I haven't done any research to find regional patterns, though, and was discouraged by finding two different styles in adjacent buildings at a historic site in Tennessee.

Bill H.