American Log Houses, Considered
If you listen to your imagination, you will hear biting axe-strikes echoing through the woods. This the collective consciousness of a nation carved from wilderness. True, for thousands of years the native peoples burned the woods from the mid-Atlantic to the Rockies, creating the savannahs and the Great Plains, as first recorded in drawings and written records. Even so, there was wood sufficient to build log houses for a growing population.
These forest friendly houses, log houses, were brought to us by the Swedes and Finns, people of northern forests, and their house style was soon emulated by Germans, Scots, Brits, and the Irish. The building technique was simple, though strenuous, requiring but the axe and froe, and muscle, will or desperation. A man might build for his family a one-room log house in a week. Several men could build a log house in just a few days.
Both settler and pioneer built sturdy log houses in advance of our extending nation. Young Abe Lincoln lived in several pioneer cabins, each in westward extension, Kentucky to Indiana to Illinois. Perhaps you can see his cabins in your mind’s eye. A low-pitched roof of a low-pitched ceiling, a wide porch, a door and two windows, a stone-end fireplace, a ladder to the sleeping loft, and the whole elevated upon stacked stone, the forest growing close around, and a field made fertile for farm.
Cabins then are much like cabins now, if cabins then were made for millionaires by cabin-building companies that employ rich materials and skilled architects. No, the cabins of our nation’s founding are different from our cabins of Empire, the great wood houses of towering windows, of proud mounted game more often purchased than prized, of kitchens suited to commercial restaurants, private bedrooms and fancy baths with multi-headed showers, and pictures and statues and stuff beyond the means, beyond the imagination of our pioneer families.
The American log house has a great tradition, a tradition of rugged individualism, grit and survival, a tradition worthy of preserving, a history worthy of consideration. In this month’s The Beautiful Home, we will visit log houses Atlantic to Pacific, Florida to Alaska, to Hawaii. Yes, our log houses can be found where we are found, edited or amended by local conditions, regional variations, and personal taste.
Then too, there is the visual and the literary tradition of the log house found in storybooks, in sentimental pictures, in novels both political and entertaining; Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Little House on the Prairie come first to mind. Just now, many of you reading this brief essay will have stepped to your computer over little Lincoln Logs, talisman of our innocence, named for our most Godly president, Abraham Lincoln, simple, honest toys employed to exercise minds in geometry, construction, community, and family.
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This month at The Beautiful Home a consideration of log houses, their history and significance, a continuing American tradition.
Featured image: Log House, Sandusky County Fairgrounds, built in Freemont, Ohio, 1854-1861. credit: M. Curtis.
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