As Appalachia was settled primarily by the Scots and Irish, it is easy to think that they brought log cabin building expertise with them, but that would be incorrect.
There was a long tradition of using logs for houses, barns and other outbuildings… in Finland, Sweden and Germany. When these immigrants began to arrive in the colonies, they brought their knowledge of wood construction with them. The Scots, British and Irish had no long-standing tradition of building with logs, but to their credit they quickly adopted the technique.
Luckily for the early pioneers, log cabins didn’t need nails or spikes, just an axe…and it was also movable! Just disassemble and load onto a cart…the first mobile home…as it were.
Log cabins were also “relatively”, and we use that word in quotes, easy to build. It was possible for a man working alone to build a small one room cabin 6-to-8 logs high in one or two weeks. Once the walls were finished, the pioneers would chink or daub the cracks between the logs with mud or clay.
The concept of passive solar energy was not lost on these folks, as the doors often faced south so that the sun could shine directly into the cabin.
If windows were cut into the walls, animal skins or boards fixed to slide across the openings were used. Some builders used paper greased with animal fat, which made it both translucent and water resistant.
Most floors were simply beaten down earth, although some cabins had logs split lengthwise with the flat sides up for the first hardwood flooring.
As the 1800s came to a close, it seemed that log cabins would disappear along with the notion of the frontier, but rustic summer retreats began to be built back East in the Adirondacks.
Later on the National Park Service kept the tradition alive by using the log cabin architectural theme for many of its buildings. Also during the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps built thousands of log structures.
For a long time being born in a log cabin was almost a prerequisite for becoming president as seven presidents, including Abe Lincoln, were born in those humble abodes.
Whether they were born in a log cabin or not, politicians often used the down home imagery of the log cabin because people connected it with virtue and humility. The log cabin represented self-sufficient, hard-working pioneer families. It was believed that a youth spent in a log cabin produced clarity of thought and independence.
From those humble beginnings, log-home construction is a big business these days, with multitudes of options and prices sometimes surpassing half a million dollars. Well, it’s time to close the door on this podcast and get on out of here…before we get…cabin fever.
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