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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Construction Of The Log Cabin

Dallas Bogan on 29 September 2004
Original article by Dallas Bogan
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The log cabin was not the simple construction it appeared to be. The three general categories of this early marvel were: the single round, rough or undressed log cabin; the single dressed or squared log house with mortised end corners; and the double log house, dressed or undressed, with a hallway; all enclosed under one roof with a huge chimney at either end.
Raising of a crude log cabin by the settlers was basically a community affair. Tools of no special features were needed, just an axe, a saw, an auger, and the hammer taken from the doubletree of the pioneer's wagon. This usually consisted of all the mechanical tools with which the unrefined architect was to construct his home.
This structure would probably, for the following fifteen or twenty years, be the home for his family. Here the newborn children would be reared and set out into the world.
The pioneer took construction of the log cabin very seriously. He would probably find himself housed in some shanty, or in the interior of his covered wagon for a period of a few days or weeks, until his new structure was finished.
Sometimes the pioneer began in a more humble state. With an axe he proceeded to fell enough saplings to build a rude hut, roughly seven feet by four, and five feet high. It was left open in front, reserved for a fireplace. A frying pan and a jack-knife would complete the fixtures. Coals lingered the whole day.
A piece of pork would be put into the pan and fried and, with a piece of bread borrowed from a farmer of the vicinity, the woodchopper prepared his hearty meal.
Having selected his permanent spot, he would immediately select from the tall, straight young trees of the forest the ones to be felled, and would measure, cut and haul them to the place of the building.
Whiskey at this time was only about twenty-five cents per gallon, and open notice was given to as many neighbors as could be reached, confirming the day selected for the "raising."
With the forces all gathered, a captain was appointed and the men were divided into sections, each individually assigned to their specific duties. The four men that showed the greater skill with the axe were generally assigned to each corner and were called "corner men." Their duty was to "notch" and "saddle" the timber ends into patterns such as a dovetail or a steeple notch, maintain the plumb, and "carry up" their respective corners.
Another group, called the "end men," who with great physical agility, and the aid of pikes (a spike or point, as the tip of a spear), pried the logs up onto skids and delivered them to the corner men.
With flawless unity the building rises with great speed and accuracy. The bearers adjusted the roof logs and the broad clapboards were laid with extraordinary skill. "Weight- poles" were placed upon the roof area, and, quite uniquely, the outer shell of the cabin is completed.
Following up on the shell comes the interior task. The puncheon floor was made of heavy planks split from the timber and dressed on one side with an axe.
Next comes the big log fireplace; the beaten clay hearth; the stick and clay chimney; (Most chimneys in early times were built to be physically pulled away from the building in case of fire.) the "chinking" and "daubing"; the paper windows, and the door with its wooden latch and hinges.
The cabin windows were made by sawing out about three feet of one of the logs and fastening in a few upright pieces. For lights they put in paper and greased it with bear's-oil or hog-fat, pasting it onto the upright pieces. There was then only very little glass made in the country, the lone place in the West being Pittsburgh. The high cost of transportation, and the lack of money generally disallowed the purchase of this transparent material.
Cutting out a sufficient space in the logs made a doorway - if a saw was available - otherwise laying short logs on each side until an adequate height had been reached made it.
The door was made of splits or clapboards, fastened to wooden cleats by wooden pins. The hinges were also of wood and fastened to the door in a similar manner. A wooden latch was then arranged on the inside of the door to be lifted from the outside by a leather string drawn through the door. When the string was drawn inside, the door was firmly secured. From this manner of fastening the door arose the old saying; "The latchstring is always out," signifying a welcome to strangers.
These log structures could take up to three days to complete. With completion of the building and the gaiety and frolic ended, a good supper finalizes the day's work.
The primitive log cabin might, at a period of time, be subject to many changes and advances. The tastes of the family lent its ambition, or possibly as the family prospered, it was changed and upgraded to a more adequate type dwelling.

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This page created 29 September 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
© 2004 Arne H Trelvik  All rights reserved