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Well, the second cabin is just about complete.  The chimney is up, it’s all chinked, the stairs are even built inside.  It won’t have any plumbing or electricity – it will be just like it would have been 150 years ago.  A historical artifact, and nothing more.

Log Cabin

Log Cabin

Highland Timberframe, who rebuilt this cabin, are very talented fellers who pay very close attention to detail.  The pegs to keep together the porch posts were all hand-carved:

Pegs

Pegs

The stairs presented a problem.  Originally they were in the middle of the house, but had been moved to an end-wall by the time of taking the cabin down. We decided to put the stairs where they originally were, but it was so steep, we couldn’t quite figure out how they did it.  The original builders may have not done it this way, but Jim and I had both seen this old-timey stair configuration for steep stairs, and thought they just might have.  It’s really a very clever and non-intuitive approach to solving the problem of steep stairs, allowing much better “clearance” for each foot-fall.  You can see it’s as steep as the modern step-ladder behind it, but in a lot of ways has much better ergonomics.

Cabin Stairs

Cabin Stairs

Trish and I still aren’t quite sure what we’ll exactly do with the cabin.  Probably put some rockers on the porch and come up and sit sometimes – it’s a beautiful site.  Maybe plant some fruit trees.  There are some yucca plants here that surely date back to the original homeplace, but the Moore’s would have also likely planted iris, daylilly, grape hyacinth, forsythia, and quince – all plants very easily transplanted and propogated from neighbors.  Those plants are almost always indicative of an old mountain house site.  So we’ll probably plant some of those, as we have some old-timey varieties transplanted from old mountain house sites many decades ago now.

How many stories does this old homesite tell? Sometime almost exactly 150 years ago, Noah Moore’s wife was reportedly standing right next to her cabin where this one now sits, holding her infant baby in her arms when she was struck by lightning and was killed.  The baby survived.  But this cabin sat for a hundred years – no telling the other stories….

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It’s such a shame the history we are losing around here.  A great many of the structures in Floyd a hundred years ago were log construction – hand-hewn, and hand-dovetailed.  The amazing thing is that there are still quite a number of them standing.  The sad thing is as we travel the roads around here, we see them everywhere falling downdue to lack of care for the roofs and foundations.  Twenty, thirty years from now, they’ll be mostly gone.

I had vague plans of restoring an old log cabin at the original homesite of Noah Moore, who owned the farm just prior to and during the Civil War.  But I had planned on doing it a few years from now, well after the house had been built.

Then an old buddy, Jim Calahan, owner of Highland TimberFrame, mentioned to me that he had an old cabin he had taken down nearby and was willing to sell it if he and his company could be the ones to put it back up.  The old foundation of Noah’s cabin was still visible, and the dimensions of Jim’s cabin matched up almost exactly.  Sounded like now was the time to do it.

So Jim and I decided to rebuild this one, and do it right so that it should still be standing 100 years from now.

We cleared the site, and dug footers for the foundation.  The original cabin was just set on corner stones (just how we did the reconstruction of the first cabin), but it was apparent that Noah Moore’s house was on a stone foundation, so we elected to go that route.  Jim took the stones from the chimney of the original cabin, and found almost identical matching stones at a local stoneyard.  As with most of the rest of the building projects at CRF, all the other wood needed was cut and milled on the property from dead, diseased and dying trees.

As of this writing, the cabin is mostly up.  The roof still needs to go on, as well as the porch.  We need to do the chinking, put in the windows and doors, and erect the chimney.  More updates as things progress.

Log Cabin Restoration

Log Cabin Restoration


My buddies finished moving and erecting the first log cabin this week.

The cribs were in pretty bad shape – some logs were completely rotted from water invasion and some had been attacked pretty severely by termites.  We were only able  to re-use about 2/3rds of the logs, and they weren’t quite enough to build a structure.  Below, Jim Callahan and Jack Taylor of Highland Timberframe, and Al Anderson of Timberframes of Interest sort through and inventory the damaged logs looking for the good ones.

Sorting Logs

Sorting Logs

We sawed new white oak sill logs, and poplar top plates from logs that had been cut last fall in the big woods.  That gave us enough to build an equipment shed.

The fellers dug a footer all around and filled it with gravel, then placed some BIG flat, relatively square rocks at each corner to support the structure the old timey way.  The sill logs were sawn on only two sides and hand-notched to match the original logs.

New sill/foundation rock

New sill/foundation rock

Traditional joinery is used – the cut logs in the doors and windows are even supported using locust pegs.

Pegged Joinery

Pegged Joinery

100% of the additional lumber for the rest of the building was harvested on the property of dead, diseased and dying trees, using horse-logging, and sawn on the property.

The end result is a log structure that will preserve the original work and materials that could be saved, and creates an environment for their preservation, using only a few modern methods.  The roofing is the one thing that isn’t at all historically accurate, but hey – it matches the roof of the other equipment shed at the other end of the field.  And we weren’t about to split a bunch of oak shakes or something.  It’s just an equipment shed 😉

Log Equipment Shed

Log Equipment Shed

In a couple of years, when the new wood is weathered, it might just look like it was always here.

Log Equipment Shed

Log Equipment Shed


About 10 years ago I bought 15 acres of land in the local big city of Christiansburg that was advertised with a restorable log cabin, and auctioned by a friend of mine.  Local elder folks, as they always will, said it was one of the oldest cabins in the area.  Could be true, but my best guess is that it is only about 100 years old based on land records.  It was initially built as what is called a “dog-trot”, two individual cabins, or “cribs” of about 14’x14′ each, separated by a breezeway of about 6′.  Each crib was 1 1/2 stories tall, with the sleeping lofts up above, and the whole thing would have been covered by one continuous roof.  Sometime later, my guess is in the 1930’s or 1940’s, the breezeway was enclosed, with a front door added, the second floor was raised to full height, and stairs were added in the old breezeway.  At some point, a front addition was built to create a kitchen and bathroom (or likely the porch enclosed), and then another to create an entrance utility room (or likely the new porch enclosed).  That’s how it was done in those days.  There were limited mortgages – you just built as you had money.  The same is true in Nevis where we live in the winter.  When the locals have money they buy cinderblock, when they have time, they lay cinderblock.  Come to think of it, that’s how I built my current house in Floyd.  But I digress.  Back to the log cabin.

On first inspection, the logs seem to be mostly oak, with a little poplar.  The outside corners of the logs are flush, which would seem to be so to accommodate siding, as was often the case at the time of construction of higher end log homes.  But the present hardboard siding and the original construction of the cabin seem to indicate that the siding was a  later addition or probable replacement.

About 10 years ago, my current general contractor, Sticks and Stones Construction, gutted it so I could better see.  Due to the poorly done front addition, water had been leaking down the front logs for who knows how many years, and the logs were soaked through and through.  It obviously wasn’t restorable in its current state.  I let it sit while I decided what to do with it.  In the meantime, vandals have been entering, and almost burned it down over the past winter.  Time to do something.

Enter a good old buddy, Al Anderson.  Al and I built swimming pools together for the same company in our youth, although we don’t remember each other.  We hooked up again about 30 years ago, and although we only see each other a few times a year, we’ve remained good friends.  Al restarted the timber-frame industry here about 25 years ago, founding BlueRidge Timberworks (with Steve Arthur now  a partner in StreamLine, our architects and timberframe company), from which all timberframe companies around here must claim heritage.  Al has been on the Board of the the Timberframers Guild for the past five years.  But his company, TimberWorks of Interest, has turned its attention to log cabins and barn restorations lately, and he wanted to see what he could do to save this one.

He and I agreed it won’t be able to be restored as is – it’s been too cut up, rotted, and adulterated.  But my idea, and Al agreed, was to “repurpose” it to be another equipment shed at CRF.  Adaptive reuse is what I think it’s called in the urban planning biz.  Take it apart, and put it back together with the good logs and see what we end up with is about the ugly truth.  But we’ll do it with as much sensitivity to what remains as we can to preserve what’s there.  And all the rafters, purlins, and other side lumber will be cut on the farm using techniques not that far different than what was originally used.  It’s the best we could do to preserve it given the circumstances.

With the help of another good old buddy Jim Callahan and his company, Highland TimberFrame (more on them later), they tore into it this week to disassemble it.

Christiansburg Cabin

Christiansburg Cabin

The good news is everything has come apart very easily.  The bad news is it’s in worse shape than we thought.