Log Cabin History - Last Two Hundred Years

The definition of Cabin is: “a small house or cottage, usually of simple design and construction”

The first dwellings of these colonists were just that as they had little time to put together a complex home and only
the local materials available to them. A couple of good axemen could put up an eight by eight by eight log cabin/shelter in just two days so the appeal of this type of building to a family homesteading was very great.

The ‘Log House’ was quite a bit different in relation to the log cabin. It denotes a building that was made of large well-hewn logs, corners properly fashioned and chinked with insulation of some sort plus plastered with clay. Windows were made of glass and it had a proper chimney and usually had more than one door, hardly a cabin.

Log cabins were in many case temporary shelters until a better structure could be built. Sometimes it was converted to a barn or shed. Their use was by necessity very utilitarian.

Each part of a log cabin has gone through many changes through out the 200 years they have been around in North America. Floors started off dirt and were swept daily. A wooden floor would have required straight grain easily split wood such as pine. These slabs would have been split off by a wedge and then further dressed with a broad axe. Much later sawmills produced the first dimensioned lumber and its’ use for flooring would have been eagerly sought after.

Roofs started as layers of boughs and then progressed to ‘scooped roofs’. This was were the front of the log cabin was higher than the back and logs were hollowed out and laid down like roof tiles from front to back. Later non-tapered cedar shakes were used. Modern tapered shakes, interlocking shingles and roofing paper were a relatively recent addition.

In many of the original log cabins the fireplace was the only source for cooking and heating plus most were poorly designed and thus vast amounts of heat escaped out the chimney making the gathering of firewood a constant challenge. Most of these chimneys were made of small logs and clay. Brick and stone chimneys were mainly in log houses. When cast iron stoves were mass produced and available this radically changed heating a log cabin. Tending the all night fire became less important and now bigger homes could be built, as heat distribution was easier. Many bigger log homes had two iron stoves as the requirement for a complicated chimney had disappeared.

The demise of the log cabin had more to do with styles than mass production of building material etc. Their popularity declined in the depression and war years as they were looked upon as lower class, tied to poverty or inadequate.

Back to Start of Log Cabin History


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