Historic Log Cabins of America
Serving as a springboard for the imaginations of both young and old, log cabins are also the setting for several key moments in American history. Log cabins were scattered throughout various sites of significance during both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. William Henry Harrison adopted the log cabin as his campaign symbol during his presidential run in 1840–presumably to appeal to the down-home, sentimental side of American voters. Or perhaps you’ve heard of a fellow named Abe Lincoln, who was born and raised in a log cabin fifty miles south of Louisville, Kentucky.
Debates have raged for centuries over which cultural group was the first to stack felled logs into reasonable shelters on American soil–Cherokee, Swedes, Germans?–but the architectural impact of log cabins, to this day, goes undisputed. Oddly, many of these homes were never intended to be permanent.
Unaltered buildings from the colonial period are extremely rare. Most of the “still-standing” log cabins hitting the two century mark have been disassembled, relocated or subject to ample renovations. Many of the East coast structures have been covered by stucco or siding, which really only affects the rustic aesthetic–they’re still “log cabins”. Let’s take a look at some of the time-worn gems…
C.A. Nothnagle House
The oldest standing log cabin the United States, some say possibly the longest surviving wooden structure in the Western Hemisphere, is the C.A. Nothnagle Log House in Gibbstown, New Jersey. Built sometime between 1638-1643, the house is constructed of hewn logs, dovetail joints and wooden pegs. The fireplace bricks are thought to have been hauled overseas as ship ballast on the same boat that brought the builder, who is unfortunately unknown but thought to be of Scandinavian lineage.
To think this house could be celebrating its 375th birthday blows my mind. Privately owned by a local couple, the C.A. Nothnagle house is available for touring, by appointment.
A block and a half away from the Baltimore Street battle site in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, stands a log cabin once inhabited by Thaddeus Stevens. While the structure was built in 1790, the soon-to-be powerful Congressman moved to Gettysburg, in 1816, to open a law practice and purchased this property (making him the most famous of this cabin’s occupiers). It’s debated if, or how long, he actually lived in the cabin during his 26 years in Gettysburg, or whether it was just one of his many investment properties. Referred to by peers as the ‘dictator’ of the House of Representatives, Stevens fought for emancipation, authored the Fourteenth Amendment and spearheaded the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. It went on the market in 2012 and was snapped up almost immediately.
The Mortenson-Schorn (sometimes VanLeer) Log Cabin in Swedesboro, New Jersey, was originally built along the north bank of the Raccoon River by Morton Mortenson, a Swedish-Finnish man who emigrated to the New World around 1654. His grandson, John Morton, would go on to sign of the Declaration of Independence as a Pennsylvania delegate. This house, constructed of cedar logs and lime mortar caulk, was also rumored to have been a station stop of the Underground Railroad. It has been relocated to a cemetery on the Trinity Episcopal Church property.
David Bryce is a freelance blogger who spends his spare time creating self-guided historical tours, whipping up Italian-style feasts and hitting the links at the slightly less historical Branson Cabins. His favorite log structure might be the enormous Old Faithful Inn, located in Yellowstone Park.