The History of the American Log Home

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From a quaint one-room home in the 17th century to a modern, 3-story vacation home, here’s a look at the history of the humble log cabin.

history-of-log-cabins

Image by anoldent via Flickr

The Beginning of Log Cabins in America

The origin of the first log cabins date back to the Bronze Age (3,500 BCE) in northern Europe. When Europeans began settling in America in the 17th century, they also brought their extensive knowledge and skills of wood construction. The Finns and Swedes settled along the banks of the Delaware River (New Sweden) in the 1630’s, and it’s believed that they built some of the first American log cabins. Later immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Scotland, and Britain followed suit and adopted their cabin-building technique.

So what made log cabins a popular home choice for early settlers and pioneers? First, cabins required few tools (the ax and froe) and simple materials (lumber), so resources needed to build one were fairly easy to come by. Secondly, the building process was relatively simple. For a single man, it would take only a week or two to build a one-room cabin. With three men, it could be done in just a couple of days. Trees have to be chopped down, trimmed, and then dragged to the home site. Then, the logs must be notched and put together with the chimney and fireplace. Roof shingles would be cut using the froe. Because of the weight of the logs, a lone man could build a cabin only about 7 or so logs high. But with a team of men, it was possible to build a two-story log home. These log cabins often lasted several generations, making them a reliable shelter for the rich and poor alike.

Styles of Early Log Cabins

A well-made log cabin was carefully constructed from the ground up, lasting for years to come. The corners were notched evenly, the lines were square, the sides were smoothed, and the wood was left unpainted to show the natural color of the lumber. An old fashioned log cabin often included these qualities:

  • A simple floor plan (a one-room home was common)
  • A low ceiling
  • 1 door, and 1 or 2 windows
  • A fireplace/stove
  • A ladder or small stairway to a loft.

Here are some of the different log cabin styles of early settlers:

Dogtrot Cabin

This English cabin was constructed to have two rooms separated by an open hallway. Each room had it’s own end wall and fireplace. A common floor and roof were shared between the two rooms.

Simple Scotch-Irish Cabin

This type of cabin of the Scotch-Irish settlers had a simple and classic floorplan. Usually 16×20 feet, it was rectangular in shape and contained only 1 room and a generous hearth. It had two doors —one in the front and one in the back— directly opposite from each other.

Saddlebag

This type of cabin contained two rooms, each with it’s own hearth and chimney. Sometimes, there was a connecting door between the two rooms along with one or 2 windows in each space. A loft reached by a small set of stairs was used for sleeping or storage.

Modern Log Cabin Styles

Although log cabins were first built during the early American frontier, cabins are still a popular home choice in the modern world. Everything from simplistic, minimalist cabins to extravagant log vacation homes are being built today. Here are some different styles of modern log cabins:

Classic Stacked Log Homes

Like traditional log cabins, a modern stacked log home features main floor walls that consist entirely of horizontally stacked logs. Typically, the logs rest on top of one another from the floor to the beginning of the roof structure.

Timber Frame

A timber frame often features traditional joinery and intricate knee braces. Square cut timber beams and posts frame the home.

old-cabins

Photo by Seth Hepler via Flickr

Post and Beam

This type of cabin is supported by an upper structure of beams, log joists, and roof purlins. Log posts bear on the main floor framing.

cabin-history
Photo by Timothy Wildey via Flickr.

The style of a modern of cabin will also depend on the lumber. Milled or manufactured logs will give the cabin a clean and uniform look. Still, about 10% of modern cabins are constructed from handcrafted wood. These cabins use larger logs of varying sizes and have a more rustic look.

How to Maintain a Log Home

With the proper care and maintenance, you can keep your log home beautiful and functional for years to come. There are 3 crucial aspects that should be addressed in order to keep your log cabin in prime condition:

  1. Design
    The sustainability of your log cabin begins with design. How it’s constructed can influence the extent of future maintenance, prevent damage from the elements, and preserve the quality of the lumber. Some important design elements include a roofline with adequate pitch and plenty of drainage to allow water and debris to easily run off. Also, logs should be kept 6 inches or more off the ground to resist water and insect damage.
  2. Sealing
    Preservative safeguards and sealants are essential for helping your log home fight off the elements. Without a proper log home stain and chinking between the logs, mother nature can damage the lumber. It’s crucial that you apply a log home stain for sun protection and for preventing water damage. If you know how to apply a log home stain, you can apply the sealant yourself every 2-5 years depending on the color.
  3. Landscape
    Keeping your landscape in order can help protect your log cabin in the long run. Be sure to watch out for nesting insects in tree branches that could work as a bridge to invade your home. Clear all fallen trees and stumps within 50 feet for you cabin, as they often house wood-boring pests. When planting, remember to keep shrubbery a minimum of 5 feet or so from the log walls. That way, you allow air to circulate freely around the home and dry the logs after the rain or snow.

Sources:

https://sites01.lsu.edu/wp/rurallife/2014/07/29/the-log-cabin-history/

https://www.nps.gov/nr/twhp/wwwlps/lessons/4logcabins/4facts1.htm

http://loghomes.org/log-profiles-corner-styles/

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This post is authored by a guest contributor. Any biographical information received is included in the article.

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