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Log cabin in Minnesota

Image courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

Log cabins actually have quit a history. Though many would think that the Log Cabin is somewhat of an American symbol, but in actuality, log cabins go back to the Roman Empire.

Stacking logs together, filling the gaps with mud and debris was enough to start the cabin tradition in the Roman Empire. It was later that Northern Europe would receive most of the recognition of the Log Cabin.

However, it was when immigrants migrating to the United States from Finland and Sweden settled along the Delaware River in the 1600’s when the first US cabins started being constructed. Later it was the Scottish, Ukrainian and German settlers also started constructing cabins using similar techniques.

Originally log cabins were often set on large stones. Depending on the contour of the building site, sometimes stones were stacked tightly together to form pillars. Basically, wherever there were forested areas, the log cabin became the preferred type of initial dwelling for settlers to the United States.

Log cabins did not even need nails or spikes to hold them together. Until the 19th century nails were made by hand by blacksmiths, which meant they were quite expensive, and like lumber, they were also heavy.

Another reason for the log cabin success in the US was because log cabins were extremely easy to build. It was very common that a cabin with a fireplace could be built by the early settlers in as little as 2 days.

Eventually log cabins were built on foundations or cellars or basements. Steel girders are often used now to span foundations or basements to support load-bearing walls and keep everything solid, just as with frame construction. It has been documented that as early as the late 1800s interior walls were often covered with newsprint to provide extra insulation and and backing.

Most log cabins had a single room, or “pen,” some 12 to 16 feet square. There was one door, and usually no windows. If windows were cut into the walls, animal skins or boards fixed to slide across the openings were used.

Log cabins were never meant to be permanent, but many log houses were. It would seem that as the frontier disappeared, so would the log cabin. However, it was at about that same time the Finnish homesteaders were, of necessity, building their first homes of logs and Easterners were rediscovering the log cabin structure.

Log cabins was also the inspiration of land developer William A. Durant and the president of the Adirondack Railroad. It was they who pushed the idea of Great Camps in the Adirondacks. These cabins were the get-a-ways for the very wealthy to escape the summer heat and retreat to where life was simpler and cooler, in a simple log cabin.

These “cabins” however were hardly simple. Designed by architects, they were huge structures with many rooms and fireplaces and porches. But their log exteriors recalled the “good old days”.

National parks also fueled the revival of log cabin living. Many park lodges were made of logs so they would fit their surroundings. The Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park is a prime example. Built in 1904, the inn has an eight-story lobby some 185 feet high. There are 140 guest rooms and three sets of balconies.

The log cabin has stuck around for hundreds, if not thousands of years and there is little doubt that the log cabin will remain to be a popular building style for centuries to come!