The Log Home Neighborhood

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Historic log buildings — tell me your story!

Last night, I went to an Altan concert at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in nearby Vienna, Virginia. The concert was phenomenal — Altan is the world's preeminent traditional Irish music group, and between Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh's pure soprano and the entire band's incredible talents on the fiddle, guitar, accordion and bouzouki, it was one of those rare experiences where the music seems to become much more than the sum of each of the players' individual contributions.

I was expecting a great show, and I got that in spades, but I was pleasantly surprised with the venue where the concert was held. Wolf Trap has a great outdoor amphitheater for summer shows, but for year-round events, it has The Barns.

Turns out Catherine Filene Shouse, Wolf Trap's founding patron, had attended a concert in a barn in Maine and was very impressed by the acoustic qualities offered by the time-worn timbers. So in 1981, she commissioned someone to locate (and relocate) some similar barns to be used for informal events at Wolf Trap. Master craftsman and barn historian Richard W. Babcock of Hancock, Massachusetts, found two 18th-century structures in upstate New York, carefully moved them to their present location and reassembled them using the same methods the original craftsmen did back in the 1700s.

The two barns are adjoining, with the larger of the two serving as the concert hall while the smaller one houses a reception area with a concession stand and the box office. Seats inside the larger barn are either in the hayloft or on the threshing floor, and surrounded by the weathered beams, you feel completely like you're stepping a little out of reality. The builders reversed the walls so the weather-hewn sides would be exposed to the patrons inside, and although they're rough and worn, it's clear the structure is strong. Maybe it was the barn or maybe it was the band, but I agree that the acoustics in there were fantastic, to say the least. At times, the music took on a warm hum not produced by any of the musicians' instruments individually — I've never heard anything quite like it before.

Normally, we write about construction details, design ideas, building tips and tricks and advice on how to pick the best land, and in doing so, we're sharing the industry's latest and greatest information on how to create a modern log home. But it's clear that a lot can be learned from older structures as well. The construction crews at Wolf Trap used ropes, gin poles, true mechanical block-and-tackle methods and brute manpower to rebuild these barns at their new home, and flimsy construction would never have allowed them to be torn down, transported hundreds of miles and successfully reassembled in a totally different location (not to mention the centuries of wear they experienced before the move). The original owners and builders didn't have access to kiln-dried logs, manufactured varnishes and energy-efficient windows, and yet this structure has stood the test of time. Sitting inside and listening to some of the world's most talented musicians, I couldn't help but want to know more about the building's history.

The whole thing got me thinking about similar structures across the country. I always get a little nostalgic when I see those ramshackle old houses and barns on the side of some country road, darkened by age and choked by weeds, but I'd be curious to learn about other restored log buildings that have been salvaged and given new lives. Maybe you know of something, a diner built in an old prospector's cabin or a country church in what was once an old mill. If you do, please share them with me, and I'd love to learn more about these timeless structures and turn that around with an article for one of our magazines. Log homes have a rich history, and the more we know about where they came from, how they were created and the ways in which they've served, the more we'll know of the centuries of knowledge acquired by the builders of the past.

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Comment by Randy Davis on June 25, 2010 at 6:16pm
Our story is right here, but the book and story haven't ended as of yet. We're just chunking away at her one piece at a time. This one is an oldy goldy!!!

http://www.thebaldwinplace.com/id2.html
Comment by Danielle Taylor on March 29, 2010 at 9:54am
Hi Denise,
Thanks for your comment about your cabin! I'm assuming it's the beautiful red one in your profile picture -- you sound very proud of it!

I noticed you're located in Michigan, and I'm curious whether you're familiar with or participate in Log Cabin Days, headed up by Virginia Handy and the Log Cabin Society in Sodus, Michigan. She's in the process of organizing the 24th annual celebration, which occurs each year on the last Sunday in June and includes a road tour of 100 different historic cabins across the state. I just spoke with her last week, and I'm sure she'd be very interested in learning about yours. Check out her web site at http://www.qtm.net/logcabincrafts, and keep an eye out for an article on the event in the June issue of Log Home Living.

Enjoy your living legacy!

Danielle
Comment by Denise on March 27, 2010 at 9:32am
My cabin isn't nearly that old. But, it was built in 1948. We've had to have a few logs near the foundation replaced. I wasn't able to be there when they replaced the logs, but I heard there were car jacks involved! Also, our cabin had been painted in the early 50's. Unfortunately, our 'log guy' said that he might be able to remove about 90% of the paint, but would never be able to get it all off....so, we are continuing with the original paint scheme for now. In fact, it is barn paint. The color is 'barn red'.
Comment by Danielle Taylor on March 17, 2010 at 3:10pm
For another article on a great collection of historic log homes, check out a piece we just did on Fort Worth's Log Cabin Village in the special Cozy Cabins issue of Country's Best Log Homes, which just hit newsstands last week. Haven't seen it yet? You can order a copy here.
Comment by Emily Roache on March 17, 2010 at 2:34pm
For anyone interested in historic log homes, share your favorites! If you need some inspiration, check out these articles:

1808 Bob Timberlake Log Cabin Project: Restoration of a 200 year old log cabin

Historic Log Cabin: Dating back to 1933, this rustic haven stands the test of time.

Reclaimed Log Home in Colorado: Building a log home from the ground up is one thing. But what about working from an existing structure? The owners of this mountain home found that respecting historical integrity wasn't so difficult.

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