Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Now, Listen To A Story...

You think we're going backward in time, but we aren't. We showed you Dutch Colonial on the Hudson River, a style going well back into the 1600s, and over and done with except revivals by 1840 or so. Why go back one step short of Fred and Wilma and show me houses made from hewn logs?

Because someone was living in that log house when my own father was standing on the street corner in Boston selling newspapers as a boy, living in a 1920s style triple decker. And they didn't even build that log house until about 1876.

It's the Ehpraim Bales house near Gatlinsburg Tennessee. Ephraim bought the property and lived there from 1887 until 1930. Here's the plan:
I love the term for the open area under the roof between the two structures: The dog trot. I've heard people use this term right to this very day for what many people now call a "breezeway." The log home has a problem, and this shows it. You can't really expand it, because you need the four corners of any room to hold it together. All you can do is add more rectangles, called pens, and join them up as best you can.

They were smart, those sons of nature that built log homes, and made the sills from rot-proof oak timbers. The rest of the boles and poles are all sorts of stuff: poplar, pine, chestnut. The frames around the doors and window openings are held onto the fabric of the place with oak pegs pounded home. Two rooms; the kitchen, and everything else.

This one is from North Carolina:
Here's the chimney end. It's what's generally called wattle and daub construction. Sticks are woven together and smeared with clay. I bet that chimney caught on fire as often as whatever they burned on the hearth. That's why it's exposed on the end, so you could go outside and put it out. The roof shelters it a bit, to keep the rain from washing all the clay away.
Here's one near South Union Township, Pennsylvania; the Gaddis House:

The tires and the plaque are a nice touch. Not entirely inhospitable inside, even though it's falling to pieces while being photographed:

The joinery's pretty good, too, for such rough work with rudimentary tools. It's not really a log cabin. A log cabin is just notched logs, with the boles left round. It's devilishly hard to fill the interstices. A log house has the treetrunks hewn square:You can seal it up pretty well that way. People still build them. One of the most incongruous sights in my neighboring town is a three story seaside snouthouse log home, built less than a decade ago. Some people will settle for nothing else than treetrunks for horizontal wallpaper to this very day.

Here's the corner of the Gaddis House.
Here's my favorite log house, just for the story of it:

If you were an NCO in the Cavalry in 1877, at Fort Missoula, Montana, here's where you'd be living. President Grant sent the cavalry to annoy the local Indian tribe, and be annoyed in their turn. That's not the good part. In 1896, a certain Lieutenant James Ross decided that the cavalry would be much improved if it was on bicycles instead of horses. He started the 25th Infantry Bicycle Troop, which encompassed him and 23 African-American soldiers, and they rode bicycles through the grass and mud all the way to St Louis.

When he got there, someone pointed out to him that Gottlieb Daimler had invented a four wheel horseless carriage in 1887.

I can imagine Lt. Ross reading Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and being captivated by Twain's depiction of the Knights of the Round Table going into battle on the bicycles supplied to them by the time traveling hero of the book, Hank Morgan. It was published in 1889, so the dates make sense. I guess it didn't dawn on Lt. Ross that Twain was making fun of the knights, not the horses.

If there is a God, someone will contact me and give me an advance to write the book, play, television series and three motion pictures I could get out of the story of 23 African-American cavalrymen, and the Lieutenant that loved bicycles, riding all the way from Missoula, Montana to Saint Louis, Missouri in 1896.

They didn't have to fight the plains Indians. I imagine they all died laughing when the spectacle rolled by.
How I love America. How can you not?


Montana Tom said...

As one who is a serious log cabin aficionado, I very much enjoyed this post, "Now, Listen To A Story..." 

The old log cabins are fascinating structures and anyone interested in American history enjoys reading about them and the people who inhabited them. Log homes today hardly resemble the quaint cabins of the past, but one still gets that great feeling of being closer to nature and our heritage when seeing one.... or living within.  I wrote an article last year that touched upon that same sentiment entitled, "Log Homes and Log Furniture... The Norman Rockwell Effect" 

Great post... more, more, please and come visit us sometime at the Log Cabin Directory.

Chip Elliott said...

Don't know much about... furniture... but I am a fan of your writing and tastes. All of great interests & sensibility - we're with you. Wikipedia / Daderot.