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History of the Log Cabin

Updated on April 30, 2015
Old log cabin in the mountains
Old log cabin in the mountains | Source

Log Cabin History


In North America the log cabin was first used around 1600 when immigrants from Europe needed homes. Possible the first log cabins were built by Swedish immigrants in Delaware. As population moved to the west, other immigrants came from Scandinavia as well as other Northern European countries that had traditions and skills for constructing houses from trees.

Settlers, I think, when they could, tried to use local materials when building. In many cases they went to areas that had a lot of trees and using local materials saved hauling and in some cases it would be difficult to ship materials to where they settled. The log cabin was fairly easy and quick to build if one had the necessary skills. Only a few tools were needed such as an axe, adz and auger.

Typically the log cabin was small, consisting of a single room, a single door and windows. The space between the logs could be chinked with mud to keep out the weather. As they usually didn’t have nails, they either notched the ends of the logs or used wooden pegs. Roofs were either overlapping boards or hard-packed clay. Window openings were often covered with oiled paper, as glass was expensive.

Europe


In Europe log cabins were widely used in Germany, Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries especially. When Swedish immigrants came to Delaware in 1638, they built log cabins. Other colonists learned from them. When there was a large migration west after the American Revolution they found thick forests in Tennessee, Kentucky and in the Northwest Territory and the log cabin became the typical home.

Possibly log structures were built in Europe as far back as the Bronze Age, around 3500 B.C.

Basically tree trunks were stacked one top of one another and overlapped at the corners. They made them interlocking by notching the corners. Moss or other soft materials were stuffed between the locks. The solid wood had insulating qualities, which helped protect from the cold weather.

Cabin Logs
Cabin Logs | Source
Old faithful Inn Frank Jay Haynes postcard
Old faithful Inn Frank Jay Haynes postcard | Source

In Trondheim, Norway there is a Wood Museum which displays fourteen traditional profiles but a basic form of log construction that was used all over North Europe and Asia. In the far north and mountainous parts of the United States and Canada winter conditions were also harsh and the European methods were adapted.

Log cabins were first constructed in what is now the United States in 1638.

Some immigrants such as the Scots-Irish did not have a tradition of using logs for building but adapted to what they learned from their neighbors.

Adirondack-style cabins


By the mid 19th century log cabins got to the heights of complexity with the Adirondack style. It was the inspiration for many United States Park service lodges build at the end of the century and early 20th century.

During the great depression President Roosevelt’s administration had the Civilian Conservation Corps  build lodges out of logs throughout the west for use by the Forest Sevice and National Park Service. Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood in Oregon was so large that the president himself dedicated it.

Alpine Cottage
Alpine Cottage | Source

Modern Log Homes


Log homes are very popular now but they are a far cry from the lowly log cabin of the pioneers. It is usually built with milled logs

In Europe modern log cabins are often built in gardens as summerhouses or home offices. Summerhouses and cottages in Europe are often made of logs.

Lincoln Log Sawmill

Source

Political symbolism


In the political campaign of 1840 small log cabins were used in parades to identify William Henry Harrison with the frontier people. Abraham Lincoln has famously been tied to being born in a log cabin. Many other politicians have used the log cabin story to identify with the common people.

Toys

 

Lincoln Logs have been popular since I was growing up. They were miniature wooden logs with notches, used to build miniature buildings.

John L. Wright, a son of Frank Lloyd Wright, invented Lincoln logs in 1916. They were marketed in 1918 by Red Square Toy Company and by john Lloyd Wright, Incorporated in Chicago, Illinois.

While most people assume that Lincoln Logs were named for Abraham Lincoln they were really named for Frank Lloyd Wrights whose given middle name was “Lincoln.” The original Lincoln Logs had instructions for building “Uncle Tom’s cabin” and Lincoln’s log cabin, according to an article in Wikipedia.

The set I had was of wood but the newer sets have replaced the wood with plastic. Is there some irony there?

© 2011 Don A. Hoglund

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    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thank you for commenting on it.The lo cabin seems to be an icon of our history.

    • creativeone59 profile image

      benny Faye Douglass 6 years ago from Gold Canyon, Arizona

      Thank you dahoulund,for an awesome log cabin hub. very informative. Godspeed. creativeone59

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I would imagine that there were various influences.The kind of people who settled the country were probably pretty flexible. thanks for the comment.

    • Rod Marsden profile image

      Rod Marsden 6 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

      The native Americans of the New York area may have inspired the settlers with their Longhouses which to me are reminiscent of the kind of dwellings the Gothic tribes used to construct in Roman times in Europe.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for your comment. I think pioneers used what materials were available to them and the skill brought over from the old country or learned from their neighbors.

    • Rod Marsden profile image

      Rod Marsden 6 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

      dahoglund, I am familiar with the story of Lincoln and the log cabin. As for the rest, well, it does make sense. You don't want to live in a tent in winter in really cold climates so the idea of building something that won't take a great deal of time but will provide adequate shelter and warmth is a must. Using skills and ideas gathered from Europe makes sense too. Good hub.

    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I appreciate your comment.

    • crystolite profile image

      Emma 6 years ago from Houston TX

      Thanks for the history. Im so happy to receive it

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      bewhuebner

      That would be nice. thanks for the comment.

    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      KoffeeKlatch Gals

      I knew people who retired to Arkansas in the hills near a lake. It looked appealing but my wife would never like it.Thanks for commenting.

    • bewhuebner profile image

      bewhuebner 6 years ago from Virginia, USA

      Nothing can top a log cabin in Colorado. Thanx for the history! Very interesting stuff.

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Haze 6 years ago from Sunny Florida

      I love the log cabin look. I dream of someday have one in a mountain somewhere.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Yes moss I believe was used.It mostly depended on what was handy. At a local historic site they were using cement but that probably wasn't always available.Thanks for commenting.

    • CASE1WORKER profile image

      CASE1WORKER 6 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      Thanks for the hub- I can remember reading a book some years ago (title escapes me) where the walls of the log cabin were filled with moss which made the cabin much warmer- imagine it fulfilled the same role as the mud

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Les Trois Chenes

      The concept is simple but it takes a lot of manual labor.Thanks for commenting.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Ginn Navarre

      I see a lot of the newer ones but seldom see any old ones.Thanks for commenting.

    • Les Trois Chenes profile image

      Les Trois Chenes 6 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

      I read Little House on the Prairie and building a log cabin seemed to be a very straight forward affair! Many thanks for a nice Hub.

    • Ginn Navarre profile image

      Ginn Navarre 6 years ago

      Yes, here in "Wild & Wonderful West Virginia" there are sitll a lot of the old log cabin homes and many newer type. Still--they require a lot of exterior care but I enjoy seeing them and---wishing?

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Mr. Smith

      When I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota it seemed tha everyone had a cabin "up north" and I thought I'd get one two. Problem is that up north kept getting further and futher away.Thanks for commenting.

    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      WillStarr

      Yes, it sounds good, although I don't think I want the maintenance chores ir it is a second home.Thanks for commenting.

    • Mr. Smith profile image

      Mr. Smith 6 years ago from California

      Well-built hub! It reminds me of one of my long-term goals 35 years ago.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      A log cabin on a lake.

      What else could you want?

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I have friends with lake cabins. I think that they may have modernized them so they don't look the same.I wish you the best in getting your own cabin. thanks for commenting.

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Great Hub. I love log cabins and have always wanted to buy one of the kits that you can order from Quebec. The logs are all precut for you and you just assemble them. My cousins have a log cabin that is about 150 years old and it was small but they have since added on to it.