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The Pioneers Originated the Tiny House Movement

Updated on April 23, 2018
Karen Hellier profile image

Karen Hellier is a freelance writer and eBay entrepreneur. She lives happily in the mountains of North Georgia with her husband and her dog.

Log cabin built by a couple in Utah in 1868.
Log cabin built by a couple in Utah in 1868. | Source

A Trip to Salt Lake City, Utah

My husband had a conference in Salt Lake City, so I had a few days to explore on my own. One of the places I visited was called, "This Is The Place" Heritage Center. The major part of the attraction was a living history town with buildings and employees dressed in period costume. As I wandered around the grounds with my camera, I found one area with a row of cabins that originally belonged to settlers in different parts of Utah, which had been moved from their original spots to this Heritage Center. I was amazed as I walked into them.

The cabins were mostly one-room small cabins lived in by either one single person, a couple, or a whole family. I was amazed at how people could live together under one small roof in such cramped quarters. And then I remembered the current tiny house movement and realized the early settlers were the originators of the tiny house movement. The difference between these early pioneers and the people choosing to live in tiny homes today is that the pioneers did it out of necessity and people today choose a tiny home for many other reasons.

A Nineteenth Century Cabin

Below is a log cabin built in 1868 by a couple. The bottom three pictures show the inside of the cabin which is one room, with a loft above. I was standing in the doorway to take this shot, so on my left was the food preparation area with a table to eat at. There is a stove in that area on the back left which is a bit hard to see. This would have provided heat for the cabin. On the right was a bed, a cradle although the information did not specify if this couple had any children.

This is the John Gardiner House in Salt Lake City Utah, circa 1864. He lived here with his wife and 10 children!
This is the John Gardiner House in Salt Lake City Utah, circa 1864. He lived here with his wife and 10 children! | Source

The John Gardiner House

This next house was lived in by a couple with ten children. John Gardiner built the house with his first wife in 1864. The house measures thirteen feet wide by twenty-two feet long. In 1883, he married again and had ten children with his second wife, and all twelve of them lived in this cabin. I can't even imagine that. The three girls slept on the floor in front of the fireplace while the seven boys slept in a loft above the living area, which was reached by a ladder on the outside of the house. Imagine having to go outside and climb a ladder in the middle of a snowstorm or rainstorm. A lean-to of sticks and mud was also added onto the house to accommodate some of the children. The parents in this family slept in a bed in the same room as the daughters. I learned all this from a young girl who was a guide and was excited to share the history of this house. She was dressed in period costume, and it was obvious that she loved her job.

One of my favorite parts of my visit to this house was the picture on the mantle of John Gardiner and his second wife, Annie Nichols, the parents of the ten children. I was amazed that a photograph existed of them and was available to be displayed in their home long after they have died.

The fireplace in the John Gardiner cabin. The three girls in the family slept in front of this fireplace where the rug is.
The fireplace in the John Gardiner cabin. The three girls in the family slept in front of this fireplace where the rug is. | Source
The parents' bed across the room from the fireplace in the John Gardiner House, Salt Lake City,Utah.
The parents' bed across the room from the fireplace in the John Gardiner House, Salt Lake City,Utah. | Source
Photo of John Gardiner and his wife Annie, who lived in Utah this cabin with their ten children.
Photo of John Gardiner and his wife Annie, who lived in Utah this cabin with their ten children. | Source

Tiny Houses of Today

Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of the tiny houses of today. But I enjoy watching shows like, "Tiny House Hunting" and "Tiny House Nation" which show people looking for a tiny house to move into, and the second show showcases people who are building their tiny house. These homes in the shows are anywhere between 250 and 600 square feet.

In the period of the settlers in the West, a tiny house was a necessity to stay out of the elements and stay safe from wild animals. But today, people are making a conscious effort to downsize their possessions and simplify their living arrangements for some reasons which include:

1) Saving money and using that money to travel

2) Have less stress from financial burdens and home upkeep.

3) Live a simpler life to have more leisure time to spend on activities they enjoy

4) Have a home that is mobile so they can pick up and move to a different location whenever they want.

Personally, I would love to live in a tiny house to save money, cut down on the time and money for the upkeep of my home, and be able to move it wherever I wanted. But since my husband is not a fan of the tiny house movement, I am content in the beautiful home we now live in, which happens to be in the Appalachian Mountains, and has wonderful views.

I enjoyed visiting "This Is The Place" Heritage Center in Salt Lake City, Utah and loved seeing the actual homes where the pioneers lived. Their simple lifestyle was a reminder to me of the joys of living more with less and enjoying life a bit more because of it.

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© 2015 Karen Hellier


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    • Zac Stringham profile image

      Zac Stringham 

      22 months ago from Illinois

      Love this perspective. What's old is new again!

    • Karen Hellier profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Hellier 

      3 years ago from Georgia


      Thanks so much for reading and your comment. It made me think of you and all you have done on your small plot of land. You have taken the tiny house movement outside and packed a whole lot of wallop into the small space outside of your home! Good for you!

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      3 years ago from sunny Florida

      We learn to 'make do'...I guess, don't we? The tiny house idea is a novel one and as you reveal not new. It is not what I would prefer but I have a sister who lives in a small space because she prefers it not because she has to, you know?

      Interesting information you shared...

      Know that Angels are on the way to you and yours ps

    • RTalloni profile image


      3 years ago from the short journey

      I like my space, but if the arrangement were just right for my needs I would love living in a tiny house because of the freedom it would give. Less time caring for a home, less stuff to keep up with, smaller taxes, all equalling more time and money for what I really love. Problems are solvable. For instance, a sperate covered deck/gazebo with fabric walls or sliding doors in case of inclement weather could be used for entertaining larger groups.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Karen , this is cute ! Yes , I could downsize though , my wife ? I don't know LOL .

    • Chantelle Porter profile image

      Chantelle Porter 

      3 years ago from Chicago

      I love the idea of downsizing, saving money, and having a smaller footprint but I really don't think I could live in 600 square feet. Great article.

    • Linnea Lewis profile image

      Linnea Lewis 

      3 years ago from South Carolina, USA

      What an interesting article and such an amazing special life style they had living there. It is definitely hard to imagine such a large families in such a small space, but on the other hand there is certain charm to it and the houses look very cozy.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Boy, you got that right. I was smiling after reading the title. They definitely got the most out of small spaces back in the 19th Century and before...great article, Karen!

    • Karen Hellier profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Hellier 

      3 years ago from Georgia


      I see your point. Personally I don't like to entertain so maybe that's why it would work for me! Entertaining stresses me out. I wish it didn't because I am sure my husband would like to entertain more! Thanks for your comment.

    • mactavers profile image


      3 years ago

      Great Hub with wonderful pictures. I would not choose to live in a tiny house, because I'd seriously miss having company and entertaining.


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