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Log Building

By Linda Trent
copyright 2002
Whereas homes like that on the right are still often seen and reproduced, the one on the left was meant as a temporary shelter.  Its rounded logs and clay/stick chimney and weight pole roof were not meant to weather very long, and even by the mid-nineteenth century people were lamenting the old temporary round log house.
The Temporary Round Log Home
More permanent log structure.
A Homily On Homes by Professor W. H. Barnes p. 617, The Ladies' Repository, pub. 1856.

"We wonder not at any lack of architectural beauty in the first settlement of a country.  The emigrant in the wilderness hastily constructs his cabin of logs, to shelter him and his family from the winter which is near at hand.  He has no time to rear the shaft and hew the architrave.  He fells a few trees near his building spot, and having cut them into proper length he notches the ends, and with the help of neighbors he "carries up the corner."  Like Solomon's Temple, his house goes up 'without the sound of a hammer.'  The rough boards which compose the roof are not fastened with nails, but by means of traverse logs placed upon them.  A wooden latch and string are his substitutes for lock and key.  The chimney, placed outside to economize the room, is built of sticks and held together by mortar made from the clay on which the house stands.

"Such a provisional structure does sufficiently well for the first year.  Its want of architectural beauty is excused by the haste which was necessary in its construction.  The hands which were driven by necessity had no time to minister to taste.

"After a while, when the wilderness has been cleared and farms have been opened in the forest, a new building is planned and built.  It is larger than the old house, and, consequently, better suited to the wants of the prosperous farmer, but it often happens that the 'hewed logs,' or boards or brick are thrown together with as little regard for architectural beauty as were the rough materials of the first cabin."

Leaves from an Autobiography by Plebeius p. 54 & 55, The Ladies' Repository, pub. 1851

On the eastern slope of the mountain spur, by the side of a little bubbling rill, at the base of  Round-Top Mountain, and one mile west of the 'Narrows' of Tuscarora, before mentioned, stood, about fifty years ago, a small, low, rough-looking log cabin.  In its construction and furniture this cabin may be taken, with some slight variations, as a fair specimen of the rude habitations of the early white settlers in that mountainous and then obscure region; and, for the amusement of those readers who have never seen such, we will here describe it.

"In its dimensions it was some sixteen by eighteen feet square, and about eight feet high, and was constructed of round, unbarked, chestnut-oak logs, of twelve or fourteen inches in diameter.  The floor, the roof, and the loft were formed of rough slabs from a neighboring saw-mill, flat on the one side and round on the other.  Those of which the floor was formed were straightened on the edges with an ax, laid with the flat sides up, and fastened down on the 'sleepers' with wooden pins, driven into auger holes.  The spaces between the logs were chinked with billets of wood, and daubed with clay mortar mixed with straw. And laid on and smoothed with the hand or a wooden spatula.  At one end of the cabin was an outside wooden chimney, nine feet wide and five deep, with a stone back-wall, sides and hearth.  On one side of the cabin was a rough batten door; hung on wooden hinges, and furnished with a wooden latch, lifted from the outside by means of a leather string, passing through a gimlet hole in the door, and tied to the latch...

"In the cabin which is here described there is nothing at all worthy of note as differing from hundreds of others, every-where found in the 'back-woods,' and the only apology we have for giving it is, that it was the youthful home of the subject of the memoir from which these chapters are taken.

A Story of the Backwoods by Harmony p. 266 & 267 The Ladies' Repository, pub. 1853

"I entered our log-cabin, little superior to those we had seen scattered along our way, though few and far between... the unsightly stumps and tangled ground; the half-erected log-house, hardly sufficient to shelter us with our goods and chattels... the fireplace had no jambs, only a rough stone wall on the back.  The chimney was made of short sticks, crossing so as to form a square chimney, and then plastered over outside and in with clay.

"Our first care was to make our cabin more comfortable, and to arrange the few articles of furniture we had managed to bring with us.  The crevices were filled up with split logs on the inside, and plastered with clay mortar on the outside.  The roof was rows of poles laid at proper distances, and covered over with bark.  The floor was of logs hewn square so as to form an even surface.  Our door was hung on large wooden hinges, and their screeching made music enough, in spite of a frequent greasing.  It was fastened with a large wooden latch extended across, to within one of the five rough boards which formed it, and this latch fell ponderously into a great wooden catch quite large enough to receive it.  At night the string was pulled inside to secure it."  [western NY area, early 1800's]

The Complete Farmer excerpts from American Agriculturist this article pub. 1857

How to Build a Log House

There are two kinds of log houses  one, the unadulterated rough, round log tenement; the other, the logs hewed down on two sides, set edgewise each upon the other...
A man with an ax stands upon each intersecting point to 'carry up the corner,'...
They lay it on its proper side for 'notching' to fit the bearing logs, which have been previously 'saddled'  that is, scarred down from the top on each side, like this letter (b, fig. 3)
Thus, the rolling is finished, and according to its magnitude and extent of hands employed, may take only a forenoon, or the entire day. 
The next day, or soon afterward, the owner returns with an extra man or two to assist him, and in the course of a day or two finishes up the house, by cutting out doors and windows, laying the floors, and putting on the roof.  In the absence of boards, the doors and floors are made of 'puncheons.' That is, logs split into short planks.  The roof is covered either with boards or newly peeled bark, laid lengthwise from the ridge pole to the eaves, and battened to keep out rain and snow; or, more frequently, perhaps the roof is covered with thin staves split from oak, laid on and held fast by poles which are withed at the ends, to keep them in place and firmly pressed upon the staves to make the joints close.  If there be time, the inside logs are hewed down to a face, the corner men, or an extra hand or two having 'scored' them with axes as they were rolled up.  A clay hearth is laid at one end, a chimney, built up with split wood and clay, and the house is ready to move into in a day or two at farthest.  Such is the history of a pioneer log house in America (1857)

Saddle Notching

Harriet E. Bishop  Floral Home, pub. 1857 p. 139

"The next day we selected and made our 'claims' of one hundred and sixty acres (or less) each, conforming, in our land marks, to the United States' survey, and commenced clearing.  We labored under many disadvantages; but after a while got a 'set of house logs' choppedabout fortyand with the help of two men, raised the frame of the first house on the borders of Lake Wakansica.

"The logs are notched at each end, upon the under side, 'saddled' or ridged upon the upper, and piled up cob-house fashion, to the height of the eaves.  Then longer logs are laid for the roof to rest on, and the 'ribs' placed traversely upon shorter and shorter logs till the ridge is reached.  These ribs serve the purpose of rafters, upon which the roof, usually of 'shakes,' or short boards... is nailed or secured by 'weight poles."

Antrim's History of Champaign and Logan Counties by Judge Wm. Patrick (who died in 1891 @ 95) Came to Ohio in 1806.  Appendix of Log Construction in the Ohio Country 1750-1850 by Don Hutslar.

...familiarly known as the saddle...
"(p. 17) The four foundation logs having all been properly notched and saddled and in their places...
... rolling it upon the two saddled logs; it was then fitted and prepared in proper manner and placed plumb on the wall by the practiced eye, sided by the pendulous axe held loosely at tip of helve...
But my motive was not the enlightenment of the present generation, but was attempted from a desire to hand down to posterity the primitive structures up to 1820 , believing that before the year 1920, this mode of building will have become obsolete, and unknown.  As the new settlers of this day do not reesort to the log cabin, but to the frame house or hovel, the idea of the original log cabin as already said will be unknown, hence the reason of my feeble attempt."

This page was last updated on: July 12, 2002