When one thinks of houses built during the Colonial Period, the fine buildings at Colonial Williamsburg or Thomas Jefferson’s exquisite house at Monticello are some that usually come to mind. However, not everyone in colonial America lived in such beautiful dwellings. With no access to bricks or saw mills, colonists in rural areas turned to logs.
In the frontier areas, most early log cabins needed to be quickly assembled to provide shelter. These cabins tended to be small one-room dwellings that were usually one- or one-and-a-half stories high.
Due to the heaviness of logs, two or three men were required to assemble a cabin. Large straight trees were selected, felled, trimmed of branches, and dragged to the building site. There, logs were notched and laid on a stone foundation if possible. Logs laid directly on the ground risked rotting. Note the two small openings on the side of the dwelling pictured above. This cabin was built in an area so remote that glass for windows was not available. The bottom "window" was cut out of the mud chinking while the upper window was cut out of a log.
Blue Ridge Parkway, Southern Virginia
After the logs were laid horizontally, there could be gaps, especially if the logs weren't cut straight.
This photo shows small stones and mud used to fill the gap between logs. The filler between logs is referred to as "chink." Every fall, the cabin owner would make repairs in the chink so heat wouldn't escape through holes during the winter.
Chinking helped keep the cabin snug from weather and free from insects and small animals. During Indian attacks, chink prevented arrows from entering inside the cabin. The reddish-colored chinking in the above photo reflects the red clay found in this area of northeast Georgia.
Doors were handmade. Although sturdy, they lacked the design and color of those usually found in established towns.
Oconaluftee Village, Cherokee Indian Reservation, North CarolinaWhile many cabin roofs were covered with wood shakes, such as the one above, sod roofs proved less ignitable and flammable when hit with flaming arrows during Indian attacks.
Most of the cabins featured in this article are located at the Foxfire Museum in Mountain City, Georgia, which has a collection of original log houses and structures from the late-colonial period. These buildings were disassembled at their original location, then shipped to Foxfire’s property where they were rebuilt. One cabin photo was taken in southern Virginia on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The final photograph was taken at the Oconaluftee Village on the Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina.
All photographs ©2013 Cynthia Howerter
Award-winning author Cynthia Howerter loves using her training in education, research, writing, and speaking to teach and inspire others about a time in America that was anything but boring. A member of the Daughters of the American revolution (DAR), Cynthia believes history should be alive and personal.
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