The History Of Log Cabins In The United States

Remember when coffee cost 25 cents? It really wasn’t that long ago. Even with inflation that 25 cent cup of coffee shouldn’t cost more than 55 cents today. So where did the $3, 4, or even $5 coffee come from that so many people buy on a daily basis? The answer is easy: somebody turned it into a luxury item.

Think about what a log cabin started out as. It used to be a place where people of the wild frontier, who had very little resources at their disposal, used what they found around them in order to construct a single room dwelling so that they didn’t freeze to death during the winter.

Today, many log homes are so much more than little houses without any amenities. Some are seven bedroom, six bath behemoths that cost millions of dollars. So when did things change? How did the simplest of homes become some of the most opulent? Let’s take a look at their history in the United States.

The First Log Homes

The earliest known log cabin in the United States was built as early as 1638 by Swedish settlers in what is now the state of New York. In fact, there is still one standing from 1640 in Swedesboro, New Jersey, the Nothnagle log house. While the Swedes and German immigrants used the log cabin technique, English settlers did not. Instead, they hewed more to the hewn log approach to building homes that they were accustomed to in the old country.

Because log cabins tended to be small, they were often seen as temporary dwellings. Once a larger home was completed, the log cabins were regulated to storage space or small barns.

The “Easy” Part

Building a log cabin was hard work, but the earliest settlers certainly had their pick of building materials! While tall, straight logs are harder to find today, American settlers had their choice when it came to old-growth forests. These trees were often quite uniform and didn’t require much chinking or daubing once the logs were fit together. Once the smaller “first year” cabin was built to survive the winter, time could be spent building larger cabins with multiple stories and more windows.

Log Cabins Move West

With settlers from so many parts of the world arriving in America, building styles changed. Iron works began, which lead to saw mills and easier ways of creating timber. Brick factories came on line, which saw an increase in brick homes. As the cities along the eastern coast grew and the country continued to expand, the rustic look of log cabins fell out of style.

But as the idea of manifest destiny took hold of the country (the idea that America should tame the west and stretch from ocean to ocean) those saw mills and brick factories couldn’t follow them. Once again the log cabin was needed as people created their homes from the trees available to them.

That Western Feel

In the mid 19th century, the country was growing inward. California was growing because of the gold rush, and the East was already well established. That meant that some parts of the West were the last to make use of log cabins. With an ample supply of pine, people were able to build the cabins, and the dry climate meant that they were able to survive longer than those back east. Because people of the West were some of the last to use log cabins, these home are often associated with a more rustic time. (Of course, the roughness of the actual logs has something to do with that as well.)

The Park Service

The National Park Service might be the real reason that log homes are equated with “the West.” The first 16 national parks were all west of Kansas, and most of the housing built on this public land was constructed of logs so that they would fit in better with the natural environment. During this time such amazing structures as the the Old Faithful Inn and Timberline Lodge were constructed, two of the largest log structures in the world. In this way, log homes came to be associated with relaxation and “kicking back,” which is one reason many people enjoy the feel of log cabins today.

Log Homes of Today

The log home might have humble originals, but many log homes of today are luxury homes. The materials used often lead to higher costs (some of which is due to high transportation costs of the logs) and the labor needed requires more specific skills. And if you have enough for a log home, you might as well go big; most log homes built today are over 3,000 square feet.

Interestingly, modern log homes are often some of the most energy-efficient structures around. Logs are a poor conductor of heat, meaning that they keep the temperature of the interior more stable. Because of their location and views, log homes are often built with large, south-facing windows to let in as much sunlight as possible. And because most of them aren’t part of Planned Urban Developments or other types of neighborhoods, they’re more likely to take advantage of the land and install geothermal heating and cooling.

Are You Interested In A Log Cabin Feel?

So there you have it, a short history of the log cabin in America. But we know that, if you’re here at TruLog, you probably have other plans. After all, log cabins are nice, but there are downsides. As we mentioned in our previous blog, real log cabins have quite a few drawbacks in addition to the high cost of building them. They’re incredibly expensive to insure, repairs are insanely big deals, and basic log cabin maintenance can be time consuming and cost-prohibitive.

When you switch to our faux log siding, you’ll avoid all of those problems and reap the benefits that metal siding can give. Check out this page to discover why steel log siding for your home will beat real logs hands down. You can continue the look of this American tradition and reap the benefits at the same time!

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