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 Beautiful Belmont, Part 04 -- Log Cabin Homes.

by John Salisbury Cochran.

See previous entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 03 -- Stage Coaches and Wagons.

The road to Bridgeport, Ohio, left the State Road at the tavern, branching off down the northeast side of the little ravine that had its beginning south of the tavern, and on a part of the Robert E. Lee (of Civil War fame) estate, which later became the Chandler farm. In the early 1840s the land around and back of Martins Ferry and Bridgeport, and even at Wheeling [West Virginia] on the opposite side of the Ohio River, was not yet half cleared of its heavy growth of timber and the whole area presented a "backwoods" appearance. Now there is no timber [although it is beginning to grow back in places], and a teeming population of one hundred thousand people, busy in agriculture, industry, and commerce, are encompassed within a radius of ten miles.

In very early times, except in towns, no such thing as a brick or frame house was known. The early frontiersman and his family were content with the log cabin. These generally were built near a spring of cool, delightful water with which this area is so abundantly supplied, and which usually gushed out from limestone or soapstone rock with refreshing coldness and considerable quantity. The waters from these converging springs formed runs and creeks, which at that time were plentifully stocked with fish, and they all ultimately emptied into the Ohio River.

The ordinary size log house of that day contained from two to four rooms and was usually one and one-half stories high. It should be understood that a "hewed" log house was considerably more aristocratic then than one not hewed. The ordinary mode of building a log cabin was to select trees of uniform size -- as near as possible -- and with these construct the ends and sides of the house. They were built up like a rail pen -- only the ends of these logs were so notched and locked into each other as to cause them to touch throughout their length. These logs were slid up on skids, having one end placed firmly in the ground and the other on the top of the highest log on the wall. Their construction required many hands and much strength, and the whole neighborhood turned out at these house raisings, everyone contributing his or her labor free of charge. Little else than a saw, axe, hammer, and splitting wedge were used as tools in the construction of a primitive log cabin.

The gable logs were laid on purloins extending from gable to gable, continued from the square of the building to the top of the roof. On these purloins clapboards about four feet long, lapping one over the other, were laid, to form the roof, and small logs laid on these to hold them in place. These clapboards were worked out of straight-grained logs by splitting them with a wedge. All cracks between the logs were filled with wooden chunking and mortar made of tough clay and straw. [When clay was not available, the mortar might be made from cow dung, dirt, and straw.] When made out of the proper clay, it served the purpose very well and lasted quite a long time. When poor materials were used, it became a nuisance from constant crumbling.

Many of these cabins were formed by erecting two distinct buildings on a common line, from ten to twenty feet apart, leaving a space between them. Both buildings and the intervening space would be covered with one continuous roof. When a floor was laid, this open space would constitute a hallway. Spaces for doors, windows, and fireplaces were cut in these log walls after the building was up. The window places had no sash or glass, but were covered with linen cloth or greased paper. The fireplaces were ponderous affairs, being usually six feet or more wide. They and the chimney were built of stone and clay for about six feet high and then finished with sticks about two inches in diameter, built up in the shape of a pen and thoroughly covered with clay mortar. Care had to be exercised, or these sticks would catch on fire.

Before the day of board floors -- when only flat slabs of wood were laid on the dirt floor, doors were cut opposite each other so that a horse might be used to pull into the house massive logs for the fire; these large logs would furnish heat for two or three days. Wood was the only fuel. The rough doors hung on wooden hinges, which creaked with all kinds of hideous noises as they swung open and furnished only a very poor fit, letting in cold and drafts. Yet the abundant heat furnished by the large fireplace compensated in part for this crude architecture, and the house was made reasonably comfortable even in the coldest weather.

The cooking was done by the housewife over these hot fires, in which a swinging iron crane hung on staples driven in the side of the stone chimney. The bread baking was done in a pot with an iron lid called a "Dutch Oven," which was set on hot coals near the fire while additional red coals were placed on top of the lid. The coals were replenished from time to time as the baking progressed. I can still see the beautifully browned "salt rising" loaves baked by our mother and our neighbor, Mrs. Brown, as they were removed from those old Dutch ovens or as the bread forced its way out at the tops. It seems to me I have never tasted bread as good. Above all else, I would love to have the weary hands of my sainted mother, the beauty and symmetry of which were then being marred for our comfort, laid once more in tender affection on my head.

Almost no furniture was owned by the poorer classes of the early pioneers. Some of their cabins had nothing but the earth on which they were built for floors. Pins driven into holes drilled in the wall -- with slabs laid on them -- frequently formed their only tables. Long handled gourds, grown on vines by the side of the house, served as water buckets and drinking vessels.

The cabin ceilings of these poorer classes, when they had any, were quite low, and they usually had a half upper story, more properly called a garret, which was ordinarily reached by a ladder either from the outside or inside of the house. The flooring of these upper stories was often composed of rough clapboards. However, not all log houses of that day were so primitive and uninviting, for even these were mere makeshift structures erected for the purpose of getting a start in the new land.

The hewed log house was very different, when properly constructed, and was at times not only quite comfortable but also quite attractive and inviting. Many of them stood a full two stories, with modern doors, windows, staircases, chimneys, floors, and other useful features and adornments. The logs of these were all hewed to a line, making a square with four straight sides throughout their entire length. These, when laid one upon the other, fit closely, leaving no cracks, and forming a smooth surface both outside and in. The inside was either nicely whitewashed or slatted and plastered, making a very warm and attractive home. The soil of this section being rich and productive, it is astonishing how quickly these first cabins passed away and were replaced by fine buildings and stately mansions. To a marked degree, this had occurred even before the start of the Civil War in 1861. Our farm and home soon ranked with the finest in the county.

See next entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 05 -- Life In Our Father's House.

For the table of contents and first entry in this series, see: Beautiful Belmont, Part 01 -- Table of Contents and Brief Introduction.

This entry is adapted from Bonnie Belmont: A Historical Romance of the Days of Slavery and the Civil War, by John Salisbury Cochran, which was published originally in 1907. The book has been reedited extensively for inclusion in the Pierian Press Fulltext eBooks database, and is included on the Stratton House Inn Web site by special permission. This special edition of Beautiful Belmont is licensed for use ONLY on this Web site. It may not be copied or downloaded, but may be used for educational purposes and personal pleasure under fair-use provisions via this Web site. Please note that this Stratton House Inn iteration of the book does NOT include the subject headings assigned each chapter for use in the Fulltext eBooks database.

CO-AUTHOR: Wall, C. Edward. (Editor)
CO-AUTHOR: Schultheiss, Tom. (Asst. Editor)

DATABASE: Fulltext eBooks: Copyright (c) 2000 The Pierian Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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