Friday, February 12, 2010

Cabins and why I can't take a vacation from my hobbies

Last Week I took some much needed time off from work and hobbies to spend some dedicated time with my wife. We abondoned our children to the care of a college student in our Ward (ha ha ha unsuspecting fool!!) and drove to the Smokey Mountains. While there we happened upon a section of the National Park called Cades Cove. Now I had no idea this was there, but my wife saw something about it in the all the pamphlets she gathered and thought it would be a great way to spend an afternoon.

Cades Cove was settled from the 1820's to the 1930's with a vast majority of the buildings being from the late 19th century. In fact this is the largest collection of 19th century log cabins on the eastern US. All of it exists only because the land was "purchased" in the 1930's and was protected from development since then.

So I walk up to the first cabin and it dawns on me. Somewhere in this collection of 19th century Tennessee cabins is an example of what the the Conder home would have looked like. (So much for leaving my hobbies at home) I have always wondered about things described about the Conder home that didn't fit my preconceived notions about cabins.
  1. The Conder home was big enough to hold a Sunday meeting for probably 50 people. I was in perhaps half a dozen log cabins during our trip and saw many others just from the outside. Some were surprizingly large.Yes, 50 people would be crowded, but doable. Even comfortable in a few.
  2. Riley was in the loft getting his gun but was not seen by the vigilantes until he came down the stairs. Nearly every cabin I saw had a ceiling all but completely closing off the loft. None of them had a ladder to get to the loft. In every case it was a steep and narrow stair case completely covered and with a door. In most families the sons slept in the loft while the parents and girls and little children slept downstairs.
  3. Martin came in through the back door. All the cabins had at least two doors and most had three. In a log cabin, doors are cheap to make.
  4. Visey was in the kitchen when the shooting started. Only one cabin I went into had a single room. It was built in 1829. All of the others had 2 to 5 rooms, plus a loft. The kitchen was usually one of the first rooms added to a cabin, since cooking meant heat and in Tennessee, the summers are hot enough indoors without adding to it with cooking.
  5. Malinda was shot through the front windows. Framed windows were in every cabin I saw. They appeared to be relatively modern in design, though not with that tilt-in-for-cleaning feature.
  6. Jim Conder was at the gate greeting guests. Split rail fencing in a zig zag pattern was cheap, easy to build and easy to modify when you wanted to make your herb garden a little bigger. If you wanted to keep unwanted livestock away from your house and garden, you kept your gate closed, giving Jim a good reason to be at the gate when the guests arrived. What I didn't see was a gate designed to work for the split rail fencing.
Here is a photo of the smallest of the cabins at Cade Cove. Except for the lack of a kitchen it had the features the Conder home did, even a stairway to the loft. The inside was easily 20' by 25'. The Conder family was affluent by Cane Creek standards. Jim had over 300 acres under cultivation and at least one "shed" out back. The average family in 19th century Tennessee would, in addition to the main home, need a smoke house, a corn crib, a barn, and an outhouse.


Amy said...

What a cool post.

I've been inside a large log cabin of that vintage, although it was in the Upper Midwest, and yes, it could have been used to hold a meeting of that size. Perhaps a little crowded, like you said, but it wasn't one of these tiny structures like the Little House on the Prairie family seemed to put up regularly in their numerous moves.

BruceCrow said...

Thanks Amy,
I'm not sure how much cabin design changed from area to area. But I get the sense that the design was driven by the medium (or perhaps the weather) more than by regional peculiarities. So the upper midwest cabin probably looked similar to cabins in Tennessee.

Ardis Parshall said...

I'm missing the photo -- ?

Wonderful post! This really helps me visualize the setting. I'm afraid "cabin" for me has meant only those little one-room cubicles, like the Osmond Deuel cabin next to the church museum, that couldn't in any way have fit the description of the Cane Creek events.

You also do a lot to raise the image of 19th century rural Southerners. I'm embarrassed to say that with my mental image of what a cabin was -- barely better than a cave, squalid and small and dark and dank -- I've wondered why people didn't have the drive to do better than that for themselves after they got beyond the critical tasks of first settlement. You've shown that they did.

BruceCrow said...

Ardis, I sent you the photo by email.

Some of the missionary journals from the period noted the squalid conditions of some of the cabins. Not everyone was as well off as the Conders were.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post. And loved that you included the photo. Thanks!


BruceCrow said...

Glad you liked it Hunter.