Cabin Size

Discussion in 'Primary Documentation' started by zimmerstutzen, Jan 30, 2019.

Help Support Muzzle Loading Forum by donating:

  1. Jan 30, 2019 #1

    zimmerstutzen

    zimmerstutzen

    zimmerstutzen

    70 Cal.

    Joined:
    Apr 2, 2009
    Messages:
    5,056
    Likes Received:
    34
    Talking with an older relative the other day as we passed a small log cabin a local fellow built from logs he cut on his property. I appeared to be a nicely done job, but was small, perhaps 12ft x 14ft. And we started wondering about the size of the actual cabins raised on the early frontier. We had both been to the remnants of small villages here in Pennsylvania and the stone foundations were also small, so we think the cabins and houses must have been fairly small away from the settlements as well. The old stone foundations at long gone village called Rausch Gap were the size ofthe cabin we just passed. The old foundation of the early house on my property was at best 14 x 18. There are several small clusters of cottages in this area and the sizes are also similarly small. One house still occupied up the road is perhaps 16 x 16, not including the front porch. I have been to the Ft Clark historical site in North Dakota, (last occupied in the 1830's) and most of those foundations were also sort of small. My first white ancestor in the New World, landed in Philadelphia in fall of 1685, and records indicate that he lived in a sort of dug out cellar with a roof over it for the first couple years here. That could not have been very big either. Is there documentation about the sizes of the average frontier cabin? when I see the cabin in Last of the Mohicans, I can't help but think that must have been a mansion to most frontier folks.
     
    NW Territory Woodsman likes this.
  2. Jan 30, 2019 #2

    Rifleman1776

    Rifleman1776

    Rifleman1776

    Cannon MLF Supporter

    Joined:
    May 26, 2011
    Messages:
    15,285
    Likes Received:
    174
    Location:
    Arkansas Ozarks
    Zimmer, I can't document for you. But, I will say the restored places we have visited had larger cabins and houses than you describe. Of course, even a 16x24, or so would be cramped for a family. I believe (that's just a methinks thing) might largely be dictated by the types of trees prominent in a given area. Trees of a diameter that can be handled and that grow tall and straight would lend themselves to larger cabins. Is there a possibility the small foundations you saw were the remains of out buildings?

    Oops! I speculated. Rules violation.:oops:
     
  3. Jan 30, 2019 #3

    Loyalist Dave

    Loyalist Dave

    Loyalist Dave

    Cannon MLF Supporter

    Joined:
    Nov 23, 2011
    Messages:
    7,330
    Likes Received:
    173
    Location:
    People's Republic of Maryland
    Remember too that some of the "community forts" that frontier farmers put up, had "cabins" inside the walls, OR were made of a square formation of cabins, with walled portions connecting the cabins that didn't share a wall like a modern, townhouse. When you see these forts restored, or you visit the foundation markings, and then hear how many people would occupy that defensive position..., the cabins in the fort were even smaller than the cabins you describe. More like hard tents in size than what we think when we say "cabin".

    I have read where the lone homesteader would make a rough cabin, and get a crop into the ground so as to lay claim on the land, and then..., spend the time the following year to make a more permanent structure, that would last longer and be more comfortable in bad weather. The original structure might then be converted to a sort of barn, or simply knocked down and incorporated into the new dwelling.

    So I think you're quite correct that folks built and lived in structures smaller than what Hollywood would have us expect. Here is a link to land that shows the dwelling as modern as 1905 (scroll down) and you will see it's not very big. https://www.nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/humes-ranch-loop.htm Here's another in Nebraska, and I'd guess the smaller portion was the first, followed by the additional, larger part. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Arthur,_Nebraska_log_cabin_4.JPG..., I wonder where the chimney is/was..., though.

    Richard Proenneke homesteaded in Alaska for 20 years or so..., starting in 1968..., in a pretty small cabin that he built.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Proenneke


    Smaller is probably easier to build, quicker to build, and easier to heat in winter. ???

    LD
     
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2019
  4. Jan 30, 2019 #4

    Coot

    Coot

    Coot

    69 Cal. MLF Supporter

    Joined:
    Jul 31, 2006
    Messages:
    3,212
    Likes Received:
    25
    As is so often the case, the answer depends somewhat on when and where. In the original Jamestown Settlement, the houses were very small - as I recall, perhaps 10x12 feet. A surviving contract from 1753 in Augusta County, VA, was "to build two round log houses, each twenty feet long and fifteen feet wide, to be eight feet high under the joists. The houses and 'chimnies' to be 'juncked' and daubed both outside and in". How "typical" these houses would have been is hard to say. I have heard that 16x16 was a common size in early Virginia as 250 sq feet was a big enough house to qualify as "improving" the land (in addition to clearing acres for crops) for purposes of filing a claim. A consideration that still applies today is that 16 feet is a practical limit for simple joists both for one man to handle and to span without too much sag or deflection.
     
  5. Jan 30, 2019 #5

    smo

    smo

    smo

    70 Cal. MLF Supporter

    Joined:
    Jul 26, 2007
    Messages:
    4,383
    Likes Received:
    113
    Location:
    Tn
    From the few remaining structures I’ve seen , most of which are in Al, Tn general area they were small in size. I do believe most of these were built in the 1800’s however....

    Making it easier too heat in the Winter, some had sleeping lofts which added extra room too the small structure.

    Heating in Winter would be my priority, smaller space less heat required less wood chopping!

    That’s why I like too camp close too the wood pile nowadays! LOL
     
  6. Jan 31, 2019 #6

    tenngun

    tenngun

    tenngun

    Cannon

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2008
    Messages:
    8,758
    Likes Received:
    274
    Location:
    Republic mo
    In Petie Jean Arkansas is an original cabin built in 1845 about 10x10, maybe 12. It was a family home. Wolf house near salesvill Arkansas was built before 1836 and was the supervisor over the indian nations west of white river. A dog trot house about 16 foot square right and left with an upstairs that covered house. Nat Boone’s house near ash grove Missiouri was about 18x40.
     
  7. Jan 31, 2019 #7

    tenngun

    tenngun

    tenngun

    Cannon

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2008
    Messages:
    8,758
    Likes Received:
    274
    Location:
    Republic mo
    A42E4ACB-1015-4A28-A9D5-2BE817D3442D.jpeg CCF84D43-71F1-40E2-80EE-F340642371C0.jpeg C7D46D47-2312-4E94-9AC6-E431B5541BA0.jpeg 38442429-C5E9-45A9-9328-A20AA4224DB1.jpeg
     

    Attached Files:

    Hammond79 likes this.
  8. Jan 31, 2019 #8

    tenngun

    tenngun

    tenngun

    Cannon

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2008
    Messages:
    8,758
    Likes Received:
    274
    Location:
    Republic mo
  9. Jan 31, 2019 #9

    tenngun

    tenngun

    tenngun

    Cannon

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2008
    Messages:
    8,758
    Likes Received:
    274
    Location:
    Republic mo
    Boons house was log covered with clapboards, the Petie Jean house was uncovered, the small cabin in the bottom is from Wilson Creek sitting on original foundation it was the cabin that servers as confederat HQ, although this building was moved to site, maybe 10x12
     
  10. Jan 31, 2019 #10

    Straekat

    Straekat

    Straekat

    40 Cal

    Joined:
    Nov 26, 2018
    Messages:
    124
    Likes Received:
    31
    Location:
    Yohogania
    If my memory is correct, I think Solon Buck, in "Plating of Civilization in Western Pennsylvania" said early cabins tended to be less than 400 sf. He also said cabins were primarily intended for protection from the weather, and people worked outdoors during daylight. That's 20x20, or slightly bigger than a modern double car garage.

    An adult male building a cabin would have to cut and trim trees into logs, haul/drag them to the cabin site and then lift them into place to form the cabin walls. Oak weighs 45 pounds per cubic foot. One 10"x10"20ft log would weigh roughly 700 pounds. There are other trees that could be used for logs, however, the weight factor and how many adult males were available to help build a cabin may have been a major factor in how large cabins could be built.
     
    sawyer04 likes this.
  11. Jan 31, 2019 #11

    BrownBear

    BrownBear

    BrownBear

    Cannon MLF Supporter

    Joined:
    Jan 3, 2004
    Messages:
    14,603
    Likes Received:
    116
    Based on the foundations I've seen in the Rockies and Alaska, that's actually quite large. Most I've seen have been around 8'x8'. The other thing that appears common is low builds- side walls about 4' and roof peaks barely hitting 6', if that. The bottom line is that if it's cold enough to need a cabin, you need it small enough you can heat it without cutting acres of firewood. I was part of the crew that did the archeology on one of the first American trading posts in AK after purchase from Russia. The biggest building was the combo warehouse and store. It was 12'x20'. We excavated three cabins (verified by household goods that fell through cracks in the floor in the cabins and trade goods in the warehouse/store), and the biggest cabin of the bunch was 8'x8', with the others 6'x6'. Interesting enough all were built on floors of hewn logs.

    Our wall tent for use in remote settings in AK is in fact 12'x14' and has a wood stove. From long experience feeding that stove, I can tell you I'm real sympathetic with the common sense of smaller spaces.
     
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2019
  12. Jan 31, 2019 #12

    zimmerstutzen

    zimmerstutzen

    zimmerstutzen

    70 Cal.

    Joined:
    Apr 2, 2009
    Messages:
    5,056
    Likes Received:
    34
    Thank you all for confirming my thoughts.

    "An adult male building a cabin would have to cut and trim trees into logs, haul/drag them to the cabin site and then lift them into place to form the cabin walls. Oak weighs 45 pounds per cubic foot. One 10"x10"20ft log would weigh roughly 700 pounds. There are other trees that could be used for logs, however, the weight factor and how many adult males were available to help build a cabin may have been a major factor in how large cabins could be built."

    There are some ingenious methods to roll very heavy logs into place even up inclines without a draft animal to assist. I had a small timber frame shed on my farm , perhaps 12 x 15, that had been knocked off the foundation by a drunk (prior owner). One day I was determined to get that shed back on it's foundation. It needed to be lifted up 18 inches and moved two feet to set square on the foundation again. Using rocks and cinder blocks and a 14 ft piece of telephone pole, I got the thing back up on the foundation. It took me about 3 hours to do it. I managed to do the entire job, and the biggest weight I lifted was the 14 ft 6 or 7 inch diameter pole I managed to lift the shed and move it a few inches at a time, by pushing down with my weight on the end of the pole as a fulcrum and simply walking my end of the pole about two feet each time. I read an account of an engineer, a fireman and signal man, getting a locomotive back on the tracks after Indians stole rails out west. Took them two days of digging and shifting track with a boom to do it, but like the pyramids, is was done by Human effort. The locomotive came to rest on sand. They stabilized it with ties, dug out under the wheels to install track under the wheels, lowered the loco onto the tracks by digging out the sand from under the locomotive and then drove forward out of the hole, where they moved track from behind to in front until they were back on the main rail bed. Today, a bunch of safety engineers would meet for two weeks and call in a special crane. Those three men did it by hand shoveling and knowing how. I think a frontiersman building a cabin was familiar with a few tricks to move logs. Like, don't cut them down hill from the cabin. :)
     
  13. Feb 3, 2019 #13

    sawyer04

    sawyer04

    sawyer04

    36 Cl. MLF Supporter

    Joined:
    Feb 3, 2013
    Messages:
    87
    Likes Received:
    23
    Location:
    missouri
    Cabins were built to accommodate what the length of logs were available and the method of raising, of course family size might have had some reasoning, but I doubt it. Most cabins had sleeping lofts. Cabins were mostly sleeping areas and eating areas. The homestead usually had small buildings for barns and if lucky a small shop. Mini houses of today. The old timer was a bit smaller than we are today too.
    I am interested in the use of rigging, horses, mostly oxen to raise the oak logs. The foundations were movable to accommodate the planned layout. Set a rock foundation in the light of a new moon. It won't sink.
     
  14. Feb 3, 2019 #14

    tenngun

    tenngun

    tenngun

    Cannon

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2008
    Messages:
    8,758
    Likes Received:
    274
    Location:
    Republic mo
    One addendum, was though we see cabins that were very small for countless reasons. Most men didn't build alone. A house raising like a barn raising was a community event. We like to think of brave frontiersmen with axe in one hand rifle in the other going forth to tame the wild frontier, in truth it was small communities of families. Think Boonsbourgh,Austin’s hundred, wagon trains bound for Oregon.
     
  15. Feb 3, 2019 #15

    wweedman

    wweedman

    wweedman

    Pilgrim

    Joined:
    Mar 21, 2005
    Messages:
    2
    Likes Received:
    0
    If you want to know more about log structures there are several good books. Log houses of Ohio, log houses of Indiana, and log houses of Tennessee. I don’t remember the exact titles as the books are in my office but you could do a search on bookfinder.com. They were small, most were sided. Could be dog trot, 1 1/2 story and were added on to many times.
     

Share This Page

arrow_white