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01 Oct 2012
When people think of garden cabins, most see them as pastoral and identify them with rural America, but their history really begins in Scandinavia and Europe. Records show that the very first one was constructed in 3500BC in Northern Europe. Once the Europeans settled in America, they already had a lengthy history of using logs for houses. Garden cabins were first built by settlers in 1638. They made corners that interlocked by putting notches in the ends, and piled tree trunks on the top of every other. The design of the notches had to do with the settlers' ethnic background. Some logs were also nailed together. Notching or nailing supplied a solid base, and the settlers filled the cracks between the logs with moss, mud, or other soft materials, called garden cabins.

In the coldest parts of the nation, keeping houses warm was of most importance. It was discovered that the wood had an insulating quality, lacking in timber frame building covered with shingles or animal skins. In future years, the joints were enhanced to make sure they are more weather-tight, but round logs were still used. Pioneers began to settle in the North and in Canada because of the inclement weather, causing log garden summerhouses to become quite popular.

It was highly significant where the garden cabin was located. Sun had to be accessible, and there had to be proper drainage. The first pioneers had their range of the finest logs from straight trees with old growth, and few limbs. This meant the logs did not need to be hewed to fit together correctly. They usually selected logs which were the size of one wall. If the lumber resources were far away then the cottages remained small. Stones were used to aid thresholds, across the sill and corners. Stones were also used as foundation to help keep the cabins exposed of weather, and also as a place for storage. Bark was frequently used for roofs, and common building was a purling roof, which were logs that have been notched in to wall logs.

In 1787, the Pittsburgh Academy started as a cottage. Based on Pittsburgh historian Agnes Lynch Starrett, there is "plenty of evidence that courses were held in a log building, even prior to the charter being granted."

Very few 18th century log garden shed supplier are still in existence, but these were not constructed for permanent residency. When settlers constructed larger residences, the cabins were relegated to serve as outbuildings, or even chicken coops or dog houses. All through the depression, log garden cabins were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the west for the National Park Service and the Forest Service. In 1930, the largest cabin in the world became the Chateau Montebello Hotel, built in Montebello, Quebec, Canada.

In the 20th century, cabins had 2x4 rafters covered with sheeting and cedar shingles. In rural places because of the lack of milled lumber, purling roofs were covered with long shingles which have been split up by hand. In some parts of the Midwest in Canada, log cabins were covered with clapboards. Cabins in the nineteenth century also had interior plaster. In Illinois, the Illinois Historical Society manages an 86 acre historical site which includes an exact replica of Abraham Lincoln's two-room log garden cabin. It had been constructed in 1935 on the initial site of Lincoln's cottage as a Civilian Conservation Corps job.


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