The cabin was built in the early 1830's, at a time when Stevensville was a thriving logging community. It was built of hand-hewn timbers, presumably harvested from the immediate surroundings. The ends of the logs were notched, and the nails used were square in cross section. Chinking between the logs was twigs, sticks, clay and animal hair.
Originally it was called the H. Hicks Farm. It was a simple two-storey, open-plan house, heated by a wood stove downstairs and upstairs. The windows with multiple small panes were typical of the time. In the 1920's an addition was built behind the main cabin, which comprised an extra room, a kitchen, and an indoor toilet (although that may have been added later. In any case a great luxury).
In 1980, the Hicks' Farm (aka Hicks-Wheeler Log Cabin) was listed on the Historic Sites and Structures Survey. It was considered to be of State significance, being 'one of the few authentic frontier-era log cabins remaining in the State'. At the time, it was considered to be in 'good' condition, however has obviously deteriorated since them.
In November 2016 I was hiking on the Nebraska Notch Trail. When I returned to the parking area, I noticed a 'For Sale' sign. Being in a particularly grumpy mood, I wondered what was for sale, and persuaded myself that there would be no harm in calling up the realtor to find out . . . she told me it was a 17 1/2 acre building lot, house-site already cleared, permits in place, ready to build . . . oh, and an 'old building that needs to be taken down'.
Noooo! We mustn't keep clearing, building, developing and chipping away at our remaining intact blocks of contiguous forest. Someone needs to stand up for the natural world.
And, as for the cabin, I've always thought that there was something special about that . . .
I couldn't let it be sold for a building lot.
I arranged to visit with the realtor. But the day I went, despite it being on the market for months (years?), someone else apparently put an offer on it. And the offer was good for precisely one day.
I didn't have the resources to make an immediate counter-offer, so I decided to write to the owners. I gave a lengthy plea for conservation, shared my plan to preserve the land and restore the cabin as a natural history education space, and asked for more time.
Unfortunately, even though the owners said that they 'appreciated my vision for the property', they also (understandably) 'did not wish to turn down the offer that was on the table'.
At that point, any sensible person would have given up. But I had the bit between my teeth, and I couldn't let go.
I contacted everyone / every organization I could think of who might be able to help, and spent hours researching online / at the Town Offices. I discovered all kinds of barriers to building on the property, problems with it being a full-time residence, but also a lot of community interest in the cabin at the bottom end of the property. I continued.
By January 2017 my persistence finally paid off - with many people's help, I became the proud owner of a falling down log cabin and 17 1/2 acres of woodland by Mt Mansfield State Forest.
I said 'falling down' . . . but the roof, two walls, and upper story are still (just about) intact, and I am hoping that restoration will be possible.
And I still believe that it's worth it. In fact, its historical significance can only have increased in the 40 years since the Historical Sites and Structures Survey. But I didn't know where to begin.
Time to reach out to some experts . . .
Eliot Lothrup (Building Heritage), Devin Colman (VT State Architectural Historian), Jim Zimmer (log cabin expert) came to see the cabin and brainstorm on 6 November 2018, and a number of community members joined us. Everyone was very excited about the project and the fascinating history of the cabin.
(see 'Events' section for more details).
The consensus among the experts was that the cabin will need to be dismantled, piece by piece. Each piece will need to be examined, and recorded. Only then will we know what can be saved, what can be repaired, and what needs to be replaced . . .
The first order of business, however, was to stabilize the cabin and prevent it from falling down over the fast-approaching winter. Eliot and his team did a fantastic job, just as the first snows fell.
(See Events section for more details).
When the cabin was first built it was presumably relatively easy to find big enough logs from the immediate area. Not now. I spent months looking for 19" spruce and found it a lot harder than I had anticipated. I had a few suitable trees on my own property (see Horse Logging in Events section). My neighbors, Bob & Patsy, very kindly contributed 6 beautiful logs, for which I am extremely grateful.
I ended up looking further afield, but even then it was not easy. But the Chittenden County Forester came to the rescue and let me know that there was going to be a winter cut in the Hinesburg Town Forest and likely some perfect spruce trees - indeed there were! I now have 24 beautiful logs ready for hewing this summer / fall.
In July 2020 Mike Baker (aka The Ring Finder) brought his collection of metal detectors to see what treasure we could find around the cabin. Some of the more interesting finds included a lead cross, an axe head and a long handle for holding a pot over a fire.
(See Events section for more details).
Despite the heatwave, Mile Jennes from Vermont Heavy Timber led a very interesting workshop on hewing logs in preparation for rebuilding the cabin. We all had a chance to practise using a broad axe and learned the techniques for figuring out how to accurately determine the size of the squared off timber inside the round log.
Not an easy job!
(see Events section for more details).