After decades in storage, historical log cabin rises again
Records point to the Holstein family as the original builders of the snug, little cabin — likely a gift to their daughter on the occasion of her wedding.
Details in the log beams suggest part of the homestead, which dates from the 1820s or 1830s, had to be rebuilt at one point.
Fire is the most probable culprit. In an era when open fireplaces were the norm, a conflagration was an ever-present risk.
“This is our history,” Gerlene Sizer, president of the Craig County Historical Society, said of the home that once stood on the banks of Craig Creek.
“It’s something we want to preserve,” she added. “They don’t make ’em like this anymore.”
The Holstein Cabin, as it’s been dubbed, is returning to Craig County after spending nearly 30 years tucked away in storage at Explore Park.
The building’s last owners donated it to the state-owned park at a time when officials imagined it might one day become an elaborate historical attraction.
The park, now managed by Roanoke County, has since changed gears to focus on outdoor recreation. As part of that shift, it’s been working to return many of its historical artifacts, either to the original donors or to groups that will preserve them for historical education and research.
In Craig County, the historical society jumped at the chance to resurrect the two-story cabin. The group previously handled the reconstruction of two other cabins now situated in New Castle near the county museum and courthouse.
The opportunity to add a third opens up the possibility of establishing a historical square, of sorts, where larger living history events could be held and perhaps one day even a festival.
While those would be longer-term goals, the volunteer-driven nonprofit developed a plan to get the Holstein Cabin re-established in New Castle this year.
Roger Davis, who specializes in masonry and cabin restoration, was brought in to reassemble the oak-and-pine structure on Court Street, next door to the smaller Hawkins-Brizendine Cabin. The county donated a slice of land to ensure there would be enough space for the second structure.
Davis, whose grandfather was also a cabin builder, said he enjoys the complex work of piecing a part of history back together.
It’s something that resonates with the community as well. Hardly a day goes by without a person — or 20 — stopping by to see the latest progress or swap stories about their own family lore.
“This is everybody’s heritage,” Davis said of the project. “That’s the reason people are so interested in it.”
Since work started in April, Davis has been piecing the cabin’s beams — each numbered when they were detached and packed into storage — back into their original pattern.
When new building materials were needed, priority was placed on finding them within Craig County.
Stone salvaged from a local chimney was used to lay a new foundation for the cabin. Wood from a local barn replaced beams that had rotted during the cabin’s decades in storage.
Some concessions to modernity were made. The masonry used to fortify the house, for example, will be concrete rather than the less durable chinking of clay and animal hair fiber that would have been common to the period.
The cabin, slowly but surely, has been taking shape, its walls now in place and under roof once again.
“It’s starting to look like a house again,” said Glenn Paxton, a board member with the historical society.
The nonprofit is in the midst of a fundraising campaign to cover the restoration’s estimated budget of $75,000.
To date, the community has raised about $32,000 toward that goal. A fundraising dinner, initially planned for this month but canceled by Hurricane Florence, is now set for Nov. 9.
Tax-deductible donations can also be sent directly to the Craig County Historical Society at P.O. Box 206, New Castle, VA, 24127.
The educational programs these buildings allow the county to put on offer a firsthand glimpse into the past, Sizer said.
During a recent school tour of the Hawkins-Brizendine Cabin, she said, young students got an up-close look at the hardscrabble life that families had to live in an era before the internet, indoor plumbing or paved roads.
“I was astounded by some of the questions they asked,” Sizer said. “They were interested.”
That, she added, is what makes projects like the Holstein Cabin restoration worthwhile. “It’s about preserving it for future generations.”