Students help move and reconstruct oldest log cabin in Walker County

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Back in the 1840s, the thought of moving was a big ordeal. Moving your home also? Impossible. This past year, some dedicated people have moved the oldest known log cabin in Walker County. With some help of history students, and under the guidance and coordination of Caroline Crimm, history professor at SHSU, the Farris-Roberts log cabin was moved 15 miles from where it was located.During July, about 33 SHSU senior and seven master history students, helped deconstruct the two-room cabin. They mainly removed the roof and some attachments so the structure could be easily moved. Stuart Cox, an expert in structure preservation, and restoration architect Carroll Tharp, supervised the students as they reassembled the cabin. With a mixture of clay, hay and water, the students filled in gaps in the structure. This mixture may have been used in the original construction of the cabin. They finished filling in gaps and rebuilt the fireplace over the next few weeks.The cabin was first opened for tourists and trade in May, during the “Airing of the Quilts.” This event included many quilts, both for sale and some for display, around the courthouse and various merchant shops.Shawn Lewis, the manager of Main Street, said the students “are not only learning new skills and gaining better appreciation for the challenges and contributions made by their ancestors… they are truly bringing history to Main Street Huntsville.”Allen Roberts built the cabin in 1840 or 1841, and before being moved to downtown, it was located on the Farris family property west of Huntsville. The cabin remained in the Farris family for six generations, until it was donated to the city in 2001.The Farris family had offered to donate the cabin 17 years ago, but apparently some local citizens interested in historical preservation were concerned that moving the structure would damage the cabin and would be lost to deterioration and neglect, Lewis said. The family had also offered $1,000 toward moving and restoring the structure at the time.Unfortunately, for most of its current history, the cabin had been used as a storage place for hay and occasionally provided shelter for cattle.The log cabin moving project, known as “Cabin Fever”, was started about summer 2001. The project was done in conjunction with SHSU, the city of Huntsville and Main Street.SHSU Research and Sponsored Programs department had given $5,000 toward the project, and also produced a historic journal compiled by Crimm’s students. The journal detailed the history of the cabin, the Farris family and the new site for the cabin.Crimm and the Main Street Office gathered $6,000 in cash donations and nearly $4,000 in-kind donations to relocate and restore the cabin. City funds were not used and volunteers and TDCJ inmates helped reconstruct the cabin on the new location.The City of Huntsville maintains the property that the cabin is located on and Main Street coordinates who uses the cabin and the occupants who use the location for various functions, Lewis said.The cabin currently houses non-profit organizations, like Spinners & Weavers, the Quilt Guild and the Garden Club. These organizations maintain the inside and the outside of the cabin. This keeps the cost low for the city to maintain the cabin. The cabin was wired for electricity, and serves as both a visitor center and an arts and crafts display area.”The cabin is fully staffed by volunteers,” Nancy Pasket of the Tall Pine Quilters Guild, said. “No one has never come through. There has not been a time when the cabin was not unlocked.”These volunteers trade their time to run the cabin in order to have an outlet to sell their goods. There are a variety of handmade items like toys to clothing and even sweaters and hats.”They (patrons) come here for something different – something authentic, hand made,” Pasket said.”The courtyard, and especially the porch, are two of the greatest things about the cabin,” Lewis said. “The porch is historically accurate, but also functions as a stage for events and demonstrations.”The Garden Club plants and maintains the area around the cabin. Pasket said that the Garden Club waters everyday, making sure everything is beautiful for visitors and tourists.According to the guest book, the cabin has had visitors from around the world. “They come from different places. England, Costa Rica, Mexico City, Brazil, and even Massachusetts,” Pasket said, flipping through the guest book. “I guess we are kind of internationally known.”The cabin is located between Perfect Nails and Walker County Title, and is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday thru Sunday. It stands on the site that is believed to have been the location of the founder of Huntsville Pleasant Gray’s original trading post, built around 1835. This trading post was the start of Huntsville, which grew to be considered the center for education, law and was home to many military leaders.