November 2010 I wrote about this old house. Today this is what it looks like.
This article appeared in our local paper a few weeks ago.
If they had had power tools, they likely would have used them. Instead, 19th century German immigrants settling in the rich Cole County farmland relied on strong backs and good neighbors to build their homes.
An uncovered one-room log cabin on Route E near Honey Creek has been under restoration the past six weeks by GK Meyer Construction and Repair LLC, a historical restoration company from Leslie.
Herb Sommerer was curious when his wife, Charlene, told him there was a log cabin inside her childhood home on Route E. He and a friend dismantled the surrounding additions and found a structure worth preserving.
On each of the timber frame or log projects owner Gary Meyer works on, his goal is the same — to put it back together as well as they originally built it.
Meyer doesn’t hesitate to use the modern construction conveniences including a bobcat, power saws and cranes. But he has deep admiration for the men who relied on arm strength, mule teams or simple physics.
“There’s no mechanical fasteners,” Meyer said.
V-notches at the corners held the logs snug to one another. Each long, heavy log was hewn by hand and cut to fit exactly.
For some steps in the restoration process, Meyer prefers to use hand tools quite similar to the 19th century counterparts.
“You get a lot more feel for the wood,” he said. “With a power and motor, I can’t tell what the wood is doing; I have to stop and look.
“The hand is better than the eye.”
Several of the logs needed to be replaced at the Route E cabin. Meyer found appropriate logs he had salvaged from other log structures he has dismantled.
The most crucial step for the log cabin’s continued survival was to lift the entire structure and rebuild the stone foundation.
Because the home initially was built so tight and within 1⁄2-inch of being plumb, that was not too difficult, Meyer said.
As his team cleaned the exposed wood and filled in the gaps, they used preservative materials to help it last another century.
“I hope the original builder would be proud of this,” Meyer said.
The 18-by-20-feet log cabin is owned by Herbert and Charlene Sommerer; both are fourth-generation Cole Countians.
As happened with most late 1800s log homes, this one was added onto and covered with siding, so its exterior appeared like a more modern home.
Charlene’s great-grandfather Franz Josef Propst immigrated from Germany and bought 80 acres for $125 on the Cole County steps in 1873.
Charlene’s grandfather Edward Propst bought the property from his father and an adjacent 80 acres.
Edward reared his children, including Charlene’s father, August Propst, there. And even Charlene lived there before marrying Herb, he said.
But for the past several years, the home sat vacant. When Sommerer suggested it needed to be razed, that’s when he heard for the first time a log cabin was underneath.
“I wanted to see what it looked like,” Sommerer said.
So he and neighbor Kim Wheeler dismantled the surrounding home carefully over the next couple of years.
“When I first saw it, it looked pretty good, worth talking about,” Sommerer said.
Since Franz Josef Propst was age 70 when he bought the property, that supports the theory that the log cabin was built before 1870.
Once the logs were exposed to the weather, it was time for restoration.
Many who have driven by in the past six weeks have honked or shouted encouragement to the workmen.
And a few even have stopped to take photos.
Meyer Construction will finish up the exterior this week.
Then, Sommerer will work on the interior and floor as time allows.