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Defining the Design: Log Cabin Architecture

Written by Kelly Weimert on Friday, November 30th, 2018 at 3:10am.

Original image source: goldeneagleloghomes.com

Log cabins have been an architectural staple in the United States for a very long time—centuries, in fact. Most historians agree that the first log cabins were constructed in the U.S. in the mid-17th century by European settlers from Sweden and Finland. These Swedish-Finnish colonists adopted the style for its straightforward and functional construction techniques, with German, Ukranian, and English immigrants following suit soon after.

Often, the original log cabins were not intended to be permanent dwellings. Instead, settlers built them as quick shelters they could use while they were constructing bigger, more permanent houses. Once settlers moved into the larger homes, they often used the log cabins as various outbuildings for their farms, like chicken coops and barns. This lack of permanence means that it’s pretty tough to find log cabins from the early days, but the C. A. Nothnagle Log House in New Jersey is thought to be the oldest one standing in the U.S., constructed in 1640.

Despite the temporary nature of these first cabins, there are many much more permanent modern adaptations that range from cozy and quaint to grand and elegant.

Features of a Log Cabin

Features of Log Cabin Architecture Style

Image credit: thelittleloghousecompany.com


It should go without saying that the primary characteristic of this architectural style is that it’s built with, you guessed it, logs. Logs are typically laid horizontally and interlocked through end notches.

Purlin or Rafter Roof Structure

Most log cabins were built with either purlin or rafter roof structures. Purlin roofs are comprised of horizontal logs notched into the gabled wall logs. Rafter roofs are progressively shortened to create a triangular gable end. The more gable-wall logs on the roof, the steeper it is.

Simple, Rectangular Shape

Original log cabins typically featured a simple, rectangular shape, though much more elaborate constructions exist in the modern day.

Log Cabin Architecture Features

Small Windows

Most original log cabins featured small windows to shield dwellers from the outdoor elements.

Functional Build Site

Among the most important aspects of original log cabin construction was the site they were built on. Sites were chosen to maximize sunlight and drainage for optimal frontier living.

Varied Sizes

There’s never been much of a standard in terms of log cabin size. The size of the original log cabins was largely determined by the availability of local materials and the number of inhabitants.

Famous Log Cabins

C. A. Nothnagle Log House

Oldest Log Cabin CA Nothnagle Log House

Image credit: wikimedia.org

Built in 1640, the C. A. Nothnagle Log House is the oldest standing log cabin in the United States. It was built by Finnish settlers in what’s now Gloucester County, New Jersey.

Lower Swedish Cabin

Lower Swedish Cabin Log Cabin

Image credit: wikipedia.org

Thought to be built shortly after the Nothnagle Log House sometime in the 1640s, this cabin was constructed in Pennsylvania by Swedish immigrants.

Morgan Log House

Morgan Log House Log Cabin

Image credit: wikipedia.org

Pegged as the oldest two-and-a-half story log cabin in America, the Morgan Log House dates back to 1708. It now operates as a historic museum.

Hyde Log Cabin

Hyde Log Cabin Architecture

Image credit: wikipedia.org

Built in 1783, the Hyde Log Cabin is the oldest surviving cabin in Vermont. It was constructed with cedar logs by Jedidiah Hyde whose family lived in it for over 150 years.

Fun Facts About Log Cabins

    • During the Great Depression, the Roosevelt Administration directed the Civilian Conservation Corps to build log cabins to be used as lodges for the Forest Service and National Park Service.
    • The Chateau Montebello hotel in Quebec, Canada is the world’s largest log cabin and was constructed in 1930.
    • Log cabins are typically built much more sustainably than other structures, making them among the leading architectural styles of the green building movement.

Log Cabins For Sale

Looking for a Log Cabin to call home? Use our innovative Search With Style® tool to view all Log Cabins for sale right now. 

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