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Today is September 19, 2018

Handmade History

Smith County man rescues, renovates early settler’s log cabin

By Debbie Stringer

Handmade History

The original log cabin measured 17 by 20 feet. Its age is unknown but owner Curtis Hegwood estimates it was likely erected in the late 1800s. Hegwood increased the log spacing from 2 to 5 inches in order to create taller walls. One of two original support beams under the cabin is visible to the right of the steps. The front door, windows and bricks came from Hegwood’s collection of vintage materials salvaged from old home demolitions.

Curtis Hegwood fell in love at age 12 while vacationing with his family in the Smoky Mountains.

The object of his affection was an old log cabin he found while exploring then-rural Gatlinburg. “I was fascinated. It was the first real one I had ever seen. From then on I knew I wanted an authentic log cabin,” said Hegwood, a member of Southern Pine Electric.

Little did he know that such a cabin stood hidden only a few miles away from his home in Raleigh. For decades the logs had been covered in clapboard and the cedar-shake roof shrouded in tin. Rooms had been added, further obscuring the cabin’s original structure.

“From the time I was 15 years old, I drove by this house all the time and never knew it was a log cabin,” Hegwood said.

One day, he pulled up to the abandoned house to get a look at its unusual white clay chimney. Closer inspection convinced Hegwood there was an old settler’s log cabin beneath the rotting boards.

After an eternity of pleading, Hegwood persuaded the owner to sell him the cabin after Hurricane Katrina destroyed its tin roof. He spent four months taking the cabin apart one log at a time, numbering each one as it was removed to his land.

Over a period of six years he worked on the project in his spare time, completing about 98 percent of the reconstruction himself. His son and grandson helped with chinking, the process of filling the spaces between the logs.

Hegwood felt confident in tackling the work, having researched for years about the old ways of log cabin construction. “The ingenuity to me is amazing. I just love studying the old houses and how they put them together,” he said.

The original cabin measured 17 by 20 feet, plus two large porches and a kitchen off the back.

The walls were built of straight-sided logs hand cut to 11 inches high and 7 inches deep, and notched at both ends. A single overhead beam was pinned to opposing walls to prevent them from bowing outward under the weight of the roof.

The cabin rests on two main beams, each 14 inches square by 30 feet long.

Although he doesn’t know the age of the cabin, Hegwood surmises the clapboard was added fairly soon after its construction, judging by the “fresh” appearance of the logs.

“When I took this house apart, the logs on the inside looked brand new, like they just came out of a mill,” he said.

The logs still bear the marks of the maker’s adze, a heavy form of ax used for dressing timber.

“They stood on the log and made chops to splinter it. To keep from cutting their feet off, the adze had an offset head,” Hegwood explained.

The logs in the original cabin were stacked only 2 inches apart, with various filler materials and possibly mud to seal the spaces between the logs. In rebuilding the cabin, Hegwood increased the spacing to 5 inches, raising the walls from their original 7-foot height, and topped them with a cathedral ceiling reaching 24 feet high.

To the original one-room structure he added a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, sleeping loft, front porch, and a covered outdoor kitchen and fire pit.

Hegwood used old salvaged windows, bricks and lumber throughout the cabin, including the pine beaded boards he used to build the ceiling, kitchen cabinetry, wainscoting and dining table.

He crafted the fireplace mantel from parts of an old upright piano purchased from the Salvation Army.

Adorning the walls is an assortment of mounted fish and wildlife that Hegwood, his son and grandson have taken from local woods and waters.

Also on display are examples of Hegwood’s skill in the art of scrimshaw, a traditional hand-engraving technique using bone or ivory.

The cabin’s ambiance is rustic but not rough. It offers comforts the pioneer builder never would have imagined, like central heat and air, indoor plumbing, hot water and electric lights.

Hegwood named the place Micmak Cabin after the Mi’kmaq Indians of Canada, whose lore included the origin of the pine tree.

He welcomes family members and visitors to the cabin and plans to host a wedding there this summer.

“Having built it and being, well, a little bit proud of it, I love to show it and tell the story,” Hegwood said.

For more information, contact Curtis Hegwood at 601-832-8071.

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