Log cabins have long been a symbol of American frontier spirit. They have also been a part of politics in this country. Seven early Presidents were born in log cabins. The humble structures have also been used in partisan politics, beginning in 1840 with the Whig campaign of William Henry Harrison and into the current era with the Log Cabin Republicans.
Because this is the last Sunday in June, today is National Log Cabin Day in the US. Thankfully, the focus is not so much on politics as it is about enjoying a very simple lifestyle, at least for a day. Log Cabin Day is more about spending the day at a log cabin. Some people are fortunate enough to own a small cabin. Others have reserved or otherwise rent a small log cabin at a state park. The idea is to capture a small sample of life in America when log cabins were much more common as family homes.
The log cabins I’m thinking of are not those ranch-style, luxurious log homes with large floor plans and equally large windows. Although they are beautiful homes, they do not exemplify a primitive, simple lifestyle. No, a log cabin is a simple one or one-and-a-half story dwelling, architecturally unsophisticated. The little buildings are usually constructed from round, not hand-worked, logs.
We like to think of log cabins as a North American invention, but that really isn’t so. Log cabins first appeared in the forest regions of Scandinavia and later, Eastern Europe around 3500 BCE. Many of the first log cabins were built in pre-colonial America by Swedish settlers using traditional Scandinavian techniques and styles.
The harsh northern European climates were a good match for those of Canada and mountainous portions elsewhere in North America. Their quick and simple construction made log cabins a logical, popular choice for North American settlers. They were especially well-suited to areas that experience harsh Scandinavian-like winters due to the excellent insulating qualities of solid wood.
Early America’s first log cabins were erected in 1638 by Swedish settlers in New Sweden (now Delaware). Later arrivals from germanic lands and the Ukraine adapted their methods. Colonists from Great Britain did not utilize log cabin building until they learned it from the other Europeans.
Even though the vast majority of Americans do not live nor have access to simple log cabins, we still treasure them as cultural icons. Aside from modern log homes, some commercial products have long used imagery of the log cabin. In 1887, Minnesota grocer Patrick Towle began selling Log Cabin® maple syrup. He chose the name to honor Abraham Lincoln, who grew up in a log cabin. One of my favorite toys was a set of Lincoln Logs®. Many children have spent hours building log cabins and other little constructions with the small “logs”.
Because Log Cabin Day celebrates a very primal, simple lifestyle, I’m planning a day with a minimum of modern technology. Even though I’m starting the day by blogging and checking the baseball scores, I’ll be spending as much time as possible outdoors, hiking. If weather permits, I’ll spend some time near Norfolk, Nebraska’s Johnson Park log cabin. Simple, non-microwaved meals will suffice for nourishment. A book or two will provide entertainment. I hope to have plenty of time for meditation and contemplation.
I’ll be thinking of how log cabins represent both my American and my Swedish ancestry. I wish I still had my old set of Lincoln Logs®.