The American Log Cabin- The Myth, the Legend, the 21st Century Dream Come True

The log cabin is a potent symbol of the American spirit and has figured prominently throughout American history. Log cabin life became a presidential campaign trope in the 1820s and continues in modern presidential campaigns writes Jill Lepore in The New Yorker.

Andrew Jackson’s 1824 presidential campaign biography by John Eaton was the first to cast Jackson, a plantation owner, as a man with humble beginnings in a log cabin. Subsequent presidential candidate biographies picked up this narrative regardless of the candidate’s true-life story.

The tale of Abraham Lincoln’s early life is well known, but Life of Abraham Lincoln author William Dean Howells never met Lincoln, nor did he know Lincoln’s ancestry. Howells believed the myth he created was so influential to the success of Lincoln’s 1860 campaign that he remarked to Mark Twain, “I wrote the life of Lincoln, which elected him.”

In the 20th century, campaign biographers continued the tradition established by Eaton in 1824 portraying the early lives of presidential candidates as humble and ordinary, even for wealthy men like Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The True Story of American Log Cabins

Scandinavians have a long tradition of building structures from logs and brought this knowledge with them to New Sweden (along the Delaware River in modern-day Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland) in the 17th century. Immigrants from Germany, Scotland, and Ireland that followed the Finns and Swedes adopted the log cabin-style home.

Settlers built cabins with materials from the environment – trees and rocks – so the Scandinavian style caught on, quickly becoming the preferred type of home for settlers in forested areas. It would have been difficult, if not impossible, to carry other building materials across the rugged landscape.

As the forests gave way to the railroad, towns, and cities, log cabin-style homes remained popular. With a nod to presidential candidate biographies, so-called camps and inns were built with logs to attract wealthy vacationers at the turn of the 20th century. The Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park opened in 1904 and embodied this trend. Robert Chambers Reaper designed it to blend in with the landscape, yet it boasted luxuries like electric lights, steam heat, indoor plumbing, and fine dining.

21st Century Log Cabin Life

Today, the Old Faithful Inn is a historic landmark and is open for lodging. But you don’t need to travel to capture the magic of a log home. Building a log home is accessible to people with modest and expansive budgets. Unlike early American settlers who built log cabins with the few tools they carried on horseback, you can partner with companies like Frontier Log Homes to design and build a log home with experts. Even if you want to take a hands-on approach to the building process, modern cabin owners benefit from engineering, heavy equipment, and protective log finishes, not to mention indoor plumbing, ensuring they experience the best parts of American log cabin life.