The Cabin


When my wife and I bought the family farm years ago, I had no intention of becoming a farmer. I just wanted to keep the farm in the family and maybe spend some of my retirement years here.

Although some of the fields were being farmed by a neighboring tobacco farmer, the rest of the place had been neglected for decades. All of the old buildings were in advanced states of disrepair–that is to say, they were crumbling and falling down.

Over the first ten years we owned the place, while we were still living in Florida, we began slowly and gradually trying to restore and repair things. My dream (dating back to my childhood) had been to restore everything to the way it once looked (or the way I imagined they once looked). I’ve blogged before about our effort to save the old home. That’s been a success story, even if not on the scale I had hoped for. But, sadly, almost all the other buildings were too far gone to save. It’s a story that can’t be told in a mere blog post, but over time we had no choice but to push down and burn what was left of the old stable, the packing barn, the grainery, the hayshed, several collapsing tobacco barns and several of the old tenant houses. I hated that. But, fortunately, in addition to the old “home house,” (known affectionately by us as “the old house”) we were able to save two tobacco barns and a cabin, which I want to highlight today.

In my childhood there was only one family, other than ours, still living on the farm. The home they lived in is still here, but is now overground in the woods and uninhabitable. There were at least five other houses on the place that weren’t being lived in. The cabin was one of them.

From the looks of it, it was originally one room with a loft, then later a second room and loft were added to it, so that now it has two large rooms on the ground floor and two large attic rooms.

I found the place uninteresting when I was a boy. It was being used for storage, mostly of things related to repair of equipment.

After we bought the place I came to realize that it was one of the few buildings here that might be salvageable. The first step would be cleaning out all the junk. That was quite an undertaking.

In the attic, buried amid great stacks of trash and junk, I found some very interesting things. I found a stack of magazines from the World War I era. To my surprise I found the shutters from the old house. Why they had been taken down (at least 75 years ago) and put there, I have no idea. But we were able to find the ones that matched the hardware on the house, paint and rehang them were they belonged. Best of all I found the farm ledgers from the 1880s forward.

But on the main floor I never found anything of interest. Just broken tools, 6o year old cans of motor oil, and the like. But it was stuffed to the walls with that kind of thing and it took a lot of weekends to clean it out.

I insisted on carefully looking at every item before we threw it away. One day, nearing the end of the project my son and I were finally down to the floor. He was working in a different part of the house and called out to me, “Hey Daddy. What’s this?”

Here’s what he found:


It was in this corner, one of the last spots we cleaned up.

It was in this corner, one of the last spots we cleaned up.

It was in this corner, one of the last spots we cleaned up.

Unfortunately, the other part of the buckle was gone. We’d probably tossed it during one of our cleaning sessions. Strangely, I never found anything else like this in the cabin. There were no clothes and no personal items. The only things of historical interest had been in the attic. Yet here, on the floor, buried for years beneath piles of junk and trash, was a rare Confederate belt buckle.

Eventually we got the place cleaned out and we replaced the rotting floor and roof. So the cabin still stands. I’ve got some tomato cages in it, some tobacco sticks and some old doors that I just haven’t hauled off yet. It deserves some better use and maybe some day it will have one. But for now, we’re just glad that this little slice of history has survived.


13 comments on “The Cabin

  1. Lynda says:

    It excites me to see the inside of your old cabin. The saw marks, and cuts from the broad axe are a testament to the the strength and determination of your ancestors, Bill. We are slowly revealing the outside of one of the walls in ours. The one where the bathroom and breakfast room were added onto the home in the early 1900s. So far so good, but I can only hope that ours is as well preserved as yours.

    I am intrigued by the cut glass doorknob on that little shelf too! Is it from the main house?


    • Bill says:

      You’re very observant Lynda! The logs are hand-hewn, just as they are on the barns and other buildings. I have some other pictures I took inside the place but then decided not to include, because I didn’t think anyone would find them interesting. I see now that I was wrong. 🙂 Maybe I’ll do a follow-up post on this and show more of the place. It’s architecturally interesting.

      I can hardly believe you spotted that doorknob. I didn’t even notice it myself (but I’m the person who put it there and have grow accustomed to seeing it by now). Yes, it came from a door on the main house. When we restored the place the back portion was too far gone to save, so we only preserved the front “I-house” part. The doors from the rest of the house are stored in this cabin and that doorknob came off of one of them.

      Years ago I did some posts about the work we were doing on the old house. The posts are still there but the photos disappeared when I transferred the blog to this location. Maybe this winter I’ll find time to blog about that process and share some of the pictures. Best wishes on the work you’re doing on your place!


  2. Jeff says:

    I love old buildings! It looks like this one may have been disassembled so that a concrete floor could be poured and then reassembled. A long time ago, judging by the clay mortar between the logs. Very nice! I’m so glad that you took your time sifting through all the junk to save the treasures. I’d love to read more about this project.


    • Bill says:

      That’s actually just a plywood floor sitting on the old floor joists. The boards at the bottom were added when that floor was put into the replace the old rotted one.

      Our Virginia red clay is certainly good for daubing. I can remember seeing that being done on some of the old buildings when I was a boy. We’ve patched some holes with quick-crete and it doesn’t do nearly as good a job as our good red mud that’s been holding up for well over a century.


  3. DM says:

    I would also love to read more about your project. 🙂 I love local history and I am a builder by calling. I am excited that the family farm is in such good hands! DM


    • Bill says:

      I so envy your skill-set brother. I have to hire people to do things I ought to be able to do myself. Thanks for the kind words. I’ll post more about these old buildings and projects in the future.


  4. A very interesting post. I, too would love to see/read more. My place came with a cabin from 1911 that was moved here with an addition added in the 1980’s. I continue to uncover things left behind that intrigue me. Nothing so amazing as that belt buckle, though. You wonder who wore it … and how his life might have continued or ended …


    • Bill says:

      I have wondered whose it was. I have some theories but we’ll never know for sure. It’s a darn shame we lost the other part of it. But I’m very pleased that Will found this and saved it from the dump.


  5. EllaDee says:

    It’s worth zooming in on the walls to see the details, which makes the glass door handle more apparent too.
    60 year old cans of motor oil of motor oil, the cans at least, are quite collectable. I’m happy you’ve been able to save this building and some of the contents. The farm ledgers were a real find as was the buckle.
    I like to think the cabin has been waiting, hopeful. Now it has a life and a purpose, storage is always necessary, again.


  6. shoreacres says:

    I looked at your photo, and immediately saw this, from Andrew Wyeth . If the cabin were mine, I’d get a copy of that painting, frame it and hang it right on the wall – just as a reminder that there’s a life waiting to be restored. (In due time, of course…)


  7. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    Too cool!
    Good for you for bringing back this wonderful old building. Love the rubble-stone foundation wall and the interesting patterns in the siding above it… It almost looks like there may have been another entrance there (or something) at one point in time.
    Floor to ceiling windows… Awesome, just AWEsome. I just can’t get over the size and number of panes. Quite an extraordinary building! Again, well done!!


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