Rural Archaeology – Log Shacks

One of my pastimes is exploring abandoned building and cellar holes. From late fall to early spring I am always keeping an eye out the window scanning the woods on both sides of the roads for old structures. Mostly I see only stone walls, and abandoned road cuts, but occasionally I see something interesting and worth checking out. This summer I moved from Mass to New Hampshire, which brought me over many new roads and into unexplored territories. The main route between the old and the new is Route 119 through Winchester and Richmond. This route is mostly wooded, and goes over some pretty substantial hills. There are few houses outside of a few small pockets of civilization. In the middle of one of the longer stretches of wilderness I caught a small run down garage on the north side of the road. I made a mental note to come back once we were settled in to our new house.

A few weeks after moving, I had a chance to go out and do some exploring. I called up a friend, and we took off to see what we could see. At that time, I couldn’t quite remember where I had seen the building, or quite what the building looked like. All I knew is that there was something I wanted to see out on Route 12. As we headed west, we passed miles and miles of nothing. Just as we were ready to give up, we saw the small log garage/cabin I had seen earlier. It was slightly further away than I had remembered. We pulled over to the side and got out to check things out. Viewers of my web page may remember these photos, as I posted them some months ago, but I wanted to put some stories with the photos. Links to the galleries are at the bottom of the article.

The structure was small, set into the hill side, and had a stone basement/garage, just big enough for perhaps a Model T or Model A, or maybe an old Willys Jeep. There was a small room about 6’ square off the side, which had a chimney, and perhaps heated the place. There was no access to the upstairs from the bottom. An old set of tire chains hung on the wall, and the roof was caved in on the small room. The small room also looked like it was full of rotting scrap lumber cutoffs. I didn’t go inside, as the ceiling was also caving in on the main room. The place was wired for electricity at one time, and had a 2 circuit fuse panel. The doors to the garage were still attached, and they were padlocked at one time.

Above the stone foundation was a single room, with low walls and roof. It was tall enough to stand up inside in the middle of the room. The short walls were made up of a mishmash building materials. Logs for the lower walls, bricks and frame construction for the gable ends. The entire place looked like it was constructed of salvaged materials. The roof was tiled with huge slates, and was largely intact over the main structure. Access to the inside was around the back and up the hill to a stone patio which looked like it was to become an addition to the structure. Inside upstairs were 2 built in single beds, and hookups for a wood stove and possibly an eclectic range. It seemed to still contain many of the personal effects and furnishings of the past occupants. A pipe coming through the wall on the west side turned out to lead some ways into the woods, and seemed to be a water pipe. We were unable to find the source of the pipe, as it went underground and became impossible to follow.

Standing on back patio, we noticed a small man made structure off in the woods. Further investigation turned up the quintessential New England outhouse. A wooden box, 4 feet square, covered in roll roofing with a salvaged 6 panel pine door and hanging toilet seat was sitting on its side, having been tipped over many years ago. From this vantage point we noticed a graded overgrown roadway heading further into the woods. Following this path we came upon a second cabin!

This cabin was slightly larger than the first one, with no basement, but with very similar construction techniques. Like the other one, this one was made of reclaimed building materials such as doors and windows, and had vertical logs 8+ inches in diameter forming some of the walls. While the first building was dark and claustrophobic, this one was light and airy, with many windows and a high ceiling. It was still populated with an iron bed and assorted other furniture. There were also remains of a second bedroom, with a bed frame in the rubble, and a small shed type area near the stovepipe. This seems like a much cheerier place to live, although it would have been very cold in the winter.

Overall I found the building to be very intriguing and had me pondering this history and circumstances of how these buildings came to be. I have been unable to find any information about these two buildings yet, so I have been left to imagine their origin.

Theory one, the more reasonable theory, is that a there was a middle aged bachelor who worked doing odd jobs, or perhaps in seasonal construction or demolition. He bought this piece of land, and started building the foundation of the first building. He spent most of his construction money on beer and concrete. After the foundation was built, he cut logs from the property to add the short walls, and added slate from the old church the tore down that year. Brick from that same building was used in the gable ends. Salvaged windows, appliances, and other materials scrounged from work and the dump competed the building. Shortcuts were taken to finish the building before winter. He used the downstairs room as a workshop and storage for scavenged materials. After living in the small, dark room for a winter, he decided he wanted a nicer place to spend the warmer months, hence the second cabin. This one used French doors and windows from a Victorian house they tore down the previous year.  This cabin became his residence for the warmer months. When winter came, he retreated to his tiny attic room again. Over the years he added rooms to his summer cottage, a second bedroom for the occasional woman friend, and started an addition to his winter home, building the foundation for a back room with a chimney. That winter he passed away in his attic room in his sleep. No one missed him for weeks, when a friend stopped by to drop off some firewood. With no family, the land and buildings sat for years until the town took the property for back taxes.

Theory two, which is less plausible, but more interesting, is that two bachelor brothers pooled their money to buy a piece of land. They were in their late 40s when they bought the land, and spent the first year building the garage and loft. After a winter of living with each other in that tiny space, they nearly killed each other many times over. Of course, being the typical stubborn old Yankees they were, neither was willing to sell out. The younger brother went to work immediately that spring building his own bigger and better house away from the road. The brothers never spoke to each other after that first year, and neither was willing to leave. They also shared the lone outhouse, as there was no point in having 2 outhouses when one would do. They lived out their years living on the same land, and sharing an outhouse, while harboring a deep hatred of each other. The older brother gloated at his younger brother all winter. HIS cabin was tiny, insulated and warm, if not dark, while his brother’s was cold and drafty. All summer, the younger brother laughed at his older brother in his tiny cabin. While the brother younger was sitting in the breeze through his screens, enjoying the sunlight, older brother was sitting in his tiny cabin, which was hot and stuffy, and if he tried to go outside, was bothered by mosquitoes. Heck, he couldn’t even stand up straight in most of the place.

All in all, these two abandoned places are very intriguing to me. They are unusual as they are still more or less weatherproof and still contain many of their furnishings. Most places found around here are either completely fallen down, or empty of any property. It is clear these were both cobbled together from scrounged materials, with a preference for masonry and mortar. The remoteness of the location is also interesting, as the commute to any real job would have been substantial. I will continue to look for more information on these places.

Links to the photo galleries:

Adam’s Photos

Tim’s Photos