Log House (circa 1850)
In 18th and 19th Century America, there was a definite distinction between a log "cabin" and a log "house." The cabin was a temporary structure of round logs often without windows lived in only until a better structure could be built. The log house was built of "hewn" logs, squared so that the logs fit more tightly together. The log house had windows, and was often plastered inside. After the basic construction of the house, "chinking" was put between the logs to fill in any open space. This usually consisted of small stones or blocks of wood packed into the space and then covered with a mixture of clay and lime. Our structure at the Wolcott House Museum Complex is properly a log house, not a cabin.
The Log Cabin Myth
In 1839 William Henry Harrison was for the second time a candidate for Presidency. Although Harrison in reality was born in a plantation home in Virginia, he had lived for many years at North Bend, Ohio, near Cincinnati and was ridiculed as a Western bumpkin by the Eastern press. A reporter for a Baltimore newspaper humorously suggesting ways to get rid of Harrison, wrote that the nation should "Give him a barrel of hard cider, and settle a pension of two thousand a year on him, and he will sit the remainder of his days in his log cabin by the side of a "sea coal" fire.
This anti-Harrison reporter ended up giving the Harrison campaign its rallying point. Their hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe was depicted as a humble person who was a friend of the common man. The log cabin and a barrel of cider became the immortal emblems of the 1840 campaign, along with the cry "Tippecanoe and Tyler too!"
The Harrison campaign was possibly the most colorful one in American political history, with such stirring events as a massive rally held at Fort Meigs in June 1840 and attended by perhaps 40,000 people. Harrison was swept into the White House by a landslide, and every American politician after him who could claim birth or occupancy in a log home sought to duplicte the success of "Old Tippecanoe". The log cabin became a part of the American myth, a symbol of the struggle of the common people to tame the wilderness and attain political power. Ironically, the log home was romanticized by descendants of the same people who took the first opportunity to move out of a log building or to conceal the fact that the dwelling was built of logs!
The History of the Wolcott House Museum Log House
In 1893, James Love purchased the property on which the log home was situated. Mr. Love, a railroad employee, built a wood floor over the original dirt floor, added a front porch, and increased the roof height by adding two logs all around. The home was inherited by Calvin Love, who became mayor of Maumee in 1913 and then postmaster in 1933. In 1948, Mr. Love gave the log home to Wayne Pfleghaar, a recently discharged Navy veteran who was caught in the post-World War II housing shortage. Mr. Pfleghaar moved the house to his property on West Wayne Street. Unable to add onto the log house and live in it because of building codes, Mr. Pfleghaar used it as a storage building.
In the early 1960's, the Historical Society of Northwestern Ohio and the Maumee Valley Historical Society merged and planned to open the Wolcott House to the public as a museum. To provide added historical interest to the site, Ruston Avyers, a board trustee, persuaded Mr. Pfleghaar to donate the log home to the Historical Society. With the assistance of the Wheeler family, the cabin was moved to the museum site in 1963 and opened to the public. Log buildings are among the most difficult to maintain against dry rot and other maladies common to wooden structures. Over the years the majority of the log house's original wood has been replaced through restoration. The house has been lovingly restored by volunteers and now includes period furniture and household tools of the time.
Interpretation of the Log House
Children and visitors would often sleep in the loft overhead, on cotton "ticks" stuffed with straw or corn husks. The loft was reached by a ladder and often bitterly cold during the winter. The fireplace and hearth were really the center of the home. Here was where the family did its cooking with a few sturdy cast iron, copper or brass pots and implements; here is where the family would gather in the evenings, especially during the Maumee Valley winters. Here too, the family would entertain any guest who happened to be passing by. Reminiscences by residents of the Maumee area in the 1830's and 1840's indicate that it was not uncommon to awaken in the morning to find several Indians sleeping on the floor by the fire. One woman who lived near Perrysburg at that time, recalled that during the 1840's and 1850's, Indians frequently came to the area to gather white ash to make baskets. She said, "When father was at home we often had the floor covered with Indians stopping for the night". Although those who lived in log dwellings usually recalled in later years the hospitality and simplicity of earlier days, there is no doubt that life in a log house was also crowded, dirty, and uncomfortable, especially during the winter. Those like the Wolcotts sought to escape this way of life as quickly as they could. Those who remained in log homes were the working-class people of their day, whose lives, as Randolph Downes said, were "as uneventful and monotonous as the work they had to do and from which they escaped to better things as soon as opportunity offered."
Wolcott House Museum Complex 1035 River Road, Maumee Ohio 43537