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Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website each week and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.

 

If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

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The continuing Miller log cabin saga

By Barry Schrader.................................October 6, 2009

Earlier this year, in May, the Daily Chronicle reported that a historic log cabin found on a farm on Pleasant Hill Road between Kingston and Genoa had been discovered preserved inside the clapboard siding of a house built around it.
I rushed up there in a downpour to photograph this remarkable discovery and have been following its status since.
Fortunately people on the Nelson farm, a descendant of the Miller and Ellwood families, and the DeKalb County Forest Preserve District all recognized the value of this log house and funds were found to have it professionally dismantled by Tim Kilby, an expert in log cabin restoration and relocation.

This 1835 log cabin house is shown with the white clapboard siding removed last May just before it was dismantled and stored for rebuilding near the Russell Woods forest preserve outside Genoa.

A woodwright from St. Louis, Kilby has excellent credentials in historic restorations nationwide. His passion is saving old log structures and he told me he has dismantled or moved some 80 of them over the years, the one in this county being his latest effort. Kilby directs the “deconstruction” and tags and documents each piece so it can be re-assembled at its new location. In the case of the 1835 log house, originally built by William Miller whose daughter Harriett married into the Elwood family, the piles of oak logs will remain stored at the farm’s barn through the winter and the forest preserve district plans to lay a new foundation and resurrect it on Genoa city property adjoining the Russell Woods forest preserve near its Natural Resources Center. The land is being restored as a native Illinois prairie by the city and soil conservation district. Both Forest Preserve District superintendent Terry Hannan and Natural Resources education director Peggy Doty expressed enthusiasm for the project and said work on the foundation will begin in Spring 2010.
Doty added that she learned from Kilby there was originally a hearth and fireplace in the log home and she wants to create that again so she can teach students pioneer cooking in an authentic setting; no microwaving for this woman! To maintain its authenticity, there will be no electricity, water or toilets in the structure. The resource center nearby will serve those needs. Doty also pointed out the second floor is really a loft and the woman of the house would use it as a hiding place for her and the children, pulling the ladder up behind them and remaining still until the party of Native Americans was gone.
I had to share a personal family secret with Doty to explain one of the reasons why I have such a keen interest in this project. Some 50 yards from the spot where they will rebuild the cabin is where on Memorial Day in 1963 my girlfriend Kay (Wirsing) and I laid out a blanket for a picnic at the edge of the preserve. During that sumptuous lunch (you know it will be delicious when prepared by a farm girl) I proposed marriage to her and four months later we tied the knot. So I want to be on Doty’s list of volunteer docents once this cabin is reconstructed.
The latest financial boost comes from the historic Ney Grange in the Genoa area, which just donated $500 for the project. Hannon also had praise for the DeKalb County Community Foundation for contributing $10,000 for the restoration and another $6,000 came from Ellwood/Miller family descendant, J. Ellwood Towle of St. Louis. The cabin was first offered to the Ellwood House and Museum in DeKalb but executive director Gerald Brauer said they decided the cost and lack of proper setting near the mansion made them decide to let it be placed elsewhere. I think the rural prairie setting next to the woods will make it even more realistic as outdoor education students and other visitors can get a feel for what life in a pioneer’s cabin was really like 175 years ago when this was mostly wilderness and just being settled.

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The columnist can be reached via email at :

barry815sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115