Hidden Corners of History: An Unexpected Heirloom: Part 1
Jarrod E. Stephens
The Ashland Beacon
Life certainly is a strange journey. There are parts where you plan and get the opportunity to watch the plans unfold before your eyes and there are other moments where the events simply surprise you. Recently while speaking with an acquaintance the topic of old log homes came up. I must say, it’s a topic that I have a lot to say about since I did indeed restore one to become my home. Here’s a retelling of the journey.
Late in the winter of 1997 discussion began to buzz throughout my family about the eventual fate of my Great Grandparents', Eugene and Lillian Meadows, home place. Their five children, all of whom were living at the time, had decided that it was time to sell the 56-acre farm that was mostly hillside. Still standing on the farm was the family home where my Great Grandparents raised their family. Each of their children was born in this house including my Grandma Mildred Claxon. The house was in terrible condition and to many, it seemed irreparable. The roof was part metal and part shingle. The weatherboard siding was faded and coming loose in some places. The chimneys that stood on each end were crumbling and the entire house had settled until it rested upon the ground. To me, it was a sad sight. I had grown up just ½ mile from this house and it had been a part of my life since the day that I was born.
Not long after we were able to purchase the land, my dad and I went up to the old house to look around. As we pulled up to the house it seemed sullen and sad yet there was a welcoming feeling that surrounded it. We walked around the house looking at its many flaws. From one chimney to the other we discovered that there was a 12” sag in the house. That day dad and I decided that we were going to preserve the house in its present condition just so that it would stand as a monument to the family.
Much had to be done to the house in order to just make it safe to go into. The first major part of our plan was to raise the entire house off the ground and take out the massive sag from the middle. Since all of the downstairs floors were resting upon the ground, we had to remove the old flooring. By removing the floor, we would gain access to the beams that the house rested upon. Then we’d be able to place pillars under the beams. After the entire downstairs floor was removed, we realized what a daunting task lay before us. Luckily, my dad had access to some 20-ton jacks that we planned to use to bring the house up. The house would be brought up a few inches at a time using the jacks.
Although it was now January 1998 and hard winter was upon us, dad and I crawled around on the ground for many days jacking the house up inch-by-inch and placing pillars under the beams. Each time that the jack’s handle was pumped the old house creaked and moaned like it was coming to life. Satisfactory progress was being made each day until we moved to the front where many years of dirt had piled up in front of the beam that we needed to raise. I distinctly remember digging the dirt away from the beam and trying to get the big jack under it. The ground was frozen and hard. I struggled to get the jack into place. Just when I thought that I had enough clearance, I slipped the jack into the hole only to realize that a strip of lumber that was holding the weatherboard onto the house was blocking my way. Dad came over to help. We both grabbed onto the board and pulled with all our might. The weatherboards began to pull away and with a final snap, the entire front of the house fell off revealing something that was truly unexpected.
It was a moment sort of like when young king Arthur pulled the sword from the stone. We stood in awe staring at a complete log structure. We were shocked. All of the time we thought we were dealing with a simple hollow-walled structure but instead a 19th century work of art had been our medium. I approached the well-preserved logs and rubbed their rough surface. Dad was just as awestruck as I was. One of the first things that I did after making the discovery was to ask my Grandma Claxon if she knew that her home place was a log cabin. She was seventy years old and had been born in the house but had no idea that it was a log structure.
That day a work of passion began. Stay tuned for the rest of the story on March 28.