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Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 10

The Architectural Heritage of the Rideau Corridor

by Barbara A. Humphreys

Exposed Log Houses

The earliest building recorded in the survey is the "Red House" in Perth, erected in 1816 (Fig. 4). It is constructed of logs, probably the most common type of building material in the early settlement days in the Rideau area. Logs were used for houses, schools, shops and barns, and many a fine stone house for which the area is now renowned was preceded by a hastily erected log cabin. However, despite the large number of log houses built throughout the period, relatively few have survived in their original, unsurfaced form and only approximately 100 were recorded. There are undoubtedly a great many more surviving, but these are not readily discernible, being sheathed in clapboard, brick or some form of composition siding. Others have been relegated for use as farm outbuildings or, having been abandoned, are now disintegrating under the forces of wind and weather.

4 The "Red House" in Perth. Now painted white, this log building (originally an inn) acquired a finish of red clapboard siding in 1865 at the suggestion of the Prince of Wales during his visit to Perth in 1860.

The surviving cabins with log walls exposed are very simple structures. They are rectangular in shape, usually seven to nine logs high, and with an end-gabled roof. With small gable windows in each end they could be termed 1-1/2-storey buildings, although this second-storey space was often left unfinished or treated as attic space only. When a ceiling (or second floor) was provided, the ceiling logs were notched into the walls at about the level of the seventh log, as can be seen, for example, on a cabin in Ashton (Fig. 5).

5 Log cabin in Ashton, Goulbourn township. Ends of log beams supporting the upper floor can be seen on the front elevation.

In plan, the cabins are very simple, consisting of one or two rooms with a stairway or ladder to the upper level as required. The entrance door is most often centred on the long wall, and is flanked by a window symmetrically located on either side, or on one side only if the cabin is very small. Typical examples of the two styles are shown in Figures 6 and 7, the former in Wolford township and the latter in North Gower township. A balanced window arrangement and slightly off-centre door is used, too, on several of the cabins recorded. This rather curious elevation appears on clapboard, stucco and brick houses in the area as well, suggesting their log cabin origins. Compare, for example, the elevation of the cabin in Montague township (Fig. 8) with that of the stucco house in South Gower township (Fig. 9).

6 Log cabin in Wolford township (Con. A, Lot 11), of typical centre door design.

7 Log cabin in North Gower township (Con. 3. Lot 39).

8 Log cabin in Montague township (Con. 3, Lot 20), an example of the off-centre door design.

9 Once "Wilson's Bay" post office in south Gower township (Con. BF, Lot 40). The style and proportions of this stucco house readily suggest its original log construction.

The log cabins were originally erected without basements and rested on a log sill, but many have now acquired concrete block foundations. The logs were roughly squared and usually secured with dovetailed keying. Chinking was generally a mortar mix, probably with wood-chip infill as required and, depending on the quality of the logs available, varying greatly in width. Roofs of the log buildings were commonly finished with wood shingles. Although no examples were seen, it is nonetheless possible that the original roofs of the earliest cabins in the area were the "trough" type (hollowed out tree trunks laid at right angles to the roof ridge with the hollows alternately up and down). Most of the roof finishes of the log buildings recorded have been replaced over the years with asphalt shingles or metal, but the wood-shingled roof of the cabin in North Gower township (Fig. 7) could well be the original finish.

The early cabins were heated by a single untrimmed stone fireplace located in a gable wall. Very often the back of this fireplace was flush with the exterior side of the log wall and consequently exposed. Few examples of these fireplaces were recorded but the typical style is that shown in a cabin, now demolished, in Storrington township (Fig. 10). Early chimneys were of stone and generous in size to accommodate the large fireplace flues. In rare instances they have an exterior projecting ledge at roof level intended to protect the junction of chimney and roof, a practice that unfortunately was not too successful. When stoves became readily available (in the late 1830s), they replaced the less convenient open hearth, and brick replaced stone in chimney construction.

10 Typical early stone fireplace. Storrington township (Con. 8, Lot 9). Now demolished.

Windows of the log buildings recorded are, without exception, all double-hung. Some of the original small-paned sash still survive, though the most common design recorded consists of two movable sash, each containing six panes. A typical example is seen on the cabin in Goulbourn township (Fig. 11). The dormer or gable windows on a number of log cabins in the area are most likely later additions.

11 Log cabin in Goulbourn township (Con. 8, Lot 2) still retaining its original small paned windows.

Low, wide doors were typical of early cabins and an example survives in a cabin in Montague township (Figs. 12, 13). The doorway, while typical in size, is unusual in design, for few cabins had entranceways with side-lights or even a transom. Door and window openings were generally finished with very plain trim but a few, such as the cabin in Montague township (Fig. 14) have a triangular pediment which was popular in Canada during the period of the Classical Revival (1830-50).

12-13 Cabin in Montague township (Con. 4, Lot 22), with the low door itself typical of the early cabins but the door surround very atypical in design.

14 Log cabin in Montague township (Con. 4, Lot 24) with pedimented trim.

Since log cabins were built in much the same way throughout the 19th century, and even into the 20th century in some areas of Ontario, dating them without documentation is practically impossible. Few have enough architectural detailing to identify them with a particular style period, and many have been extensively altered or concealed by later additions. Signs of early construction would be the presence of a stone fireplace or evidence that it had existed, such as a missing section of logs in the lower part of the gable wall; large stone chimneys; low, squat door or window openings, and multiple-paned windows (these sometimes can be found on the rear of the building if the front ones are new).

It should be remembered, however, that design and construction of these log cabins depended very much on the skill of the builder and the materials available to him and may reflect just that rather than the date of construction. Crudely built cabins in isolated rural areas might well be contemporary with or even later in date than the carefully constructed and detailed examples found elsewhere.

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