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Century-old log cabin, built to last, is next exhibit at Pioneer Florida Museum

It was built by hand with local trees from when logging was the primary industry in Dade City.
A log cabin that is more than a century old is the most recent addition to the inventory of historic buildings at the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village in Dade City.
A log cabin that is more than a century old is the most recent addition to the inventory of historic buildings at the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village in Dade City. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Jun. 22, 2020
Updated Jun. 22, 2020

DADE CITY — The Pioneer Florida Museum & Village likes to collect old things, from tiny handheld folding fans to a two-story, 156-year-old house built by one of Pasco County’s first settlers.

It is all located on the 16-acre wooded Dade City campus that teaches Florida’s pioneer history.

A dental office exhibit in the main museum educates visitors on early medical practices, and Lacoochee’s former one-room schoolhouse provides a glimpse into the educational system of the 1930s.

Last month, the museum welcomed an addition: a donated L-shaped log cabin built in the Pasco wilderness more than 100 years ago.

The donation was initially accepted because the museum felt it would further reflect settlers’ simple lives.

The staff and volunteers now see it has further value.

The log cabin, currently in two pieces awaiting connection, illustrates how handmade pioneer homes lasted despite barely using nails, adhesives and other items found in modern construction.

“I have never seen a better example of Florida Cracker-style architecture,” said Steve Melton, the museum volunteer who led the effort to move the cabin to the campus. “As the saying goes, ‘They don’t make ‘em like they used to.’”

A log cabin dating back more than a century is the most recent addition to the inventory of historic buildings at the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village in Dade City.
A log cabin dating back more than a century is the most recent addition to the inventory of historic buildings at the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village in Dade City. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

The house was built on what is now known as Coit Road, about 9 miles from the museum.

It’s unknown who erected it or when. The popular belief is 1910, but others have estimated it could date to the late 1800s, the museum’s historical research assistant, Andy Warrener, said.

“It could be one of the oldest homes around,” Warrener said.

The oldest home in the Tampa Bay area is a four-bedroom bungalow built in 1842 and located at 118 S Westland Ave. in Tampa.

The museum’s Overstreet home, named for the family who owned it, was constructed in 1864. And Enterprise United Methodist Church now on the museum campus was built in 1878.

The Overstreet House, circa 1860s, left, and Enterprise United Methodist Church, 1878, are among an inventory of historic buildings at the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village.
The Overstreet House, circa 1860s, left, and Enterprise United Methodist Church, 1878, are among an inventory of historic buildings at the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Dade City was known for logging during its pioneering years.

“That was the big industry,” Warrener said. “It is what brought the rail industry here, and the town grew up along the rail lines.”

The L-shaped cabin was built using those logs “and just about nothing else,” Melton said, and in two pieces — a 30- by 15-square-foot rectangular room and a 15- by 15-square-foot square room jutting to the side.

Each section has floors made of eight logs that were squared with an ax, a process known as hewing.

“There are numerous hand-hewn log beams that are 30 feet long,” Melton said. “That is a whole tree that was hand-hewn. It is amazing work.”

The walls are around 15 logs high, Melton said, with varying thickness.

“They put down a big fat log and then a skinny log and then a fat log and a skinny log until they got to the top,” he said. “And they put windows and doors in.”

So that the walls could stand without nails or adhesives, notches were carved on the end of each. Logs from the adjoining walls then interlocked onto one another in each of the cabin’s corners.

“The walls are all even,” Melton said. “That took work.”

It’s like the Lincoln Logs that kids use to build miniature cabins, “but the real thing that was built to stand for over 100 years,” Melton said.

Original logs remain in place on a cabin dating back over a century, the most recent addition to the inventory of historic buildings at the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village in Dade City.
Original logs remain in place on a cabin dating back over a century, the most recent addition to the inventory of historic buildings at the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village in Dade City. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

The roof trusses consist of pieces of “small cypress trees about the size of your arm or leg,” Melton said. “On top of those, they put cypress boards that were probably made at the local sawmill.”

It is only then that nails were used. Tin was nailed to the roof. Flat wooden boards were nailed to the interior’s floor and walls.

The builders eventually sold the home to the Mann family, who in 1958 sold it to George and Mamie Black. They added a bathroom and two bedrooms.

“They bought it after my grandfather retired from the railroad,” said grandson and Dade City Commissioner Scott Black, who lived there during first grade and visited often. “They had about 20 acres and cows. It was a neat place to explore.”

A wooden fence leaders through a pasture at the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village in Dade City.
A wooden fence leaders through a pasture at the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village in Dade City. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

George Black died in 1970 and his wife Mamie in 1977, their grandson said.

“Then my Uncle Walter inherited it and he lived there almost up until he died in 2011,” Black said. “His daughter Elaine Black Wilson decided to donate it to the museum so it could be saved forever.”

That was two years ago.

Volunteers led by Melton gathered once a month to remove the Black family’s additions that the museum considered too modern.

A professional house-moving company then split the L-shaped cabin into two pieces and trucked it to the museum campus last month.

The museum’s executive director, Stephanie Black — not related to the previous owners — estimates it will take a few months to put the cabin back together. It will then be populated with furnishings from that era, as is done with all the historic buildings.

“It is an amazing addition,” she said. “It completes our pioneer museum.”

A teacher's desk remains in an accurate state for Florida's pioneer era in the historic Lacoochee School at the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village in Dade City. Built in the 1930s, the school has been restored and furnished in the style of the one-room schools prevalent in pioneer Florida.
A teacher's desk remains in an accurate state for Florida's pioneer era in the historic Lacoochee School at the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village in Dade City. Built in the 1930s, the school has been restored and furnished in the style of the one-room schools prevalent in pioneer Florida. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Melton said he so fell in love with the cabin that he was inspired to write a poem about it.

The final refrain reads, “If only this log home could talk. Stories on the front porch, underneath her shade. This ol’ girl has a new home and life. Think of the memories that will be made.”