Many styles of log dwellings were built, all products of ingenuity and skill using various kinds of wood for the construction. Some pioneers preferred long and straight pine logs; others were made of oak, hickory, or cottonwood from the swamps.
Most pioneers planned to arrive in the Lowell area in early spring so as to have time to clear the land and plant crops so that they could live through the following winter. After selecting a site for their dwelling, some of the early settlers quickly built an open-face shelter, a three-sided lean-to with a sloping roof of poles covered with brush, grasses, and clay, with hides or canvas for the front. Building the temporary home gave them time to clear the underbrush, pile it up for a fence, plow for planting crops, and prepare larger trees for their next log home.
Sizes of the log cabins varied from 16 to 20 feet long and 10 to 16 feet wide, and often the isolated pioneer would have to find ways to handle the big logs by himself. If there were neighbors nearby there would be a "raising," a near-festive occasion when everyone would come to help. Four large logs were laid, men with axes on each corner to notch the wood to fit until all the logs were up. It was usually the owner's job to finish the roof, fireplace, windows, doors, and perhaps a loft. Windows for those early homes were often covered with greased paper. A wooden latch on the inside of the door was operated from the outside by leather thong placed through a hole in the wood. Hence the welcoming old statement: "The latch string is out."
When some of the early Lowell area settlers arrived they found deserted log cabins, perhaps abandoned because of homesickness, discontentment or for various other reasons. Jabez Clark (1808-1876), who with his little family came to this area in 1837, moved into a deserted log cabin near the corner of Main and Mill Streets in Lowell. The Clark family stayed in that abode until the following year when they built a larger log home further north near Cedar Creek, where they lived until a new home was built in 1845, the first frame house in the Lowell area. That home was on the south side of Commercial Avenue at Burnham Street.
Soon after a pioneer by the name of Nolan moved west, brothers Abram and Horatio Nichols bought his claim and moved into the former Nolan cabin that was near the present site of the Lowell Post Office in 1837. Many acres west of the railroad in Lowell were later known as the Nichols addition to the Town of Lowell.
Pioneer John Driscoll came to Lake County in 1835 with the Henry Wells family. Within a few years Driscoll and his bride started housekeeping in a log cabin near what is now Joe Martin Road and Commercial Avenue in Lowell. This sturdy cabin was built with hickory logs at a site not far from another cabin occupied by Native Americans near Hilltop Drive. The Old Timer lives in what is called "Driscoll's Woods" where several old hickory trees are still standing among many huge oak trees.
Melvin Halsted, who founded the Town of Lowell in 1852, moved his family from Ohio to West Creek Township in 1845, where they lived in a log cabin built by a former resident "without any sawed lumber, glass windows, iron hinges, door knobs or iron latch, no spikes or nails of any kind, no brick for foundation of chimney, and no boards for the floor." (quote from Halsted)
Mr. Halsted wrote a story concerning log buildings for the Lowell Tribune in 1905: "We would plan our house, which, if twenty feet square, we would think very large. [The brick Halsted House measures 20 by 30 feet.] We must first cut our logs 20 feet long so as to have room to notch the corners. We would call all the neighbors for miles in every direction. Then we would have a jolly time carrying up the corners. After the body of the house was up we would proceed to lay the timbers to receive the roof. Our shingles were called shakes or clapboards and were from three to four feet long. When one tier was laid on double to shed water, then the weight pole was laid so that it would give proper lap and keep the next tier in its place. The floor was made of logs split and hewn and was called puncheon. The large fireplace was then constructed of logs and stone, and a generous amount of mud to patch the rough stone."
The log and stone chimney was often a dangerous part of the house when it caught fire. If the pioneer was nearby, he would pull the burning chimney away from the cabin and a new one was built. In 1848 Melvin Halsted moved to an abandoned log cabin near the site of the present railroad depot, where he lived until he moved into his new brick home in January 1850, now the Halsted House Museum at the corner of Halsted and Main Street in Lowell (open from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. the first Saturday of each month, or, for special tours by appointment, call 696-9234).
The shake shingles were made with a tool called a "frow" (also spelled "froe"), a wedge-shaped steel cleaving tool with a hardwood handle set into the blade at right angles to the blade. A hardwood mallet was used to pound the sharp metal blade to split the logs.
In the 1970's, when work began to demolish an old frame house east of I-65 on Indiana Route 2, workers were surprised when logs were discovered under wood siding and imitation brick. The two-story log house, circa 1840's, made of cottonwood from the Kankakee marsh, measured 18 by 28 feet, larger than most pioneer log houses. Originally built about 1850, probably by William Holmes, six miles east of here, the log house was discovered under siding and plaster during demolition. The logs were reused to build this house, a sample of mid-1800's southern Lake County. No indoor water source, inadequate light and large families were common place. Pioneers faced the hardships of survival, remaining warm, producing goods for barter, and trapping was as important as faming with the great Kankakee Marsh as close as one mile south until it was drained in early 1900's. Rabbit, squirrel, deer, grouse, muskrat and mink were among the animals found.
The building was disassembled and donated by the Dinsmore family in memory of Harold H. Dinsmore to the Three Creek Historical Association, who donated it to the Lake County Parks and Recreation Department, who rebuilt it in 1983 near the 'back 80' at the Buckley Homestead, Lake County Park, where it has been the site of many tours and historical productions and enjoyed by hundred of school children. Several homes in southern Lake County are still known to have a log cabin as a part of the original construction.
Solon Robinson, founder of Crown Point, who was a pioneer in 1834, wrote the following sometime before 1873: "Just before sundown we reached the grove and pitched our tent by the side of a spring. What could exceed the beauty of this spot? Why should we seek further? The morning helped to confirm us that here should be our resting place. In a few hours the grove resounded with the blows of the axes, and in four days we moved into our new house." His simple log cabin at the northwest corner of the Crown Point Square served many as a shelter for families newly arrived or still on their journey. It was demolished in the 1930's when a newspaper office building was erected (now a tavern). Several other wagons arrived with his, perhaps bringing the extra man power to help with the cabin construction.
Melvin Halsted wrote in 1905, "But for all their roughness of construction we old people are bound to declare that there is more comfort to be obtained around one of those old fireplaces than near any stove ever made."
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