Collector moves log cabin from Wisconsin, piece by piece
John White moved an 1840s log cabin to his farm between Batavia and Elburn, and after laboriously rebuilding it, he and his wife, Mary Lou, decorated it with primitive antiques, more than any pioneer family ever saw.
If this passion makes sense to you, great. If not, it's doubtful White can explain it. In fact, there were times when Mary Lou thought it was beyond the pale.
"For a long time I had a desire to build a log house," White says before launching into a story about the one his grandparents lived in a century ago, not far from his own farmstead.
Perhaps this will help you understand the saga of White's log house, which took place in the 1990s: He has been collecting antiques for at least half a century. And he and his wife sell farm primitives. Hunting for stock for resale is always a good excuse for collecting, right?
Antique log houses don't get delivered as modular homes or show up in kits. First White had to find one, then he and a grandson drove to southwest Wisconsin with a front loader to bring the 43 logs home.
Since people lived in the two-story Wisconsin house into the middle of the 20th century, it had been covered with aluminum siding, which helps explain why the cabin survived.
"One story with a loft was part of my dream," White says. "I had a bunch of rotten logs, so there weren't enough for two stories. I didn't want two anyway, so it worked out."
And "work" is the operative word. We're talking digging a foundation, laying footings, setting all the logs, hanging the loft from the beams, getting flooring planed from pine trees topped by a 1990 tornado and etc. And we're not even going to mention hauling in the large stones that would form the fireplace hearth and broad step in front of the stoop.
"It was a family project," says White, who enlisted the help of sons, a brother, and grandchildren. "Anybody who came along, I gave them a job."
The worst part was the chinking. In pioneer days those holes between logs were filled with bark and clay to keep out winter winds, then the family knocked the mixture out in the spring to get rid of any insects. White came up with a modern version of hardware cloth or metal mesh and hand-mixed mortar.
"It was a hard job. It seemed to go on forever," he said.
Mary Lou decided that if her husband was going to go through this chore she would get to decorate it.
This involved raiding the attic and antique stores, and the result is a charming mixture of heirlooms and antique store stock.
White calls the dry sink under the stairs his kitchen. It has a red shaving box just like you would see in an old farmhouse, and when the pump works, water can be drawn up from the cistern.
The first piece of furniture to attract most visitors' eyes is a green chair with a plank for a seat. It looks uncomfortable, very appropriate for a log house, and epitomizes the type of items the Whites collect and sell.
Then there are the windmill weights, a particular favorite of White's and appropriate because, as he reminds us, at one time there were seven windmill factories in Batavia. These cast iron pieces can be shaped like animals, stars or hearts or something harder to describe. Perhaps it's easier for most antique lovers to appreciate the plates on the dining table, very old white ironstone with a cobalt blue feather edge.
Looking around the single room takes a lot of time. What pioneer family had two desks while getting started on the prairie? On the other hand, women surely used the yarn winder when they sat in the rocking chairs. Other signs of work are balls of rags in baskets and a butter churn.
And just for fun, the blankets are stored in White's Koaster, a children's wagon.
Mary Lou decorated the loft bedroom with an old rope bed and a cradle with dolls. Bed clothes hang on a peg, and family quilts are over the railing and on the bed.
In case you're wondering, no one lives in the log house, which is across the farm yard from the Whites' considerably more modern abode.
But John White has great memories of the odyssey of his log house passion, including the people in the hot air balloon who chatted with him as they flew over during construction and the Fourth of July dedication organized by grandson Ryan when the project was finished.
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