Log house revival
By Deborah Holmes
Parts of this story:Journey to preservation >>Money can't buy history >>Undoing improvements >>Starting Over >> Foundation >>Walls >>Ott Family history >>Taking it further
German immigrants built this home log by log in 1836.
A century and a half later, the structure was restored the same arduous way, with only tools and materials that would have been available to the original builder.
For example, rather than using modern mechanical lifts, restoration contractor Bob Przewlocki devised a log "come-along" to place the upper six courses of logs for the home.
The massive logs were pulled up a ramp system, using soap to decrease friction. Logs were first transported to the ramp base by a series of log rollers placed under the massive, dense old-growth pieces. Przewlocki says the method added to the historic feel of the project.
The crowning achievement: When the top plates were pegged in place, they were within 1/8" of level.
The journey to preservation was a long one for the oldest standing building in Lake County, Illinois. On the way, the house endured abandonment, haphazard modernizing, rot and ravages of time before its rescue by the Deerfield Area Historical Society in 1970. The one-room log home where Caspar Ott and his wife, Mary Elizabetha, raised their seven children is now an integral part of Deerfield Historic Village.
The society, committed to "preserving, recording and promoting the history" of this Chicago area community, bought the home one week before it was slated for destruction. The society then moved the house to its historic village. But at the time the fledgling organization had little money: The best the society could do was to stabilize the house to prevent further deterioration. It wasn't until 2001 that the painstaking -- and expensive -- job of restoring the house was completed.
Money wasn't the only hurdle to restoration. It took more than a year to find and arrange shipping of beams to replace the original rotted sills and footers. These and the hand-hewn 6" x 9" to 12" oak logs came from a dismantled 1830 Kentucky barn. New oak pegs were fashioned using only hand tools that would have been available to Ott when he built the house.
Bob Przewlocki, owner of Preservation Trades, Inc., which completed the restoration for the Deerfield Historical Society, explains the meanings of restoration and reconstruction:
"To restore is to return the building to its original appearance, function, and furnishings- to construct it as it would have been built using materials that would have been available to Ott. A reconstruction is a methodical imitation of the original that might use new materials or modern utilities if not obviously apparent."
With drawings and specifications by Historical Society member architects Tom Roth and Don Wrobleski in hand, Przewlocki began his work in September, 2001. At the same time, two other historic building projects in the Village: the 1847 George Luther House and the 1854 Bartle Sacker Farm House.
When the Deerfield Historical Society bought the Ott house in 1970, historic preservation funding and guidelines were modest, at best. The structure suffered from dry rot and was structurally compromised in its placement at the new site. The sills, plates and several of the hewn, half-dovetailed oak logs had deteriorated beyond any structural capacity. The original eleven-foot log walls were reduced to eight feet, giving the house the look of a "cabin," a log structure that was more rudimentary and for short-term occupancy. A log "house" was constructed with permanent residency in mind and among other criteria has at least a partially finished second floor accessible by a stairway, Przewlocki explains.
One of the original doorways had been "remodeled" and an historically inappropriate stone fireplace had been inserted in its place. The roof pitch was modified from an 8:12 to a flatter 4:12 slope. The building was placed on a concrete slab with a modern 3/4" wood floor over it.
Przewlocki's first step in restoring the Ott house was to complete an historic structure survey to better understand the building's past, its present condition and what needed to be done to restore it. He concluded that the entire building should be dismantled, rather than moved to a new site and foundation. Dismantling would allow inspection of each individual log, and treatment or modification.
As-built drawings were created and an identification system was used to mark the drawings as well as the logs. Because the building was to be re-erected with a 180 degree about-face, the tagging had to reflect that direction change.
Joists were marked in the same manner and all of the rafters were to be replaced. Two inch square tags were made out of flashing and marked with an indelible permanent paint marker and tacked to each log on the 9-12 inch hewn faces near the corners.
The 17' x 22' building was then carefully disassembled. A repair assessment was written for each log needing restoration and so specified on the master drawing. A drawknife was used to clean all the wane edges of the top and bottom of the logs for preparation of daubing. When dovetail ends were beyond repair, a scarf joint (pinned with handcrafted restoration oak pegs) was implemented and a new corner fashioned to match the old. Wood epoxy modified with recycled oak log sawdust made for a natural looking corner when only a minimum of restoration was needed.
In the process, the work team discovered one of the original plates, which had been re-configured as the ridge beam when the roof was reconstructed back in 1970. This plate was converted back as its original use and used as a template for the opposite plate. By observing embedded peg remnants, Przewlocki determined that the rafters were on 32" centers.
The corner foundation stones of a log building usually carry the load of the structure. The infill between corners serves as a screen to prevent wind penetration or animals from trespassing under the building. The new foundation for the Ott house combines modern building methods with traditional materials. The 42" cast-in-place continuous concrete foundation has a 15" facing of native rubble fieldstone. The ledge disappears about three inches below grade. A mixture of white Portland cement, mason's lime and rough torpedo sand gives the mortar a weathered brown color, almost like the hue of the logs. Concealed continuous aluminum flashing placed over the 8" wall acts as a moisture barrier for the sill logs.
Log homes rarely had cellars, so the Ott home was restored without one. Foundation vents were strategically placed to prevent dry rot of the sills and joists. Like other modern modifications, these vents will be hidden from view, in this case by landscape plantings. Plastic sheeting was placed in this crawl space as a further vapor barrier.
Finding materials to match the original large dimension lumber took some time. The footers and sill beams had to be long enough so that new notches could be cut. The sill beams were bolted onto the foundation wall over 3/4" anchored threaded rod protruding up and through the beam. This was no easy task, but was a building code requirement. Had the sills been perfectly straight, this would have been less of a struggle, but these were antique logs and came with 165 years of "character."
Finally, up went the home log by log, piece by piece, notch by notch. The logs over the doors were tricky, because they needed blind mortises cut into them for the ceiling joists (upstairs floor joists). The west 22 foot log had a crook in it like a banana's. It took several days to level the joists so that the loft would not take on the appearance of a roller coaster. Several of the 7 x 7 hand hewn joists had to be replaced as well because the extant materials were not original and inappropriate for the frame. An east rough door opening was once again created where the original opening was replaced by a fireplace and chimney in 1970.
In 1832 the lure of America and a new prosperity beckoned the Ott family of Baldenheim, Alsace. Father Johann Jacob Ott, 48, and his wife Marie assembled their children and possessions and began a 40-day trans-Atlantic voyage. On arrival, parents and children Jacob, Caspar, Christian, Lorenz, Philip, Magdalena and Salome retrieved their hay wagon, rack and trunks from the ship's hold and set out for Warren, Pennsylvania. The immigrants settled there near the Allegheny River.
In 1836 (some 50 years after DuSable organized the first trading post in Chicago), the oldest son, Jacob was directed to go westward and ultimately the Deerfield, Illinois area (Cadwell's Corner). There he found a proverbial "Garden of Eden" of tall oak trees, fertile land, wild game aplenty and few white settlers. It was only a year after news of this discovery reached the family that the rest of the Ott's continued their journey in the footsteps of their "family scout." Not long after arriving did they proceed to construct five of the ten log houses that went up along what is now Saunders Road, about seven miles west of the shores of Lake Michigan in the metro Chicago area.
After decades of industrial and technological growth, the homes were either abandoned, remodeled beyond recognition, or destroyed. The timely discovery of the Ott log home's origins under newer plaster in the dining room, saved it from the wrecking ball one week before its slated demolition. The Deerfield Area Historical Society purchased what was then called the "Siljerstrom Farmhouse" and moved it to the Deerfield Historic Village.
Early in the 1990s, the Historical Society began a campaign to raise funds to restore the Ott building and move it to a new site and higher ground the Village.
Now, nearly 170 years after it was built, the house stands proud once again.
For more information about Deerfield Historic Village or the Deerfield area Historical Society, write to:
Deerfield Area Historical Society
Or phone: 630-443-0411
For more information about the Ott project, barns, recycled log homes and other recycled timber buildings, visitPreservation Trades.
By Deborah Holmes, The Old House Web