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The Log Cabin: An American Icon in the 1930s

  • The First Congregational UCC 945 G Street NW Washington, DC USA (map)

A Lecture by Alison K. Hoagland

The log cabin is an iconic American building, reminiscent of pioneers and politicians, Abe Lincoln and Lincoln Logs, Finnish immigrants and tea rooms. The log cabin often served as a basic shelter, an expedient solution to a building problem. But it also became an icon of the American past, signaling a connection to the land and its history. Once the most common building form in America, it became a symbol of antiquity, rustic living, and bygone values of independence, ingenuity, and egalitarianism.

To understand the log cabin’s iconic role, this presentation will look at log cabins at three sites located within a few miles of each other on the Northern Neck of Virginia, all built in the 1930s but referencing different aspects of American history. The Log House tea room at George Washington’s Birthplace (shown here) was designed to evoke the architecture of early English settlers, in an interpretation of early settlement that drew from the Colonial Revival more than the Colonial. Cabins for directors at Stratford Hall deliberately recalled slave quarters, even as they were intended for upper-class women away from their duties at home. And cabins at Westmoreland State Park, part of an enormous construction program overseen by the National Park Service, were designed to evoke rustic life and a pioneer past. The log cabin’s various roles as a building for colonists confronted with a forested landscape, as a cheap and expedient dwelling for enslaved people, and as a shelter for settlers establishing homesteads beyond the Appalachians will be explored through the lens of these twentieth-century evocations.

Alison K. (Kim) Hoagland is professor emerita at Michigan Technological University, where she taught history and historic preservation, after having served as senior historian at National Park Service HABS program. She has published books on the architecture of Alaska, forts in Wyoming, and mining company buildings in Michigan, and has a forthcoming book on the bathroom. Her most recent book is The Log Cabin: An American Icon (University of Virginia Press, 2018).

Reservations are not required. $10.00 for Latrobe Chapter members, student members (full time) free with ID, $15.00 for non-members (reduced admission for non-members!).