The log cabin. What more quintessential example of “Americana” can there be?
I was surprised to recently learn the origin of this particular building-style. I present two short discussions of the subject below from two experts on architectural history:
A derivation of the log house from the Indians has been tempting to those who have wished to emphasize the mastering of the colonists’ inherited traditions by the wilderness: “It puts him in the log cabin of the Cherokee and Iroquois, and runs an Indian palisade around him.” Unfortunately for this belief, none of the tribes with whom the early settlers came in contact lived in log houses.
The Indian huts described in contemporary narratives, including the long-house of the Iroquois, are all of radically different construction. Even in the case of the Creek, who sometimes did employ the log house in the later eighteenth century, all evidence agrees that it was unknown to them until after the founding of Georgia. It was the one thing among many others adopted by this exceptionally gifted tribe from the colonists.
A more reasonable supposition is that the log house was brought to America by the people in whose native land at that time it was the customary form of dwelling–the Swedes and Finns who settled on the Delaware in 1638 and the years following. Peter Kalm, writing in 1749 and quoting a settler ninety-one years old, describes the first houses as of round logs chinked with clay, and contemporary accounts describe the fort built at New Gothenburg in 1643 as “made of hemlock beams, laid one upon the other.” From the very beginnings of New Sweden, there was trade with both Virginia and New England, and the interchange of ideas which resulted, with time, in the building of an “English house” at Fort Elfsborg, seems ultimately to have taught the English colonists a method of construction so obviously suited to pioneer conditions in the new, heavily forested continent.
[note: New Gothenburg was near present-day Philadelphia]
From “American Shelter: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Home” by Lester Walker (1995)
The log cabin was introduced in America by the Swedes who settled along the Delaware River in 1638. New Sweden, a fur trading colony that covered parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, did not endure buts its housing form, the log cabin has survived and is still built today.
[By] the beginning of the eighteenth century… non Swedes built log cabins; the Scotch-Irish and the German settlers were the first. … By the Revolution, the log cabin had become the standard frontier dwelling, inhabited by all nationalities, as well as by the American Indian.
…The log cabin had many features desirable to the early settlers and, later, the pioneers. It was quickly built from indigenous materials — trees and rocks cleared from land to be used for farming. With natural insulation of thick wooden walls, a well-built log cabin was cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The log cabin was easy to build because it did not require an extra framework to hold up the walls. …