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Don Smith moves one of the logs from an 1865 cabin he recently purchased and is reconstructing at his home in Trinity.
Daily photos by Gary Cosby Jr.
Don Smith moves one of the logs from an 1865 cabin he recently purchased and is reconstructing at his home in Trinity.

Living la vida
log cabin

142-year-old log structure answer to couple's dream

By Paul Huggins
phuggins@decaturdaily.com · 340-2395

TRINITY — The transportation technology doesn’t exist for the type of trip Don and Yolanda Smith want to take with their four grandchildren.

Except in science fiction movies.

The Trinity couple needs a time machine that can transport them back to an 1800s-era Appalachian homestead. Since one doesn’t exist, they bought the next best thing: an 1865 log cabin.

“We’ve always tried to instill in them a love of history and interest in their family heritage,” said Mrs. Smith, who has traced her family roots to the late 1700s.

But instead of boring the grandchildren — ages 4 to 13 — with stories about how their ancestors had it so much rougher, such as using nibbled-down corn cobs for toilet paper, they have slowly assembled their own rendition of an Appalachian homestead next to their North Greenway home.

It already has a blacksmith shop filled with antique smithing tools, a tool/harness shop also filled with antique tools, a well house, a barn with horse stable and a privy complete with two antique metal seats.

Those are just the main structures.

The backyard also features an antique wagon that Smith spent $500 getting an Amish blacksmith to help restore and an antique stalk cutter that took a lot of persistence before Smith persuaded a Lawrence County farmer to part with it.

The yard also has all sorts of flowers the Smiths dug up from the homes of their grandparents and great-grandparents. And surrounding the entire yard is a cedar split-rail fence that Smith split and constructed.

The Smiths started their log cabin search about 12 years ago, mostly in Tennessee. All the while, they continued to buy and collect antiques and any old things they thought would fit the homestead theme.

“We’ve just got stuff everywhere waiting for a place to put it,” Mrs. Smith said, noting she has an iron stove and wooden butter churn designated for the cabin. Even after searching a dozen years, they said they never stopped believing they would find the right cabin, and now they feel their patience was rewarded with a prize beyond their dreams.

The cabin, which they found in a Daily classified ad, came from the Parker Cove community in Lawrence County. Washington and Martha Parker built it in 1865 and raised their 13 children in the two-room structure with a dogtrot down the middle.

Don and Yolanda Smith, sitting at left, are joined by her brother and nephew, Gordon and Chase Morgan, at their Trinity home.
Don and Yolanda Smith, sitting at left, are joined by her brother and nephew, Gordon and Chase Morgan, at their Trinity home.
The Smiths aren’t related to the Parkers, but Mrs. Smith’s great-great grandmother lived in that community near Wren.

“So that just makes it extra special for us,” she said, noting she’s also glad the cabin will remain near its historic site.

Ironically, the Smiths used to live near where the cabin stood, but never knew it was there. They owe the discovery to Mildred Haygood of Decatur and her five sisters.

The siblings bought the house at the beginning of the year with the intention of adding it to their family gathering place that already had two log cabins. Haygood said after they disassembled it, they changed their minds and placed the classified ad.

She received more than 80 calls on it from as far away as Sarasota, Fla., but the Smiths won the prize with a $7,000 offer.

When the Haygoods disassembled the cabin, they tagged and numbered each log and made a schematic drawing of where the pieces go.

Though he has the experience of building the other wood structures in the homestead, Smith said the re-assembling process will be a learning experience.

“Right now, I don’t know what to do,” he said. “I’m wondering, ‘Lord, what have I bit off.’ But it’s going to be a lot of fun as you see it start coming together.”

The cabin is not just about the grandchildren, Mrs. Smith said, because owning one has been a dream she and her husband have shared since marrying 38 years ago. They figured they had to keep that goal on the backburner while they raised their two children. They held off again while putting them through college and again when planning their children’s weddings. Finally, when the first grandchild was born 13 years ago, they began again pursuing their homestead idea.

“Now it’s the season of our lives,” Mrs. Smith said, “when we can focus on our dreams.”

Cabin history

Some history of the Smith’s log house, according to reports from the last family owner, Marynell Heflin Burnett:

  • Cabin originally stood on property bought by John and Mary Neely Parker for $500 in 1852.

  • Washington Wilshire Parker (seventh child of John and Mary Parker) and Martha Parker built cabin in 1865 and raised 13 children in it.

  • The cabin had two 18-by-18-foot rooms with a dogtrot down the middle and a covered porch. A narrow staircase led to an upstairs room used for sleeping.

  • Constructed of 60 to 70 percent oak logs with the rest pine. The flooring was pine tongue and groove.

  • The upper portions of the original rock chimneys were replaced with bricks 60 years ago.

  • Before its recent disassembly, the inside rooms had layers of newspaper from the 1930s and ’40s, wallpaper, cardboard, drywall and carpet tacked to it. The ceiling in one room was covered with International Fertilizer sacks.

  • Washington and Martha Parker’s youngest daughter, Vera, and her husband, Tom Roberson, were the second owners. They sold it to Vera’s sister, Nellie, and her husband, Emmett Ellis. Nellie Ellis’ granddaughter, Marynell Heflin Burnett inherited the land and cabin. She sold it to Mildred Haygood of Decatur and her five sisters, who sold it to Don and Yolanda Smith of Trinity.

    Paul Huggins

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