Work underway to restore historic cabin

Cris Ritchie — Editor

September 19, 2013

Work is underway to rescue an historic structure located on the campus of Lotts Creek Community School, and the effort is coming just in time.

“It was ready to fall,” Alice Whitaker, the school’s director, said of the now vacant building referred to locally as “the log cabin.”

Whitaker, a former Cordia student and niece of the school’s founder, the late Alice Slone, said the log cabin has served a variety of purposes, including as a radio listening center in the days before television. It was built in 1934 to house the school’s teachers, and some classes were once held there.

The cabin was last used as a residence in the 1980s, and has since stood vacant, overlooking Lotts Creek Road and the Cordia School gymnasium. In that time, the structure built entirely of locally-sourced timber has fallen into disrepair. It became apparent a few years ago that logs at the bottom of the cabin would need to be replaced. Whitaker had contractors determine how best to restore the structure.

“They’d throw up their hands and say that it couldn’t be done, or it could be done for $50,000 or whatever,” she said.

Since it was not old enough to qualify for heritage funds (it would have to be 100 years or older), restoring it posed a dichotomy between funding school programs, like offering Cordia graduates scholarships to attend college, or diverting money to the log cabin.

“Anytime I had to choose between scholarships and putting money into that, I chose scholarships,” she said.

But when a bit of legacy funding recently became available from one of Ms. Slone’s friends who had also stayed at the cabin for a period, the time had come to begin restoration.

“I was just letting it die, and then I decided I’ll just bite the bullet,” Whitaker said. “It’s too important.”

Work began last week after a chance meeting Whitaker had with Charles Feltner, a carpenter who last year completed work on the Log Cathedral in Buchkorn. He agreed to get the structure sound again, which began by removing a section of the first floor and replacing wooden beams that had essentially disintegrated over time. Feltner noted on site last week that a lot of work remains to be done, including repairing the second floor which sank along with the rest of the cabin as the foundation beams gave way.

The cabin itself, as one might imagine, has a bit of good history attached to it. Ms. Slone decided to build it just a year after founding Lotts Creek Community School, a residential settlement school located a mile from the Knott and Perry County line. Classes were originally held in the late Everett Combs’s house, and shortly thereafter in space provide by the local Masonic lodge.

That’s when Ms. Slone obtained approximately $200 and plans were underway to build the log cabin, the construction of which is not without its own story.

There was apparently a feud ongoing between some families on Lotts Creek that at the time dated back several years. Ms. Slone and her sister, Whitaker’s mother, recruited both factions to help build the log cabin, unbeknownst to the feudists.

“They came out, and of course squared off to shoot, and Aunt Alice got up on a stand and made a little speech, about this is all for the education and the good of our children,” Whitaker said.

One of the men came forward and called for a truce for the day to help “build the little lady her school house.”

“That was how it was built,” Whitaker explained, “and never after was there a problem with the feud. It just kind of pulled everybody together.”

The log cabin was the first structure Ms. Slone built for the Lotts Creek Community School. She would go on to build a second cabin in 1938, which originally served as the girls’ dormitory. It functions today as a guest house. There was also office space constructed in the 1940s, and in 1952 a three-story classroom building was opened for students. Today’s students at Cordia School, a part of the Knott County School District, attend classes in a modern building opened in 1998, and was built completely using private funds.

As for the log cabin, Whitaker noted work is going well so far, and she hopes summer work groups which visit Lotts Creek each year also will be able to help with the inside of the cabin next year. Once the cabin is completely restored, she said it will likely serve as a heritage center for archival purposes.