Eastern Loudoun Cabin Logged Down in History

Eastern Loudoun Cabin Logged Down in History

Aug. 21-28, 2002

Although the 19th century cabin that developers found in Conklin may be the last one in eastern Loudoun, it was in debilitated condition and sat in the path of a planned extension of the Loudoun County Parkway.

Toll Brothers Inc., the developers of South Riding, brought the matter to the county and agreed to dismantle the Settle-Dean cabin for reassembly on a site across the parkway, which Toll Brothers plans to finish paving up to Route 50.

"This is the only one I know of still intact in the east," said Kathryn Miller, chairperson of the Planning Commission. She said the cabin and materials found at the site represent nearly every time period of Virginia history, including Native Americans, the early settlers and the Ante-bellum and Reconstruction eras. "It is one of the few resources that has contiguous history."

An archeological firm Toll Brothers hired in March 2001 found the cabin, which dates to at least 1815 and is near what is now South Riding. The James River Institute for Archeology in Williamsburg conducted an archeological dig of the 25-acre Settle-Dean property Toll Brothers purchased in 2001.

"I stumbled across the building," said Matt Laird, senior researcher for the institute. "It was in pretty rough shape, and I don't think anybody recognized what it was because it became sort of ruined. ... The roof was collapsing and parts of it were in a bad state of disrepair."

TOLL BROTHERS agreed to cover the costs associated with relocating the cabin, hoping to offset county proffers that will be required to rezone the Settle-Dean property from countryside residential to planned development housing, said Bill Hatzer, approvals manager for Toll Brothers. "It was brought to our attention it was considered a Loudoun County landmark. We are agreeing to work with the county on saving it," he said.

Toll Brothers hired Historic Restoration Specialists to dismantle and restore the cabin. Preservation experts began work last spring with a visual survey, then cleared debris and vegetation away from the cabin and conducted an investigation to collaborate what they found with archeological evidence and local historical records.

"It's a real gem to find such a good example in an area that is threatened by development pressures," said Brien Poffenberger, architectural historian for Historic Restoration Specialists, Inc. in Smithsburg, Md.

The preservation experts documented the cabin, which they identified as a house or something more substantial than a log cabin since it once had siding covering the logs. The experts used drawings, photographs, measurements and written statements to identify the original structure of the house and any additions made to the building. They tagged every part of the building with numbers and labels and drew a master drawing to correspond the tags to the building's individual pieces.

"The pieces can only go back together one way ... like a giant puzzle," Poffenberger said.

Preservation craftsmen braced the cabin, then dismantled the pieces from the roof down to the floor to be placed in temporary storage. The dismantling took five workdays from Aug. 7-16.

"There were a couple pleasant surprises," Poffenberger said. "We found that while everything had some damage, nothing was totally gone. We have at least a little bit of every part of the building."

THE SETTLES, a white family, originally owned the building before willing it in the late 1880s to the Deans, an African-American family formerly enslaved by the Settles.

"This cabin is a structure they lived in as slaves and continued to live in as free blacks," said Arlean Hill, a family historian from Chaptico, Md. who is related to the Deans and provided information on both families. "Just for Loudoun County alone, between 1800 and 1860, the African-American free and slave population was 25 to 33 percent. ... These people were not only enslaved there, they chose to stay."

Preserving the cabin is important to show that slaves once lived in Loudoun, Hill said. "The plantations have been preserved, but the evidence of the enslaved population has been lost. You can't find it."

The cabin's preservation is important for another reason, since the homes in Conklin were recently sold to developers, Conklin said. "The whole community of Conklin is being destroyed in the name of progress. ... For generations to come, when the town of Conklin is no longer on the map, the history will be there," she said.

Within the next two weeks, James River Institute will continue archeological work on the cabin site. Preservation experts will study the field stones used underneath the cabin's floor; look at the archeological features of the site, such as fence lines, trash pits and outbuildings; and conduct a dig under the floor and foundation area. The six to eight-week archeological dig will help the experts identify when the cabin was built and the lifestyles of the people living there.

Toll Brothers will keep the pieces of the cabin in storage until the land across the parkway is prepared for the structure. Toll Brothers will pay the expenses for reassembling the cabin, which will become a stabilized ruin and possibly an historical interpretive site.

"I anticipate ownership of it to be turned over to a non-profit organization in the county," Miller said. She hopes the organization will maintain the cabin and provide public access to it.

"Toll Brothers should be commended for their efforts to save this structure for the public. I hope other developers will use this as a role model in their land development process," Miller said.