NC Architecture Series: Mountain Cabins

By Laura Lavoie on June 13, 2013 in Blog
Baxter Cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains. (Creative Commons)

Baxter Cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains. (Creative Commons)

As part of the diverse North Carolina landscape, the Western North Carolina Mountains have a history of their own. In fact, at one time this region almost seceded from North Carolina to become its own state: Franklin. Much of the rich cultural history of the Appalachian region of North Carolina came from the indigenous Cherokee population and the Irish and Scottish immigrants who settled in the area.

Many of the early homes built in Western North Carolina were very small cabins constructed from large trees harvested from the mountains before logging became a big industry in the area.  The logs were transported by horses to the building site and roughhewn with axes to make them uniform. You can still see the axe marks on the wood of these early American cabins hinting at the labor intensive nature of early home building.

If you’re traveling on the Blue Ridge Parkway, a scenic highway build as part of Roosevelt’s Job Corps initiative, you can find several examples of early mountain cabins. These 19th century cabins can give visitors a hint of the way of life in early Western North Carolina.

At one time, a typical family home for someone living in the Appalachian Mountains would have been small or even tiny. The median home size in the south in 1900 was only 700 square feet. Because of the labor involved and access to materials these homes were not built on a large scale. Almost without exception they were heated with woodstoves and fireplaces. Mountain cabins were modest and built to suit the needs of the family who lived in them.

Detail of wood from cabin. You can see the axe marks. This cabin stands on the property of Laura M. LaVoie of Life in 120 Square Feet

Detail of wood from cabin. You can see the axe marks. This cabin stands on the property of Laura M. LaVoie of Life in 120 Square Feet

The mountains are dotted with these old cabins, some preserved and some no longer livable. Many people in modern Appalachia are taking some leads from these early Americana mountain homes. The tiny home movement is also teaching people that they can live with less at any home size and the values and philosophies are being adopted by many throughout the country.

Another historical cabin style common in the Appalachian Mountains was the Dogtrot, which you can read more about here.

Today, many newly built mountain cabins in Western North Carolina are rentable retreats for vacations. They allow visitors to experience the serenity of our nation’s oldest mountain chain. In an area like Asheville where Vanderbilt established the sprawling Biltmore estate, small cabins like these are like a breath of fresh air.


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