End Of An Era As Alaska's Historic Log Cabins Collapse Into The Taiga

  This historic log cabin in Copper Center has fallen down since this photo was taken.  Historic Background: Alaska's Oldest Log Cabins ...

 


This historic log cabin in Copper Center has fallen down since this photo was taken. 

Historic Background: Alaska's Oldest Log Cabins Are Collapsing After A Century Of Fire Damage And Bad Roofs 

Log cabins all over Alaska are falling apart. Some are historic and culturally important, but they're still sinking into the permafrost. 

There are several inherent problems with old cabins. Some of them never looked that good in the first place. Built rapidly, with whatever was at hand, many log cabins were not built by "cabin builders," and had fatal flaws from the start. 

Inside of the Copper Center cabin (above)







Leaky roofs shorten a cabin's life. Over the years, monitoring a cabin's roof has proved a hard task for local people. Many cabins are out on their own, weathering winter storms, without owners or caretakers. Others are outbuildings, and the owners have more pressing problems to take care of – such as young families, and their own homes.

By now, more than a hundred years after the Great Alaska Gold Rush, the historic old cabins of Alaska – except for places like Talkeetna, or Anchorage, or at specific roadhouses, museums and historical parks – are in a state of crisis.


Not long ago this collapsing cabin was someone's home.
Grants and funds to repair historic cabins are minimal. In most cases, cabins that are protected and salvaged tend to be in historic communities, where volunteers step in to repair and move the cabins into a protected space where they can be watched. They put them into little historic parks all over Alaska's road system – in Kasilof, Cooper Landing, the city of Kenai, Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, and on Main Street in Wasilla. 

Purists (those who believe that moving historic artifacts, such as buildings, is never the correct thing to do) occasionally complain about Alaskans' attempts to preserve their log cabins by putting them into these homemade theme parks.  But, when moving, repairing, and stabilizing isn't done, the result is almost always inevitable. The cabins collapse, and with them goes another piece of Alaska's history and culture. 

Cabin in the city of Kenai, Alaska
Sometimes it's hard to tell what's going on with Alaska's cabins. This historic Russian-era cabin (above) in the city of Kenai, on the coast, looks like it's falling over. But, located as it is, in a community that is large enough to monitor it, the cabin will probably last a long time. In fact, volunteers shored it up several years after this picture was taken. Notice that it has a solid roof. Keeping water out of the cabin is one of the most important things that can be done to keep the structure intact.
 
Copper Center: Fire is a major danger to Alaska's log cabins.
Fire is one of the greatest threats to Alaska's log cabins (or to any rural Alaska building, for that matter.) Local people form volunteer fire departments, but fire is difficult to combat in smaller communities. The log cabin shown here (above) has a charred roof. 

It's an outbuilding of the home of Copper Center Traditional Chief Jim McKinley, who has passed away. Vandals set fire to the little historic building. Over the past century, hundreds of Alaska log cabins have succumbed to fire, all over the state, and the rest have collapsed from neglect, rotten wood  and leaky roofs. Each lost building takes with it a major piece of Alaskan history. 

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