On some days, they arrived at the cabin at 8 a.m. and didn’t leave until 5 p.m. after a full day of work. On other days, perhaps when they were too busy with their other jobs, or the Weld County winter was a bit too unreasonable, they may have stayed for a morning or just an hour or so.
But little by little, log by log, for 17 months, they hammered and sawed and roofed until it looks like it does today, like an authentic trapper’s cabin in the mid-to-late 1800s.
So what kept Jim Barrington, pastor of the First Christian Church in Windsor, and Bernie Kendall, who owns the White Water Canoe Company, a tour outfitter in Greeley, back day after day for 17 months? The answer, maybe, could be found in their former careers. Barrington and Kendall both taught middle school for more than 30 years in the Greeley/Evans School District 6.
“Kids learn so much more by experiencing something than just listening,” Kendall said.
That’s the idea behind the cabin. It will be dedicated on May 3 by the South Platte Valley Historical Society during the society’s Fort Lupton Heritage Fair.
Kendall and Barrington, along with Bill Taylor (who is the great nephew of Rattlesnake Kate and lives just outside of Fort Lupton) and Mike Willis, who teaches math at Aims Community College, did the bulk of the work, although they did get help from about 20 volunteers, most of them who, like the four, are also members of the society.
A few years ago, the society received the 1850s cedar log cabin, which they believe first belonged to a trapper and later was occupied by someone who raised trout for the Brown Place hotel, but it needed to be moved from its location on the river bottom outside of Commerce City to where it is now, in the historical society’s park in Fort Lupton. Barrington and Kendall were new members of the society and were looking to make an impact and asked for something to do. When members of the historical society sheepishly brought up the cabin — they had the funds to fix it but knew how much work it would be — the men got right to work.
Barrington and Kendall had remodeling experience — Barrington’s father was an electrician — and so they volunteered to work it over and get it moved.
There were many times, they said, when they thought the cabin would crumble like a sand castle. It had maybe one hard winter left in it. So they approached it gingerly and worked on it for months before they moved it. The cabin needed a lot of new work to look old.
“We honestly didn’t know how to do it at times,” Barrington said. “We just sort of guessed at it.”
They had to build a new floor and a new roof. Others built a stone fireplace, which doubled as a stabilizing spine to the cabin. They tore out the plaster walls to get to the original logs, and when they did, they found a newspaper used as stuffing and insulation on the inside dated May 30, 1874. They had to replace some of the original logs on the bottom, and they had to get the cabin off the ground to do it.
They pulled hundreds of square nails, which were last made in 1886, they said, and they hewed the logs by hand so they would look as authentic as the originals. They rebuilt a door.
The cabin would have been moved, eventually, but there was no timeline for it, and it’s hard to say how long the cabin would have lasted.
“Most likely it would have sat for several more years and fallen in further disrepair or even just fallen down,” said Jan Clower, past president and secretary of the historical society. “They took the project, which was actually very big, owned it, began making plans and pulled it together. They are to be commended for their dedication and hard work.”
The cabin will look like a trapper lives there by May 3 and, on some days, reenactors will portray trappers using the cabin. Kids will find traps and animal hides they sold as their trade and a bed.
And, on May 3, there will be 50-60 campers out near the park, and the nearby Fort Lancaster replica and one-room schoolhouse will be full of people.
It will look downright cozy there. It will, in fact, look like home.
— Staff writer Dan England covers the outdoors, entertainment and general assignment stories for The Tribune. His column runs on Tuesday. If you have an idea for a column, call (970) 392-4418 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ DanEngland.