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Bearfoot Guides Insight: Saving Alaska's Historic Log Cabins: The First Step Is A Sturdy Roof

An historic log outbuilding on a century-old Copper Center homestead.

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

Log cabins all over Alaska are falling apart, and you'll be able to see many of them, some historic and culturally important, as they sink into the permafrost. There are several problems. 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 is 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.

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 little 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 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. 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 (right) has a charred roof. It's an outbuilding of Copper Center Traditional Chief Jim McKinley, who 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.

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  1. Pics are beautiful. Article also is informative. We should preserve these pices of history. With funding at least half of the cabins can Be prepared.



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