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Breaking it down to build it back up again

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By John Overby

The American Antique Cabin Company is a Springfield company that specializes in locating, restoring and selling antique log buildings.

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And when Andy Mills, who owns the company with his wife, Jamie, was contacted by Leland and Lynden Turner about a log cabin they owned in Mackville, Mills soon discovered that he had stumbled onto a treasure.

“There aren’t too many cabins left that are in as good of shape as this one,” Mills said, pointing at the cabin he had been working on taking down for two weeks. “I’ve only ever seen two of these in my life, and I’ve been doing this for 24 years.”

What makes this structure so special, according to Mills, is that it was built by a master craftsman rather than a run-of-the-mill pioneer looking to build their house.

For Mills, seeing the intimate knowledge of the builder up close—most notably knowing in advance what building styles worked and what ones didn’t—was one of the most fascinating aspects about this particular job.

Even more compelling was that the technique seemed to model that of a Pennsylvania Dutch-style cabin, which is quite uncommon in this region.

“This is just a fantastic old house,” Mills said. “You can tell it was a professionally-built house in a lot of different ways … It was like reading a book backwards as we uncovered it.”

Leland Turner, one of the former owners of the cabin, estimates that the building had tenants as recent as 1999, an amazing feat considering that Mills believes the house to have been build sometime in the 1810s or 1820s.

Mills knows that this won’t be possible for today’s homes.

“There’s not a house built today that’s gonna be here in 200 years,” Mills said. “They’re just not built that way anymore.”

Mills, who has been in Springfield for seven years now, started in the business of saving old log homes in Texas. But eventually, Mills noticed that the Texas log buildings were a lot smaller than what his clients were looking for.

Mills expanded his search for log homes soon after and took out his first log cabin from Kentucky in the early ‘90s.

He was immediately captivated.

“I was hooked,” Mills said. “The best log cabins in the country are in Kentucky and Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania is too far north for me.”

And since he was spending so much time in Kentucky anyway, he and his family decided that it was just time to move there.

And seven years after relocating, in May of this year, Mills was contacted by the Turners, who were unfamiliar with the log house business but knew the house was “getting in pretty bad shape.”

“We were lucky to find Andy,” Turner said. “It would be a shame to lose a place of history like this.”

When Mills went to check it out, he discovered a true Washington County gem.

It reminded him of why he got into this business in the first place.

“I started this as just an appreciation of anything that could last for over 200 years,” Mills said. “They’re not big, fancy houses, but people came in here with an axe and built a house. That really impresses me.”

Since Mills had projects currently ongoing, he told the Turners that he would be back in the fall.

The Turners were a bit skeptical at first because of all of the work that they knew Mills had to do.

But he came right on schedule just as he had said.

“I figured he’d be behind on his work, but he basically came when he said he would,” Turner said. “It’s amazing he was able to come here this quick.”

“I didn’t expect him until at least November,” Lynden added.

As Mills takes down a house, he will tag each corner and photograph it.

He’ll also measure all of the logs that need to be replaced, due to water damage and other wear and tear.

From there, he’ll take it to the log yard in Springfield and completely rebuild it, and then he’ll market its availability through various sources, trying to find a home for it wherever possible.

Since most of his clientele seem to be coming from Colorado and Texas these days, there’s a possibility that the historic cabin will no longer be in Kentucky after it is sold.

But Mills said that the most important thing about saving houses is that they “go somewhere and live another life.”

Which, with the way that this cabin was built, could be a long, long time.
“Hopefully,” Mills said, “it’ll live another 200 years.”