BLOOMVILLE – Volunteers are nearing completion of the second historic log cabin to be reconstructed at Garlo Heritage Nature Preserve south of Bloomville.
Known as the Hoepf-Elchert log cabin, the cabin was donated by the Hank Elchert family and taken down from family property east of New Riegel.
Park board chairman and construction volunteer Roland Zimmerman said the cabin originally was built in an area that ended up being a half-mile back in the woods from the road. It later was moved closer to the family’s farm buildings and used as a storage facility and blacksmith shop.
Due to weathering and deterioration, he said, about a third of the logs had to be replaced during reconstruction.
As the logs were returned to their original locations during erection, Zimmerman said the volunteers chose to show the progression of how the cabin would have looked at various stages.
For example, he said chinking between the logs started as mud and then slats were added for greater stability. The walls started as plain wood, and then they were whitewashed before they were later lathed and plastered.
Zimmerman noted bundles of lath in the middle of the cabin awaiting a volunteer to lath and plaster part of the walls in a later part of reconstruction.
“The lath is split and not sawed,” he said. “It was a lot of work.”
The chimney was reconstructed to be offset in the middle interior of the cabin.
“There’s a good chance the brick was homemade,” Zimmerman said. “They’re all different sizes and hardnesses.”
The cabin has a downstairs and a half-story upstairs. The stairs that were in place when the building was taken down were replaced.
Remaining work includes putting in a partial ceiling upstairs as part of the educational aspect. It will show how the roof is put together with pins.
A roof is to be placed on the north porch and other finishing touches completed.
The reconstruction allows for a bit of modern convenience in the form of electricity, which allows the cabin to be used for many types of programming as well as historical education.
The project has been ongoing for about 1 1/2 years. The cabin was deconstructed in March 2012 and reconstruction continued until cold weather halted progress. It resumed last spring.
“Hopefully, we’ll be done by cold weather this year,” said board member and volunteer Roy Zinn.
So far, 3,400 volunteer hours have gone into the project, Zinn said, compared to 4,300 hours in the first reconstruction.
“We learned a lot of things in the first cabin that we used in the second cabin,” he said.
The cabin joins the Hedges-Miller log cabin reconstructed two years ago and the Zeiter Blacksmith Shop that was the first historic building there. The buildings are part of an area dedicated to history, which is a long-range plan undertaken by the park district 12 years ago.
“We’d like to have a log livestock barn restored,” he said.
Zinn said the cabin’s history since 1938 is known, but its life previous to then is a bit fuzzy.
Heranamas Hoepf raised 13 children in the cabin, he said, according to oral history.
“He sold the farm and this log house that was on the farm to George Elchert in 1938,” Zinn said. “The Elchert family then moved it from ‘back in the woods’ to become part of the farm buildings in 1941.”
The cabin served as a blacksmith shop.
“That is the absolute history,” Zinn said, adding the rest is oral history and speculation.
The oral history was relayed to Zinn from a granddaughter, Dorothy Miller. She is one of the children who grew up in the cabin and also was the donor of the first cabin reconstructed at the park.
Miller related information told to her by her grandmother, but Zinn said a few details don’t match the cabin’s physical evidence.
She said there was a dirt floor and a ladder on the side of the wall to go upstairs. But this cabin contained stairs and a wooden floor, which may have been added later.
He said Miller related a story about maintaining the dirt floor.
“After the wheat harvest, they would take the straw on the floor out of the log house, and take the braided rugs out and wash them and hang them on fence to dry,” he related.
Then, 4 inches of new straw would be placed on the floor and the rugs replaced on top, and the floor would be ready for another year.
“Could Heranamas Hoepf have reared his 13 children in another log cabin on that property?” Zinn asked.
Mrs. Hoepf died after giving birth to children numbers 12 and 13 – twins.
“He never remarried,” Zinn said. “He raised all those children in this or another cabin.”
Another possible scenario for the cabin’s history comes from Zinn’s research.
He said it’s likely the cabin was built in 1837 as a house of worship for two religious congregations, one a German Evangelical Lutheran congregation and the other German Reformed Protestant. Because of the modest size of congregations during that time, he said, there are more than 500 examples of the two entities building one church.
“They built two doors,” he said. “One congregation would use one door and other one would use the other. That way it was their church. There is evidence that this was the first of its type. I lean this way from a lot of evidence.”
He said the building dimensions and its location 1 1/2 miles east of New Riegel match the description of the first such church.
The cabin has two symmetrical doors side by side on one wall. The window on the west side of the cabin is in the center of the wall, while the window on the east side is offset.
“I think that this suggests the altar was on the east side of the church,” he said.
He found a county map of the late 1830s that shows a symbol for a church at the cabin’s original location, but the map gives no details.
The map was the piece of information that put him in a search of churches. He first thought it might have been the precursor to St. Boniface Catholic Church in New Riegel – now All Saints Parish – but the information didn’t match.
One piece of the physical puzzle doesn’t match the church theory, Zinn said.
The church had no half-story upstairs, but he said that might have been added later when it became a residence.
“I found no conclusive evidence,” he said.
He said he plans to travel to one more location to see the historical church records of one of the religious groups that might have the documentation he’s looking for.
“For every answer I find out, it raises three more questions that I’d like to know the answer to,” Zinn said.
The historical area is part of the 292-acre Garlo Heritage Nature Preserve, the first park in the Seneca County Park District system which was created in 1997 when Alma and Dolly Garlo gifted 256 acres of their family farm to the newly formed Seneca County Park District. The park is a living legacy in memory of doctors Olgierd and Maria Garlo and their son Alex. Olgierd and Maria immigrated from Communist Eastern Europe in 1948 and began acquiring the land in 1961.
The park district has grown since then to include Forrest, Zimmerman, Steyer, Clinton and Tiffin University nature preserves as well as cooperative agreements with Seneca County Opportunity Center’s Opportunity Park, Mercy Tiffin Hospital’s Mercy Community Nature Preserve and Geary Family YMCA’S Fruth Outdoor Center.
Along with the historical area, Garlo features a nature center surrounded by native wildflowers, which houses the park district’s Out & About Preschool and provides space for indoor programs. There is a picnic shelter and a pit toilet also near the parking lot.
Moving toward the preserve area, a boardwalk made from recycled lumber makes possible the trek to one of the park’s ponds, which provides access to everyone for catch-and-release fishing.
A paved trail leads from the parking area to a 37-acre shallow lake with abundant wildlife. Another small shelter/fishing access is located there at the start of a milelong hiking trail around the lake. Along that trail, hikers will find two more 1-acre ponds. Also on the trail are benches for resting and enjoying wildlife.
In total, the park provides 2.7 miles of hiking trails and 8.2 miles of equestrian trails. A separate equestrian parking area provides access to the trails. Hikers are welcome to use them also, but should be aware horses may approach.
In addition, the park contains 35 acres of additional wetlands as well as woodlands and grasslands, bluebird trails and a butterfly garden.