Cabin teaches history of farmers who settled Carroll County in 1826 Students' imagination combines with stories to fill former home

December 24, 1998|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

It was never a battle site or the birthplace of a president, but the one-room cabin off John Owings Road in Westminster is a landmark nonetheless. It reveals the history of the farmers who settled Carroll County more than 150 years ago.

Each year, some 2,000 pupils explore Martin's cabin, named for the family that sold the building to the county in the 1960s. Visitors are drawn to its simple log construction, its sturdy loft and dusty fireplace.

"It's like taking a trip back in time," David E. Roop II, a sixth-grader at Northwest Middle School in Taneytown, said during a recent visit to the cabin built in 1826. "It gives us a chance to experience history, instead of just reading about it."

The pupils are guided by Ted McNett, the county schools' outdoor educator. For two years, McNett and more than a dozen volunteers have been working to restore the cabin, which had been vandalized over the years.

A teen-age girl had declared her love for a classmate on one wall; on another, a vandal had spray-painted graffiti; a third wall was knocked down when a fight broke out among trespassing teen-agers.

"It was a mess," McNett said of the cabin, which stands in a small valley at Hashawa Nature Center. "We had to close it up for fear it would come crashing down on our heads."

Photos, hundreds of snapshots taken during the restoration, tell nTC the tale of the cabin's extensive makeover. Each of its 300-pound logs was numbered and carefully removed. The graffiti was cleaned up. Several rotted logs, the victims of age and the elements, were repaired or replaced.

"I think it's wonderful," said Earl Hersh, chairman of the Friends of Hashawa and Bear Branch Nature Center. "It's representative of how people lived back in the early 1800s. It's part of our history."

The nonprofit group raised about $1,500 to pay for lumber. The construction work began with a John Deere tractor and ended with the kind of tools commonly used in the early 1800s.

"As we went along, we found the simpler the tools, the easier it was to rebuild the cabin," McNett said. "We started out with chain saws, but had to switch to chisels and axes."

Along the way, the workers made other discoveries. They found pottery that dated to the early 1800s and learned that the cabin once had a kitchen, but it was torn down years ago. A porch stands in its place.

Much of the history of the small, 18-by-14-foot structure was pieced together by word of mouth. A neighbor, now in his 80s, recalled hot summer days as a young boy when he cooled himself with a drink from the spring that runs in front of the cabin. Earl Leppo also told McNett of the tiny outdoor kitchen and the Myers family, who lived in the cabin in the 1920s.

McNett passes on this oral history to pupils, hoping to spark their imaginations. He tells them about the chores that children had to perform during the early 1800s -- splitting and stacking firewood, drawing water from the spring, hunting for game.

He talks at length about the history of the land, how the 13 acres surrounding the cabin was carved out of a 300-acre tract in the 1760s. He urges the pupils to keep an eye out for artifacts, items that might look like trash -- a discarded fork, a bent spoon.

He guides them into the cabin, a barren space. Young faces look up to the roof, down to the floor and around at the walls. They ask questions: How many people lived here? What did they eat? Where did they sleep?

McNett answers their questions patiently. In the spring, he hopes to have the cabin furnished with period pieces that represent a typical homestead from the early 1800s. A $3,000 county grant that was awarded to Hashawa last month will be used to buy tin lanterns, cast-iron kettles, a wooden butter churn and other furnishings.

But for now, the children must rely on the power of their imaginations.

"I really like the way this cabin was built," said Roop, the middle school pupil from Taneytown. "I wouldn't like doing all the chores, but I wouldn't mind living in a place like this."

Pub Date: 12/24/98

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