I grew up in Roanoke, Virginia - a small city that developed as a hub for the Norfolk Southern railroad before plateauing in size with the deceleration of that industry. Throughout my childhood my Dad kept his eye on a particular house in our quiet neighborhood. It was an anachronism - a log cabin with a deep, wrap-around porch and stone chimney situated in the middle of otherwise conventional homes. Located just down the hill from where we lived at the time, we’d sled past it together whenever it snowed. I remember peering inside when he took me door to door to sell popcorn for the cub scouts. He always wanted to live in that house, refurbish it, and make it his own.
His chance finally came nearly 8 years ago (too late for me to claim the penthouse bedroom, which went to my younger sister). For two months prior to moving in, he refinished the floors and repainted the walls. The walls were painstaking work, and he virtually lived on a ladder with Mom serving him pizza and other items that could be consumed from his perch. Paint rollers were not an option because, you see, the interior walls are made of logs as well. And, like the exterior walls, all of the logs run vertically rather than horizontally, which is customary in log construction.
This is a peculiar house, indeed, and over the last couple of months I’ve really gotten to know it, appreciate it, and marvel at my Dad’s (and Mom’s) labor of love. Here is what I know of its story.
The house was built in 1921 by the railroad company as a hunting lodge for employees and guests. At that time it sat alone in its corner of town. At some later date it was converted into a private home. There were two outbuildings (a shed and a garage, which was later demolished) - but despite their similar construction, I couldn’t tell you whether they were original. My guess is that they were added at the later conversion.
The vertical logs had baffled me until I learned of other similar structures from that era (including the nearby Coffee Pot roadhouse), and learned that the logs invariably came from American chestnut trees. Prior to the blight which wiped out the species, American chestnuts covered the area. That being said, their trunks were generally too small to stack horizontally. Hence the vertical orientation of the logs.
They were used much like studs would be in common framing. But because chestnuts were so plentiful, there was no need to mill them into lumber. Just chop them down, cut them to size, and line them up - making sure that the spacing was close enough to infill with plaster.
This skeleton, though, is only part of the charm. The interior contains the refinished hardwood floors along with wood paneled ceilings and the original electrical fixtures. And the exterior setting, including the white oak trees (some 200 to 300 years old), my Dad’s stone terraces, and his many flowers, is truly remarkable.
I hope you enjoy these photos, through which I aim to share this special house and pay honor to my Dad, his vision, and his hard work.
east facade (with Dad’s “Hokie” day lillies at bottom left)
closeup view of chimney and path
back yard (shed on right)
view of rear addition (this later addition, which is clad in shingle siding, is the only portion of the house with standard lumber framing)
the shed (with Bob and Sherri the flamingos)
side steps to front porch (at southwest corner)
side porch (Dad made this table with boards salvaged from a white oak tree that once stood on the property)
living room ceiling
detail of sconce in dining room
mantle at living room fireplace (Dad’s Christmas spirit was not confined to Decembers)
interior hallway with original oak floors (the log walls are especially interesting in the near dark)
east facade at night
water lily (from Dad’s goldfish pond)
In Loving Memory of D.G. Albright
5/20/1953 - 7/19/2013