Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


Log cabins built by the pioneers in Iowa symbolized many characteristics of the pioneers themselves. Youth, roughness, and rugged strength were represented in the crude structures that were used to ward off attack, as shelters from the weather, and to provide a welcome haven to exhausted, lonely strangers stranded in the wilderness. Thus, the new settler could enjoy security with his family, his Bible, and a few precious basic tools.

Cabins served as homes to the pioneer, but were also sometimes the first public buildings in a settlement as they housed schools, churches, stores, and even courts. At Galland in Lee County, Iowa area’s first school was a log cabin built in 1829. Berryman Jennings taught a handful of children in this primitive building during the fall of 1830. 

Farmington had a log school in 1834, and at Batavia a deserted log cabin housed Jefferson County’s first school. In Dubuque in 1834, a 20 x 26-foot cabin was Iowa’s first church, while the scene of Iowa’s first court was in another cabin made of cottonwood logs. Judge Irvin dispensed justice from a split-bottom chair placed on top of an ordinary dry goods box while the grand jury held its sessions in a nearby cave. By 1837, Wapello and Farmington both held courts in log cabins. 

Early jails made of logs hardly provided much security. In 1841, the new "security" Jefferson County jail built of logs 24 x 18 feet had double walls. The floor of the second story was to be planked and spiked to prevent boring through the first floor ceiling. A similar two-story structure had been built as Johnson County’s first court house in 1838. 

Cabins served as stores and post offices throughout the territory. Keosauqua’s first store was a double-log cabin built in 1836, a year prior to the platting of Van Buren (the original part of the town of Keosauqua.) Lawyers, doctors, artisans, and blacksmiths worked out of log cabins that sometimes housed the first factories and newspaper offices. Also found in log cabins were flour mills, hotels, and land offices. Even dances were occasionally held in log cabins. 

Most cabins were built as temporary quarters. Soon communities manufactured brick from kilns for constructing public buildings and the homes of the affluent. Log cabins were replaced with small frame houses that could be added onto as the family’s size increased and as money allowed. 

Therefore, the log cabin represented the youth through which each community must pass. Preserving or erecting replicas of these pieces of construction allows an area to identify with its youth and to primitive beginnings, while it serves as a "hands-on" educational device for people of later times.

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick