2018-07-19 / Life in Leelanau

Logs still a perfect fit for 1856 cabin

By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff


VOLUNTEER ROD Nettleton helped out with the project at the Kraitz cabin last week. He is shown here constructing window frame. VOLUNTEER ROD Nettleton helped out with the project at the Kraitz cabin last week. He is shown here constructing window frame. Restoration continued last week on the Kraitz cabin, the oldest mainland structure in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Volunteers with Historic Sleeping Bear (HSB) took out the flooring of the cabin, located on Co. Rd. 669 in Cleveland Township, during the most recent stage of a longterm project to restore the structure.

The building can be seen — but barely — off Bohemian Road .8 miles south of M-22.

Casey Reynolds of Elsah, Ill. was leader of the project Thursday and Friday.

“We took out the floor and found were some had rotted out when a tree previously fell through the roof,” said Reynolds, who in the past three years has volunteered some 350 hours to HSB, which was previously known as Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear. “It’s a treasure and it should be preserved to help people understand what it was like living in the 1860s.”

GARY MEERSCHAERT and Tom Meerschaert, great-great-grandsons of the Kraitz family, participated in Historic Sleeping Bear’s preservation project to restore the cabin last week. It is the oldest structure in the park on the mainland.GARY MEERSCHAERT and Tom Meerschaert, great-great-grandsons of the Kraitz family, participated in Historic Sleeping Bear’s preservation project to restore the cabin last week. It is the oldest structure in the park on the mainland.
The cabin, built in approximately 1856, was the first permanent dwelling on the Francis Kraitz homestead. It’s located about one mile farther south on 669, across the road from St. Joseph Catholic Church.

Kraitz was among a group of Bohemian immigrants who made their way to Chicago, then fled during a typhoid epidemic to form the community of North Unity, according to the National Park Service website.

They were picked up in Lake Michigan, after the ship they were on ran aground off Racine, Wis., and were taken to North Manitou. The group then made their way to the mainland.

Initially, barracks served as temporary housing for pioneers.

Life was tough for the Bohemians that first winter as food supplies became dangerous low, putting the community on the brink of starvation. Kraitz was among a group of men from the community who walked cross a frozen Lake Michigan to find food.

It was during that winter that Kraitz is believed to have scouted a site for a permanent home.

Great-great-grandsons Tom and Gary Meerschaert, from Bay City and Macomb Township, were in on last week’s workbee.

“I have watched the cabin for the last 20 years,” Tom Meerschaert said. “My mom and her brother would go up there and swim in (School Lake) when they were kids.”

When it came time to build, Kraitz hearkened back to his life in Bohemia and fashioned his home in the tradition of horizontal log construction.

The cabin was built on logs hewn on two sides seven to eight inches wide and 10 to 14 inches high. Each log was handcrafted to closely fit to the one below.

The craftsmanship remains after 162 years.

“The joints are still tight,” Reynolds said.

Last week’s work was focused on removing the floor of the cabin, a portion of which has rotted due in part to damage caused when an oak tree fell through the cabin’s roof in October 2012.

“We removed the boards and examined the perimeter looking at the condition of the logs,” Reynolds said. “We found three that need replacing.”

The work, being done in conjunction with the National Park Service, is expected to be completed by outside contractors as it requires specialized equipment.

The next project in HSB sights is to reduce the number of windows and doors in the cabin to what there would have been in the 1860s.

“It was a small building with a large family so they wouldn’t have eaten up space with windows and doors,” said Bill Herd, retired NPS staff and HSB project coordinator.

Although the cabin has been relocated several times to sites in the Bohemian Settlement, the work to fill extra windows and doors will be made that much easier due to markings on the logs identifying walls as north, south, east or west.

“The windows would have been on the east, south and west and the door would have been on the north side,” Herd said. “There are small markings … like cuts made with a knife, identifying where walls went.”

The goal of the project is to bring the cabin back to its original condition for future interpretative programs and visits by local scouting and school groups.

In addition to HSB and the Park Service, the cabin project has gained the attention of people who stop by with their memories of it.

Meerscahaert is proud of the cabin and how it has stood the test of time.

“It was an honor to get to work on it and I hope to get up there and help with future projects,” he said. “It was a great experience to be able to work on it with one of my brothers, Gary.

“History everywhere deserves to be preserved for future generations.”

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Nice article Amy.

Nice article Amy.