Wayzata's cabin in the woods is saved

  • Article by: MARY JANE SMETANKA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 14, 2013 - 9:47 AM

Now supporters hope the log building will be restored and moved to a park.


Above:  Irene Stemmer of Wayzata has saved its 19th century “Trapper’s Cabin,” moving the 1880s log building from its original site to restore the building and move it to a park.

Photo: Photos by JOEL KOYAMA • joel.koyama@startribune.com,

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Once, someone lived here, in a cabin made of tamarack logs.

It must have been hard work in the 1800s, downing trees with hand saws and notching logs to fit as the little building rose from a dirt floor. It would have been freezing in the winter, when the wind whipped through gaps in the walls.

Lake Minnetonka was just a short walk away. Perhaps a trapper built the cabin, hanging beaver and muskrat pelts from nails on the walls. Maybe loggers used it as a resting place.

Today, an estimated 130 years after the cabin was built, the now-silver logs are basking in unfamiliar sunshine on the grounds of Wayzata Public Works. Last month, the cabin was lifted carefully from its wooded home on Bushaway Road and moved so it can be restored and relocated to Wayzata’s Shaver Park.

The project is close to the heart of Irene Stemmer, chairwoman of Wayzata’s Heritage Preservation Board. For years she has worked to save the cabin. As the oldest-known building in the city, she said, the modest log structure is “an icon of Wayzata history.”

“When I saw this little cabin standing on its [moving] pilings, it was like ‘The Little Engine That Could,’ ” Stemmer said. “ ‘Here I am, I am intact and I am ready to go.’ ”

The cabin’s origins are a mystery. A University of Minnesota forestry expert identified the cabin’s logs as tamarack, a bog-loving tree that was once common around Lake Minnetonka but now is mostly gone. The cabin can be seen in historic pictures of houses that were first built on the land in 1889.

The first owner of the land where million-dollar homes now stand was Horace Norton, who bought 160 acres from the government in 1855 for $1.25 per acre, selling it shortly thereafter. To keep their land, so-called “squatters” had to live on their property for 14 months.

Was the 12-by-15-foot cabin Norton’s squatter’s cabin? Stemmer doesn’t know, but the cabin’s small size indicates to her that it was built for temporary use. Sometimes, she said, land buyers threw up a building and hired other people to live there so they wouldn’t lose their property.

Later, families that lived in nearby homes called the building “the trapper’s cabin.” One woman told a real estate agent that according to family lore, the cabin was built by a “black logger sent out from St. Paul to clear the land.” Stemmer said someone may have lived in the cabin in 1937.

Though the cabin is now chinked with rotting putty, Stemmer thinks gaps between logs were originally filled with strips of tamarack. Over the years, a peaked roof that appears to have been made with wood from a barn was built and topped with shingles. Two windows were added at either end of the building. The cabin was wired for an electric light and a stovepipe hole was cut in the roof. High on one wall is a ramshackle wood shelf, and several short chains dangle from the ceiling.

Generations of neighborhood kids played in the cabin. As years passed, it became shrouded in sumac and surrounded by trees. The low doorway — modern visitors have to stoop to avoid smacking their head on the door jamb — was fitted with a green plywood door. Bikes and other things were stored there, and the cabin became a fixture on Bushaway Road, visible only when winter stripped the leaves from trees.

Stemmer watched the cabin for years and, when the land was sold for housing, convinced the developer to donate the building. John Mehrkens, vice president for development for Presbyterian Homes and Services, which is developing the Promenade of Wayzata, agreed to pay for the moving and restoration of the cabin.

‘If only those logs could speak’

At 4 a.m. on a recent morning, the cabin was carefully lifted from the ground and trucked gently to the public works site. Some of the walls were stabilized with metal strapping. Stemmer was relieved when the building didn’t fall apart as it was lifted onto wood pilings.

“It’s been almost attached to my hip,” she said. “If only those logs could speak.”

At the public works site, a rotten log was removed from the base of the cabin. Already a man who is interested in the restoration has dropped off a couple of replacement tamarack logs that he cut at his lake cabin.

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  • Left:  The wood used to build the cabin has been identified as tamarack, a tree once common around Lake Minnetonka.

  • Irene Stemmer of Wayzata has saved its 19th century “Trapper’s Cabin,” moving the 1880s log building from its original site to restore the building and move it to a city park on August 7, 2013 in Wayzata, MN. ] JOELKOYAMA‚Ä¢joel koyama@startribune Wayzata has saved its 19th century “Trapper’s Cabin,” moving the 1880s log building from its original site to restore the building and move it to a city park. The 12-by-15-foot cabin is thought to have been built in the 1880s when the area was considered wilderness.

  • This image of “Old Field cabin” dates to just after World War I.

  • The interior of the 19th century “Trapper’s Cabin” is getting extra light and air flow as it sits in Wayzata’s public works yard awaiting restoration and a move to a city park.

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