Firsthand Reports: Log Cabin Retirement

The author and his wife restored a log cabin in the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee. Life on this old homestead is just grand!

| October/November 2004

  • Log Cabin
    James and Doris Baggett and their pet dog enjoy the front porch of their restored, 140-year-old log cabin.
    Photo courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
  • Vegetable Garden
    Every year, Doris and James plant a arge vegetable garden and preserve much of their harvest for the winter. With a garden and orchard, a pond for fishing and woods for hunting, the couple rarely needs to purchase food.
    Photo courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
  • Apple Cider
    Every fall, James and Doris use this restored press to make sweet cider from the trees in their apple orchard.
    Photo courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
  • Whittling
    James' whittling hobby has expanded to full-scale woodworking.
    Photo courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
  • Tilling
    This handmade tiller helps James keep up with his gardening.
    Photo courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
  • Homestead
    The Baggetts' Tennessee homestead.
    Photo courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
  • Woodworking
    A few carvings of James'.
    Photo courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors

  • Log Cabin
  • Vegetable Garden
  • Apple Cider
  • Whittling
  • Tilling
  • Homestead
  • Woodworking

For many years, my wife, Doris, and I lived in a five-bedroom house in eastern Tennessee. I built the house, and that’s where we raised our five children, who have now all moved on and earned college degrees. When the last of our children left home, we decided to build the secluded cabin of our dreams. After all, why continue to struggle with the high cost of the mortgage, upkeep and utilities? We were ready for a smaller house and a slower lifestyle. To us, the hills and rocks of the upper Cumberlands — between Nashville and Knoxville — are the most beautiful part of Tennessee. When we began our search for the perfect property, we knew we did not want to go far, so we started looking right in this area.

After a long search, we saw an ad in a local paper for a log cabin with 50 acres about 15 miles away, near Monterey, Tenn. I had been a carpenter/contractor for years, and I was planning to build our new house, but when we found this old cabin beside a small pond at the end of a pleasant, shady lane, we just fell in love with it. Within a week, we had closed the deal. We purchased the property for about $25,000 in 1985 and have been here ever since.

Rebuilding the Cabin

Calling the cabin old doesn’t quite cover it. This hillside farm on the Cumberland Plateau was an abandoned homestead, and we traced the cabin back to 1865. It needed a lot of work, but it had a good foundation. It also had a metal roof that a previous owner had added in 1933 and that had protected the logs from moisture and decay.



We decided it was easiest to move into the cabin while we were rebuilding it, even though that involved a few inconveniences, including cooking and heating water on a camp stove. We moved in July with the goal of having a kitchen and indoor bath before cold weather struck. With a lot of hard work and determination, the house was livable by October. This was great!

But some major repairs still had to be done. All the chinking between the logs had fallen out, and the wooden floor joists were sagging in the middle. I rechinked all the logs with a cement mortar mix, and put in wood floors for the whole house except the kitchen, where we decided on a patio-brick floor.



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