Log construction began in the Scandinavian regions before the Bronze Age. The first structures were simple rectangular buildings made of horizontally-laid round logs with corner notching (3). This basic form, known as the "Single Crib" or "Single Pen" has remained unchanged from as early as 10,000-8,000 BC and is ancestor to all log construction in America (4).
The first log structures erected in the American Colonies were the English "Garrison Houses" and Dutch "Blockhouses" of New England (5). Intended as military fortifications, these structures were built to withstand siege. The logs were hewn and carefully fitted together, and the second story was cantilevered over the first. Although the English settlers were familiar with this system of horizontal log construction they built their homes of the frame-clapboard or "Half-Timber" construction that was common in England.
The log house was unknown in America until the Swedish and Finnish peoples settled in Delaware and Maryland in 1638. Horizontal log houses were traditional in Scandinavia and were well suited to the new, heavily-timbered American landscape. In the early 1700's Germans and Scotch-Irish immigrants settled in Pennsylvania. Again, each group brought their traditional European construction methods with them in the form of stone cottages and log cabins. The practice of building log houses in Appalachia developed from the influence of German and Scandinavian traditions. This form of construction combined with Scotch-Irish stone masonry and English design elements to produce the typical Appalachian log house (6).
Logs used in house construction were usually of chestnut, oak, poplar, and spruce. A good working log was generally 12 to 15 inches in diameter and 25 to 30 feet in length. These were hewn flat on either 2 or 4 sides, or left in the round. Early cabins were usually rough, temporary structures, with unhewn logs (7). Hewn logs were used when a more finished look and permanence were desired (8).
Logs are held in position at building corners by a system of notching. The particular style of corner-timbering used is one of the most distinctive features of log building. Notching is studied by scholars to determine the age and origins of log architecture. Saddle or round notching was sometimes used with projecting corners and round logs (9). This was one of the most common forms of notching in Appalachia, because it was quick and relatively easy. V-notching was characteristics of Pennsylvania German houses and it found its way south to the mountains of Appalachia (10). Each log was hewn with an inverted V on the edge and on the underside (11). These fitted tightly together, forming a strong joint.