The Dogtrot

I have mentioned a few times here that our home began as a cabin in 1840 and was modernized in the 1920’s.  Apparently, modernization of your cabin was quite common, and often took place over time.

I’m certain that many scenarios went like this.

The main cabin was constructed and this construction was known as a pen.  The upstairs was accessed by a ladder or notched log, and this loft was the sleeping quarters.  The fireplace cooked your meals,  kept you warm and dry in winter and turned the inside of the cabin into a furnace in the summer months!

Later you built an outside kitchen to keep the house cooler.  You also added a second pen with what we would call a breezeway in between them.  This new structure would become what is known as a dogtrot cabin.

Further modifications that would happen as time went by would be to add the kitchen as a separate room on the back, and even later in time, the luxury of an inside bathroom!  😉

We had the opportunity to do a bit of exploring this past Sunday on the mountain and ran into an excellent example of an old dogtrot cabin.  This is very similar to the construction of our home on the Mountain Farmlet.

On the outside of our old cabin the owners really updated the look by adding a clapboard covering (the front) and a *board and batten veneer over sides and back of the log structure.  Later they enclosed the dogtrot and added windows to the cabin to make it match the new addition.

Can you see our home’s history when you look at it now?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe dogtrot is behind the cow.  The previous owners closed in the center door.  It is our intention, as time goes by, to open the doorway back up and make it the main entrance.

The old place is like the “Haunted Shack” at Knott’s Berry Farm in California.  Which means that nothing is entirely level, nor is it square.

HauntedShackOK, it’s not that bad.  😉

However, the foundation men have been here this past week and the floor is sound and newly supported with proper house supports.  Gone are the rocks, tree stumps, and logs, that were rotting away and bug ridden.


NOTE:  I want to give a special shout out to the fellows at Quality Foundation and Repair out of Muscle Shoals, Al.  They started this job and worked in very cramped quarters to see that it was done, and even went into extra innings to remove the 7 layers of rotten bathroom flooring, two of which were sandwiched old carpeting!  You just wouldn’t believe it if you saw it, and unfortunately I forgot my camera that day.


Construction terms and a bit of history can be found below:

A complete explanation of the types and construction of the log home can be found here in a PDF  entitled:  The Pioneer Log House of Kentucky by William J. Macintire.  I feel that this is a comprehensive and awesome read!

*Board-and-batten:  an exterior treatment of vertical boards with battens (smaller boards) covering the seams.

*Clapboard:  an exterior treatment of horizontal boards that overlap as you build them up.  Look HERE

47 thoughts on “The Dogtrot

  1. Erin says:

    Living in a house with so much history is the best. I love those old dogtrot cabins. How cool you live in one! I agree, restoring the old breezeway on your home would be awesome. Such a charming place. What a lovely home you have!

    • Lynda says:

      Hey, Eva! It has been a while since you were here. 🙂

      We haven’t moved yet. There are still plumbing and other things that are needed to be accomplished before we can actually occupy the Mountain Farmlet! We are being forced to take it slow and steady for the moment. 😉

  2. Animalcouriers says:

    Great to have more history on your new farmlet – we’re having such hot and horribly humid weather that the thought of the work you have on your hands makes me rather ill! Hope it’s cool with you.

    • Lynda says:

      Annie, we have had an unseasonably cooler summer with temps in the 80s for the most part, but trust me the humidity here had mitigated those cooler numbers on the thermometer. For the most part we have only had Sundays to work together, and for the time being we are relying on outside contractors to get us up and running. (Foundation, plumbing, electrical and eventually a roofer.) We do what we can, and then REST with this heat. 😛

  3. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    Just a bit of background of why the original structure/log cabin is called a “pen”… As the family got more settled (became more prosperous, had more time [without the worry about winter coming and having no roof over your head] and GREW; ) a new, bigger cabin or framed clapboard house was built and the original structure could now become the animal pen… Instead of everybody and, when it got too cold, every THING being in the same room all winter…
    LOL! Can’t you just picture this? (It’d be pretty hard to ignore doing the chores back then, hey?; )
    Although the original building was long gone by the time my parents bought their farm (one of the oldest homesteads in the area); the original woodshed, only slightly renovated (upgraded?) to a summer kitchen, was still in place at the back of the (frame and clapboard) house.
    Never seen a Dogtrot up here, but then again, c

    • Lynda says:

      Actually, after putting in that much blood, sweat and tears into the log home they often continued to build onto the original ‘pen.’ Some of the more wealthy may have quit the old log home in favor of a new brick and mortar structure, but here is what I have most often read:

      German settlers in the middle colonies brought methods of log construction to the New World. This building technique was adapted by British and Scotch-Irish settlers to the traditional form of cottages in the British Isles. Called a single pen log house, this form spread west and south across the frontier, wherever trees were readily available. It was also used as a component to create larger, more elaborate log houses and structures. The single pen log house became a symbol of the spirit, independence, and resourcefulness of the American pioneer.”

      This is from here:

      In the early years they had dirt floors and then later they added them in. 😉

      • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

        Yup! The old immune system had lots to keep it busy back then – no worries about Auto-Immune diseases back then…

        • Lynda says:

          This comment turned into a phantom. I got notice in my email, but then had to go into comments, then pending, and then invoke it to appear. WEIRD.

  4. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    Never seen a Dogtrot up here, but then again, winter’s killing cold was the bigger enemy, nothing like your Southern Summers’ heat…
    Funny what people had to do just to survive all those years ago, isn’t it? We (usually) don’t know just how lucky we really are. Thanks for the lesson(s)… I’m LOVING learning as you go: )

  5. Littlesundog says:

    This was an interesting and educational post. I know nothing of log cabin construction (except what FD and Hoot did on theirs), and thoroughly enjoyed the photos you added for example. I think that “teacher” in you continues to educate… only now to a more mature group! And you do it so well! Thanks for sharing about this… it’s highly interesting, especially since it’s about the Mountain Farmlet!

    • Lynda says:

      Let me tell you, Lori, I am so excited about all this history that I just can’t keep it to myself! I am constantly in awe of all the old places I see up here on the mountain, and really feeling fortunate to be able to live in a home that is a little piece of our historical past. My worry is that I will bore you all to tears with all of it. 😉

    • Lynda says:

      Thanks, Claire! LOL! Yeah, those carpets got wet when the shower floor cracked…

      They were a constant source of wicked water into the sub-floor components. It was a MESS! 😛

  6. LadyBlueRose's Thoughts Into Words says:

    oh the quilt! breaks my heart…can you imagine the hours that went into it…
    what a wonderful adventure y’all are underway on…
    I enjoyed the post….I have never heard of a dogtrot cabin….is this in the U.S.? it reminded me of Arkansas and Kentucky for some reason…
    Thank you for sharing….wonderful read…
    Take Care…

    • Lynda says:

      Being all hand pieced, it truly was a labor of love, Maryrose. Yes, it is the US. We are in N. Alabama. Cabins of this construction were built all throughout the wooded lands and even into California, so Arkansas and Kentucky certainly had their share.

    • Lynda says:

      Vicky, I wasn’t sure if you meant ours or the one in my pictures today, but yes, I would love to have seen inside the old place too! I peeked into the window on the kitchen and saw a beautiful and very vintage stove inside. The kitchen was a bit cluttered, but that stove looked well cared for! I can’t say for certain, but maybe the owners keep it for a vacation place?

  7. petspeopleandlife says:

    Really educational. Loved reading about dogtrot homes. I think that work on your new old house is coming along nicely. I am fairly certain that you and your husband are anxious to get moved in and settled.

    • Lynda says:

      Thank you, Yvonne! We are, and the work is taking way too long. I wanted us to be in by Christmas, but I don’t think that will happen now. Bob keeps saying, “We’ll move when it’s time to move.” 😉

  8. George Weaver says:

    Well. I’ve spent forever reading and looking at the photos (more than once). You’ve explained and illustrated the dog trot cabin better than I ever saw it explained. Many houses that did not start out as log cabins had hallways that ran the depth of the whole house. They were for ventilation just as the dog trot was. My grandparents’ house had one and a childhood friend’s family had a huge house with many bedrooms built exactly like that too. I enjoyed this post very much. Thank you! 🙂

    • Lynda says:

      Thank you, George! I’m glad you enjoyed it so much. I just never know when I have crossed the line into too much detail. And now that you mention it, out current home has a long hallway the runs the length of the home. It goes to our bedroom on one end and a service room on the other. Both rooms have a window that faces the door into the hall. I have, on less humid days, been able to open those two windows and get a wonderful breeze right down through the middle of the house!

  9. Kathee says:

    You can tell updating was done in the 1920s by the shape of the porch posts. The tapering Egyptian column (what it’s called) was very popular in the 1920s.

  10. pattisj says:

    That is sad about the quilt. Thanks for sharing the history of your home. Seven layers, two of carpet–speechless. You do have your work cut out for you, but it’s situated in such a beautiful place.

    • Lynda says:

      That 25 acres is the big draw, that’s for sure, Patti! However, in spite of the things that are needing to be done, and in spite of the scary surprises we are finding in the process, we love the home and want to make it livable… not perfect, just safe and sound.

  11. sheilahughes2013 says:

    What a wonderful (although I’m sure exhausting) journey you are on! Thank you so much for sharing it with us, I love reading about and seeing all your hard work. We don’t have old homesteads quite like yours around here so I love learning about them. Makes me want to move to your mountain!

    • Lynda says:

      It does get exhausting, especially with the humidity of summer! We are looking forward to fall and some cooler days to work in.

      Sheila, I would love you for a neighbor! Hey! There is a beautiful (newer) 2 story log cabin around the corner from us that is for sale… 😀

  12. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    Lord knows, I understand where you’re coming from on this, but try to remember how long all of these problems have been in the works… (For almost 170 years? Holy now!!)
    So, remember what things looked like before you started fixing them.
    (“Rome wasn’t built in a day.” and neither was The Mountain Farmlet; )
    Be sure to appreciate what has been accomplished since you bought her and how much better she’s looking already.
    Always thought that the expression “Carpe Dium” seemed rather terse but I really like this definition found on…
    “‘Carpe diem’ is usually translated from the Latin as ‘seize the day’. However, the more pedantic of Latin scholars may very well seize you by the throat if you suggest that translation. ‘Carpe’ translates literally as ‘pluck’, with particular reference to the picking of fruit, so a more accurate rendition is ‘enjoy the day, pluck the day when it is ripe’.” And, I would add, eat it with great gusto, let the juices run down your chin like a fresh-picked, tree-ripe Bartlett!
    He’s a wise man, your Bob…
    Enjoy your journey, take each day as it comes (and never rush to the end of a good story… Make it last!; )
    (I know, I know, too many mixed metaphors; )

    • Lynda says:

      Trust me, Deb, with the exception of that bathroom floor, everything is being documented in photographs! AND, I will share your comment with Bob. 😉

    • Lynda says:

      Lisa, they really were are an ingenious design. They seem to create their own breeze and really cool you off under there. We used to have a spot in our yard in California that was a natural corridor. Back behind the orange trees and the block wall, it was so shady and cool. It was my favorite place to be in the summer, just laying back with a cool drink and a good book! And always a good breeze! 😀

  13. shoreacres says:

    They surely do create their own breeze. We’ve got some dogtrots around here – well, more to the west, actually – and they’re great houses. The other thing about southern houses is their use of galleries, the wrap-around porches that go all around the house so you always can find a shady spot. Even the folks who couldn’t afford that would have a gallery, but they built them deep, so you could get back in the shade.

    There was a city style of housing, too, that provided that all-important front porch when there wasn’t much space – the shotgun house. There still are some left in Houston. All of the rooms are built in a line, one behind the other. Gosh, it would be bad having the front bedroom! Everyone would walk through on their way to somewhere else!

    • Lynda says:

      We have a long covered porch on the front of our Mountain Farmlet, but the big covered deck in the back and the wrap around on the cabin near the pond are HOT! The two homes have tin roofs and there is no insulation under the tin out there! We intend to do something in the future, but it will have to wait for a bit. So for now, we are glad for that big front porch! 🙂

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