Burnsville Historical Society to hear log cabin stories

bv-boberg-1col-cby Bonnie Boberg
Special to Sun Thisweek
Dakota County Tribune

I don’t imagine there are many of you who have had to trek through the snow to a small wooden structure, with no heat, to “take a dump” in the family outhouse. Well, believe it or not – I have!

Having grown up used to the luxuries of a large suburban home in south Minneapolis, you can imagine my shock when my husband-to-be took me up to see his cabin in northern Minnesota in the late fall of 1967. When we got out of the car in this isolated area in Superior National Forest, my jaw dropped and the first words out of my mouth were: “You must be kidding! I think we should sell it!”

Standing before me was a one-room log cabin, 20 feet by 20 feet, built around 1920. There was electricity, but there was no heat source other than an old wood-burning stove in the center of the room. There was a well and pump next to the cabin. There was no bathroom!

Well, we did not sell that cabin and, in fact, we have had many wonderful vacations there raising our two kids to appreciate the beauty of the north woods and the simplicity of a log cabin. Now my six grandchildren are learning to enjoy all the gifts the cabin and the north woods provide us. Yes, over its 93-year history, we have added some pipes to run water into the cabin. We put on a 20-by-20 addition of a living room and small bedroom. We did add an outdoor shower house, too. But, we still have no heat source, and we still use an outhouse. I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

If you would like to hear more about living in a log cabin you won’t want to miss the meeting of the Burnsville Historical Society beginning at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19. Our guest will be Larry Kortuem of Madison Lake, Minn.

Larry, 67, knows about log cabin living because he owns his family’s 1867 log cabin. He has lovingly restored it and hosted a few of us last fall, telling us about the cabin, and serving us warm cider and cookies, on the first snowy day. It made a lasting impression.

Larry is an armed services veteran and participated in the 1968 Vietnam Tet Offensive. He has been an aftercare counselor for those involved in alcohol addiction. He is an advanced level master auto technician. He taught at South Central College for four years as a retired professional. Over the last five years he has been a historical speaker as part of Madison Lake area’s historical outreach and now is an outreach speaker supporting the Blue Earth County Historical Society. He also has run marathons! That’s enough to fill a history book on its own – and that doesn’t even include his experiences with log cabins.

“History books give a sometimes foreboding or routine description of what it was like living in a log home but never really capture what the pioneer’s family felt like  – the animals, the medicine, the opportunities, the neighbors, the finances and the demands of winter,” Kortuem said. “In 2002, our family began building and restoring log cabins and dugouts like those constructed by this area’s ancestors. We have seven cabins/homes and a dugout. Our oldest is an 1867 home built by our great-grandfather.

“In the last few years it has had people actually move in and live as pioneers did in the 1800s. The talk also involves the move to the area and what it took to pick up and head off into the wild, what the first challenges were and the swift construction it took to get sheltered by winter. Forensics of how many people contributed to the quick construction of the existing building and even some of the illegal moves done by the early settlers to ‘gain ground’ will be shared.”

When European settlers came to Burnsville (and the entire Minnesota River Valley) in the mid-1850s they aspired to live in a log cabin. Some, like James Connelly of Burnsville, constructed a hybrid shelter, partly dug into the earth and partly constructed of logs. Here the family lived for 13 years. Larry Kortuem’s forebearers built their cabin near Mankato, and used massive logs.

Come hear about Larry’s log cabin and about my log cabin. If you have experience around log cabins, come and share your stories, too.

We meet at 190 S. River Ridge Circle (across from Skateville) in Burnsville, lower level. For directions to the meeting, go to http://190riverridge.com.

Bonnie Boberg is secretary of the Burnsville Historical Society.