Thomas Brown Cabin PIT Project – Part 1

After a two and a half hour drive, and one wrong turn (thanks Google Maps), here I was at the Winona Ranger Station looking for the “bunkhouse” that I would be staying in for the next week of my historic preservation adventure in the Mark Twain National Forest. What I didn’t know at that moment, was how much the next week would affect me personally.  I would meet some really great people that quietly take care of the historical places we all love.  I would also get to learn a lot about my own family history.  And as so often happens when we learn about history, I learned a lot about myself too.

A few months ago my wife noticed a call for volunteers in the local newspaper.  A project called Passport in Time was accepting applications to work on the restoration of a 150 year old cabin in the Mark Twain National Forest. The cabin to be restored just happened to be the Thomas Brown Cabin at Falling Springs…Thomas Brown was my Great Great Great Uncle.  I really wanted to be part of this project.

I went to their website http://www.passportintime.com and began researching what I needed to do. The moment I went to their website, I knew that I had been missing out on something special for years.

“Passport in Time (PIT) is a volunteer archaeology and historic preservation program of the USDA Forest Service (FS). PITvolunteers work with professional FS archaeologists and historians on nationalforests throughout the U.S. on such diverse activities as archaeological survey and excavation, rock art restoration, survey, archival research, historic structure restoration, oral history gathering, and analysis and curation of artifacts. The FS professional staff of archaeologists and historians will be your hosts, guides, and co-workers.

  Over the years, volunteers have helped us stabilize ancient cliff dwellings in New Mexico, excavate a 10,000-year-old village site in Minnesota, restore a historic lookout tower in Oregon, clean vandalized rock art in Colorado, survey for sites in a rugged Montana wilderness, and excavate a 19th-century Chinese mining site in Hell’s Canyon in Idaho.” 

I had no archaeological experience and the closest I had ever been to doing historical restoration was putting the door back on the barn at our old farm.  Still, I filled out the application, sealed it, and walked away from the mailbox thinking “wouldn’t that be neat.”  Three weeks later I was accepted and asked to report to the Winona Ranger Station on April18.

Monday morning found me up early and at the worksite first.  I had been to Falling Springs Mill and The Thomas Brown Cabin many times, but I wanted a good look at what we were going to do.

The first thing I noticed was the creosote treated railroad ties that were supporting the cabin. Those smelly railroad ties were really out of place and detracted from the looks of the cabin.  I found out later that high-water had came through a couple of years ago and had moved the rotten sill logs that were the foundation of the cabin.  The Forest Service had been faced with doing a quick fix (railroad ties) or watching the cabin deteriorate even more.

The second thing I noticed was the graffiti!  There had always been some carvings on the logs and a little spray paint, but the last few years had really added to the amount of vandalism the cabin had endured. A lot of the inside walls and floor even had “layers upon layers” of spray paint where vandals had written things you wouldn’t say in front of your Grandmother or want your children see.

The Falling Springs Mill had a few issues also.  The siding was missing several boards and a couple of broken floor boards needed replaced.  There was going to be a lot of work to do this week…

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