MERRIFIELD -- Hand-hewn logs still bear the ax marks about 120 years after the effort to create them.
When the first ax cuts were made, the one-room log building was about parents' hope for the future. Settlers' children in the Merrifield and Lake Edward area learned the basics from the late 1800s to 1915 at the little school off County Road 4. Students were a short walk from Lake Edward's edge.
When Mike Roberts was a youngster vacationing at the former schoolhouse turned summer cabin, visitors seemed to appear from the woods. They walked the short trek along an abandoned roadway that was on its way to being taken back by the trees. They were seeking a look at the past.
"Like 'Field of Dreams,'" Roberts said of the visitors' appearance at the edge of the yard as they emerged from the trees. "Same kind of thing. And they would talk about what it was like to go to school here."
Dove-tailed logs linking the walls at the corners, a technique used in Scandinavia to use the shrinking wood to pull the corners even tighter, connect the cabin to its 1800s heritage. Builders used a broad ax.
Students went to school for six months each year. But the months came in two three-month intervals in the spring and fall. There were no doubt too many chores in the summer to keep farms going. One man recounted his boyhood job of making sure the schoolhouse was heated for a pay of 10 cents a day.
"That was a lot of money to him," Roberts said.
In the 1920s a trapper lived in the cabin. Neighbors report money bags from the Baby Face Nelson's 1933 armed robbery of the First National Bank in Brainerd were found in the cabin.
Roberts' father bought the cabin in 1955 with an eye toward duck hunting opportunities. In those days plentiful ducks could blacken the sky as they flew above that land between Lake Mollie and Lake Edward.
A vintage photograph depicting settlers' children and a school teacher hung in the cabin when the remodeling project began in May 2000. The photo provided a link to the building's past use for education. The little school was used until the late 1920s, when a newer school, now the Lake Edward Town Hall, was built. The old school was used occasionally for dances and meetings.
The cabin was primitive in creature comforts. Mike Robert's mom remembers her first view of the place with its yard full of hazelbrush. Water came from the Lake Edward Town Hall and lake ice, kept cold in sawdust storage, occasionally included a lake fish.
Round logs were cut flat on two sides with a broad ax. The rounded sides lay on top of each other complete with bark. Shrinking as the logs dried, the space was filled with chinking to keep the elements out. But one of the most telltale features about the building's design is from the dove-tailed logs linking the walls at the corners.
The corner building technique used in Scandinavia with round logs, familiar with many, was actually designed in America. With the Scandinavian obtuse dove-tail, the expected shrinking of the wood meant the corners pulled together as the building aged. Each log pulled the other as the wood dried, creating a tighter fit.
"This guy knew what he was doing," Roberts said of the builder named Bedore.
On Dec. 9, a national audience will be able to visit the cabin via the Home and Garden cable television channel and program series "Before and After." A crew based in Minneapolis visited the site in May 2000 to film the initial "before" segments as a remodeling project began. They returned in June 2001 to record the "after" portion.
For the HGTV crew, the 2000 visit was an opportunity to get as many early images and information as possible for later editing. The Roberts family was recorded walking to Lake Edward, inside and outside the cabin itself.
Close-up shots of the exterior design elements and 120-year-old ax marks were taken. And the camera caught Pat and Mike Roberts as they prepared the cabin for the remodeling phase, removing items such as children's schoolroom desks from the one-room cabin.
"After" versions depict two loft bedrooms accessed from a spiral staircase in the now year-round home. The remodeled home designed by the Roberts' childhood friend Mark Stegner expanded main floor living areas with a sunroom and screen porch. A new kitchen and indoor bath were added.
From the front, remodeling plans were to retain the familiar log look of the original cabin in an effort to combine the cabin's historic qualities with a larger vacation retreat.
The "Before and After" segment will air at 7 and 10 p.m. Dec. 9 on HGTV. More information about the featured program is also available online at www.hgtv.com. The "Before and After" episode number is 605.
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