(PHOTOS BY REBECCA MILLER, STAFF)
By: Rebecca Miller
On Williams County Road O, just east of a tiny “Census-designated place” called Kunkle, Ohio, there sits an historic log cabin, left to the elements, the animals, and apparently some humans who don’t respect its’ history.
Built in 1838 by Jacob Young, it was lived in right up until the early to mid 1930’s, when it was abandoned. In 1840, there were only around 4000 people living in Williams County so, it is one of the oldest, possibly the oldest log cabin, still standing in the county.
Another home that was older than the Jacob Young cabin, was in Center Township, but that was allowed to fall down and was cleaned away, moving this cabin into the spot of being the oldest in the county, as far as is known.
In 1974, the land owners, Mrs. Bertha Ewing and her son Paul “donated the dilapidated log house to the Williams County Historical Society (in memory of Bert Ewing).
Hundreds of volunteer hours and thousands of dollars were donated over more than four years in restoring the Jacob Young log house. The WCHS formally dedicated the refurbished log house in 1977.
The Jacob Young log house is one of a handful of examples of Williams County pioneer residential architecture.”
This information came from articles on file at the Williams County Public Library Local History Center.
The log cabin was wrapped in plastic to protect it through the winter, so that restoration work could begin in the spring. Volunteers cleaned and worked hard to preserve it.
There are plenty of pictures of the cabin through the years, especially from the times when it needed more upkeep and when it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on August 5, 1976. In the 1950’s and the 1970’s a lot of hard work was put into repairing the house so that it would not be lost to posterity.
At some point, a nice sign was put up in front of the field, by the road that goes past the cabin, stating, “Jacob Young Log House/State Historical Site”, but during the winter of 2022-23 the sign was hit by a vehicle and broken to pieces. It now lays in the ditch in front of the fence.
A plaque which was put on the house has survived not only the weather, but also what looks like might be some vandalism.
The plaque states, “In Memory of Mr. Albert (Bert) Ewing 1880-1946 This property donated by Bertha Ewing to The Williams County Historical Society.”
While researching the old cabin, the following information was found, which was shared by B&K Photos online in 2016.
The cabin has “a full basement with an entry from inside (and outside), an exterior bake oven, a parson’s cupboard above the living room fireplace, a built-in closet upstairs and a small holding or “borning” room.”
Upon tromping around in the winter dried grasses, and climbing up on some broken down beams that have fallen outside up against the wall, it was discovered that the beautiful fireplace in the living room has taken a beating.
Also, the outer wall which has fallen in has left the room open to whatever (or whoever) wanted to get in.
There are bricks, some boxes and decorative slabs, and a part of a log in the room now, along with pieces of plaster and old boards that have fallen off the walls.
Williams County Historical Society (WCHS) president, Rich Resor, explained in a phone interview that no one should be in the building as it is extremely unsafe.
There had been No Trespassing signs and a chain on the gate, but those were not seen in February 2023. Resor said that would be immediately remedied so that no one goes up there and gets hurt.
Outside, the shutters are broken and falling off the windows, with one lying on the ground beneath the window it used to protect. Bushes are grown up around the front door and into the broken portion of the wall, stretching their long prickly branches into the interior.
Besides the big hole on the northeast corner there are other smaller holes around the house. Out by the gate which opens to the pasture where the cabin resides at the top of the hill, there are beer bottles and cans in the bushes, indicating it might have been used for less than historical purposes.
Dan VanArsdalen, the pastor for the past eight years of the Kunkle United Brethren Church (and Alvordton UB Church for the past 13 years) shared that he seems to remember someone telling him that the Williams County Historical Society had passed the Jacob Young cabin on to the state.
Resor said that he was not aware of that being attempted, but that he was told that at some point WCHS did offer it to Sauder Village due to a lack of interest during fundraisers to save it.
A phone call to Sauder Historical Village turned up the information that as far as Curator Tracy Evans could find, it had not been considered, as something that might be moved to become a part of Sauder Village. If it was offered, there is not a record of that at Sauder Village.
According to Williams County Commissioner Lew Hilkert, the commissioners are not connected with it in any way, as it was donated to the Williams County Historical Society.
At this point it looks like no one is taking responsibility for this precious piece of history in the northwest corner of Ohio.
It is agreed that the cabin is special, and it is sad to see it falling apart, but who should be doing something about it is the big question.
WCHS President Resor explained that it was too deteriorated to move it to the fairgrounds like the Lett Cabin, and they have not had any luck raising enough money to restore it.
He went on to share that the society has done everything they can to at least keep the historical memory of this old building.
“About 13 years ago, we took exact measurements and photos,” Resor said, “and every aspect of the building has been drawn, inside and out, so we can at least preserve it that way.”
It has been determined that even though the building is unique and special, it is too far gone for restoration without raising at least a quarter of a million dollars for the project.
“Every single log in the cabin is completely dry rotted from the top of the building to the bottom,” he said, adding, “Eight years ago a few of us went in to repair a window and the floors were so bellied that it was completely unsafe to be in there.
The racoons have added a chemical issue as well, making it necessary to wear masks while cleaning.”
Resor shared that in a conversation with Bob Bauer a few years ago, he learned that the cabin needed quite a few if not all of the logs replaced, which would cost thousands of dollars.
A lot with large trees was left to WCHS for the logs to be harvested, and the companies to do the labor had been set up, but after the donor passed away, the family contested the will and they won.
This left WCHS back at square 1 with no logs and no money to get them. Presently they do not have the finances.
Over the years, as the Williams County Historical Society has had people come and go, there has been a desire to restore the Jacob Young cabin, but after the efforts in the 1970’s, they were unable to raise enough money to do more.
They did not “just let it go” as has been stated in negative comments on social media, a WCHS member stated.
They have just not been able to make it happen. For those who are frustrated by the situation, there are options… join the Historical Society and do something about it, or make a huge donation, or hold a fundraiser to save it, and gather others to help you.
The society certainly has tried throughout the years, but is presently focused on the care of the Lett Cabin and the Museum, which are both on the fairgrounds in Montpelier, President Resor pointed out.
Rebecca can be reached at email@example.com
(From the April 1973 West Unity Reporter archives)