History in the Making
A creative couple breathe new life into a 19th century log cabin
Driving down the winding country roads that lead to Jim and Jeannie Lalumondiere’s stunning House Springs home sets the mood for arriving at their pastoral property. Though their home is only 35 miles from downtown St. Louis, it couldn’t feel more rural, rustic and reminiscent of a bygone era. It weaves as one with the Big River, sitting at the water’s edge in unobtrusive appreciation of its natural form and beauty.
Across the sprawling drive stands a simple log cabin, rich in history and filled with memories longer than the road ahead. Stepping into this cozy cabin rouses that same erstwhile nostalgia. The couple has lived in their home, which sits adjacent to the cabin, for almost 40 years. It wasn’t until 2007 that Jim began renovating the cabin’s interior, despite restructuring its bones much earlier.
For years the couple owned a log cabin in Ste. Genevieve, yet as their children grew older, the family visited it less and less and eventually sold it. “That was our dream, to have a place to go to for the weekend or to get away,” says Jeannie. “It worked out though, because now I have a log cabin across the street.”
Based on a property abstract, the couple believes that David Manchester built the cabin in 1836 and lived in it with a dirt floor and a mud fireplace. That’s far from where the land’s history began, though.
A paleontologic dig performed within the footprint of the cabin by Washington University yielded fascinating discoveries: agricultural hoes crafted by Native American hunter-gatherers some 14,000 years ago and Dalton points (a prehistoric tool or weapon). Jim and Jeannie keep some of these ancient artifacts in the cabin.
“The thing that’s the most meaningful to me about it is that there’s been someone here before,” says Jim. “That’s what it finally comes down to. I’m going to be gone, and there will be some little piece of us left here.” For Jim, the key component to restoring the cabin was preserving and respecting its history, while adding personal character to its enduring story.
And from the ground up, he did just that. Collectors of “old stuff,” Jim and Jeannie believe in repurposing building materials and furnishings. Jim restored the original logs and added a stunning wood floor and loft using tongue and groove lumber rescued from a dilapidated warehouse in downtown St. Louis. The original cabin didn’t have windows, but Jim recovered several from an old country house and added them. He made the loft ladder with wood from pew kneelers recovered from St. Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church in Soulard.
He also happened upon the door, made of center-cut old-growth timber, by chance, right down the road from his home in a pile of discarded wood. He estimates that it was made around 1847. “I just made the doorframe to fit the door,” says Jim. “I’m not allowed to alter something that’s 150 years old.” Another special element of the door is its white porcelain knobs. First, they are easier to see at night. The placement of the knob is significant to the era when it was made as well, since the average person stood much shorter. Therefore, knobs were positioned higher so that children couldn’t reach them, and when they grew tall enough to, it meant they could take care of themselves.
Blending old materials with modern convenience, Jim and Jeannie chose to outfit the cabin with electricity, which adds extra light and a mini-refrigerator — but no television. Instead, the focal point of the cabin is the giant, breathtaking limestone fireplace featuring magnificent craftsmanship and detailing, which Jim saved from destruction more than 20 years ago.
At 240 square feet, the cabin is small but lives much larger. The couple enjoy entertaining friends and family there in the winter and spend many warm summer evenings on the porch. “It certainly provides a great gathering space,” says Jeannie. “We’ve had quite a few nights where we end up circled around the table. We just sit and share life.”
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