Expert on Log Cabins Looks Into the Grain

Tim Kilby lifts a timber off a cabin he has reassembled on his property. The wood will be repaired and the cabin delivered to a new location.
Tim Kilby lifts a timber off a cabin he has reassembled on his property. The wood will be repaired and the cabin delivered to a new location. (J. B. Forbes - Photo By J.b Forbes/st. Louis Po)

By Valerie Schremp Hahn
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Saturday, April 22, 2006

ST. LOUIS -- Call Tim Kilby a loghead, and he'll take it as a compliment.

Kilby can drive all around St. Charles County, Mo., and beyond and show you new subdivisions sprouting where log cabins once stood. He can date a log cabin by the types of screws he finds in the woodwork, tell you whether the builders were German, and make pretty good guesses at which houses might be log cabins cloaked in modern-day siding.

"Once you learn to read these buildings, they tell you all kinds of things," Kilby said.

Kilby, 45, owns Country Gentleman Historic Restorations and Woodwright Shop in Defiance, Mo., where he builds period cabinets and furniture. And he specializes in rebuilding and restoring old log cabins.

He has dismantled, documented and moved more than 45 log, stone and post and beam structures, in Missouri and other states.

He has spearheaded full restorations on 15 cabins and structures, and done partial restorations on more than 50. He has consulted on projects across the nation, telling people whether he thinks a cabin is worth restoring and when it was built -- he calls it "architectural forensics."

Last month Kilby received an award in Jefferson City from the Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation. The award recognized his efforts in restoring a 2,450-square-foot log home next to his workshop and office. The original two-story cabin was built in 1845 by farmer Isaac McCormick.

When Kilby moved to the home in 1998, he could stand in the basement, look up and watch the birds in the sky. But he swept out the old cabin and moved in anyway.

Over the years, Kilby pried off the blue siding, cleaned out the gaps between the logs, replaced floorboards, rebuilt its four original fireplaces, and built a back addition for a laundry room and master bathroom. It took him 2 1/2 weeks to strip paint from the staircase, revealing a beautiful cherry finish.

Descendants of Isaac McCormick gave Kilby a portrait of McCormick and his wife, Elizabeth. Kilby enlarged the picture, framed it and hung it in the main entry hall.

"I look at that picture and think at least I can look him in the eye and ask him a question," Kilby said.

One might be whether McCormick ever used a level when he built the house. An inventory of his belongings taken at his death showed he owned crosscut saws and axes, but a level didn't make the list. That might explain why the floors pitch in every direction, Kilby said.

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