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Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Under cover

Log cabin hewn over 170 years ago near Maria Stein

By Margie Wuebker

Maria Stein resident Tony Prenger kneels near a wall in the log cabin where the. . .

MARIA STEIN - If walls could talk, what tales a two-story log cabin along Rolfes Road could tell.
The cabin, estimated at nearly 175 years old, was revealed when Bruns Excavating of Maria Stein dismantled a home it purchased in July 2011 from Eric and Carrie Prenger. After an addition and old asbestos siding shingles were removed, workers found massive 18-foot by 30-foot-long oak logs.
The notched logs, which fit together like puzzle pieces, still bear signs of the axes that pared their natural roundness.
Bruns Excavating owner Paul Bruns is attempting to sell the cabin to someone interested in rebuilding it elsewhere. If that does not happen, the logs will be sold to wood manufacturers for such things as flooring.
The cabin was built in the mid-1840s by Daniel Dean Tompkins after he purchased 160 acres of land lying on both sides of what is now Rolfes Road. The going rate for land at the time was $1 per acre, according to a 175th anniversary book on the history of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.
Henry Rolfes, a German immigrant who received American citizenship on Aug. 26, 1844, eventually purchased the cabin and some of the acreage. Also living there in subsequent years were his son Joseph Rolfes, his grandson Henry Rolfes and his great-grandson Ferd Rolfes.
"Several generations lived under one roof," recalled Ferd's daughter, Alma Rolfes Prenger, a current resident of Briarwood Village in Coldwater. "It was kind of like a Rolfes boarding house."
Prenger, who was born March 29, 1921, in the log house, said an addition had been added to the back over the years.
"I still remember the day Pop and neighbor Fred Grieshop decided to put an archway between the log cabin and the addition to the back," Prenger recalled. "They used a two-man saw, and they didn't cover a thing. There was dirt everywhere ... it took awhile to clean up the mess."
Her mother cooked and baked using a wood-fired oven.
"Mom knew how much wood to add in order to bake an angel food cake or loaves of bread," Prenger said. "There was no timer or thermostat."
On May 28, 1941, Alma married Victor Prenger and the newlyweds moved in with her grandparents, parents and bachelor brother Herb Rolfes. The couple had five children.  
Son Tony Prenger, who now lives across the road, remembers how cold and how hot the old house could be during the changing seasons.
Wood stoves located in the downstairs rooms provided heat. He and his siblings spent after-school hours packing firewood beneath the porch.
"Another one of our jobs was filling the reservoirs on the stoves to provide humidity," he said.
The heat never seemed to warm the upstairs bedrooms.
"We sometimes awakened in the morning to find a ring of frost on the walls," he said with a laugh. "It was from the breaths we took during the night."
On the other end of the scale, the Prenger children often slept on the floor during the summer to take advantage of the cooler linoleum. Cooking and baking shifted to the summer kitchen during the same months.
Victor and Alma moved to a new house south of the home-place in the 1960s, leaving brother Herb as keeper of the estate. He lived there until he moved to a nursing home. In 2008, the place was sold to Eric and Carrie Prenger.
Alma Prenger's children took her to see the log home Saturday afternoon.
"The attic was the only place you could see a log surface," she said. "Taking a look involved climbing a ladder, so we never went up there that often."
Although somewhat sad about seeing the old place go, Alma thinks it is probably time.
Tony Prenger marveled at the sturdy structure that has settled and leaned westward over the years.
"From little on, we knew the front part of the house was made of logs," he said. "I never imagined it looked like this. I always assumed they were like the Lincoln Logs I played with as a child."
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