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News: Linkin' Logs

Rebuilding history and moving into it

By Lew Moores · April 23rd, 2003 · News
  Ann Santen admires the rebuilt Chilo log house making its debut in Felicity.
Diane Menendez

Ann Santen admires the rebuilt Chilo log house making its debut in Felicity.

Near the end of a country road winding through farmland just outside Felicity, Ohio, the Chilo log house lives again, standing tall, overlooking a pond whose still waters attract elegant wood ducks and a Northern oriole that flits along its edge.

It's a house still under reconstruction. A foundation has been poured and tiny rooms apportioned. A chimney has been installed, made of stone mined from the 220 acres of farm property. A wide, raised porch is nailed into place, a loft for sleeping added inside.

The new additions take nothing from the house's distinctive signature -- the huge timbers dating back to the early 1800s, salvaged from a homestead on a small parcel in the tiny village of Chilo, a little more than three miles away.

That the village's oldest house -- taken apart timber by timber last August -- has been resurrected at all this Easter season is of some consolation to the residents of Chilo. The dwindling community of just 97 people in eastern Clermont County waged an unsuccessful battle for more than a year to save its log house (see The Battle of Chilo, issue of Aug. 22-28, 2002).

The bureaucrats huffed and puffed
The significance of saving a slice of Clermont County history, even though it's moved from Chilo, is not lost on the couple who purchased the logs.

"Oh, absolutely,'' says Harry Santen, who with his wife Ann purchased the logs last summer when deconstruction was a foregone conclusion. "We felt very strongly about it.

We were trying to keep it original.''

The struggle to preserve the log house pitted the village of Chilo against a vast array of county, state and national officials. The house, believed to have been Chilo's post office at one point, was in private hands. The woman who owned it sold it for $34,000 to the county after the house took on floodwaters in 1997.

Some village residents recoiled when they discovered that the house, which had been covered years ago with siding, was actually a log house that was close to 200 years old. But nothing could be done.

The woman sold the house to the county, which used grant money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Ohio Emergency Management Agency. At that point, it was locked into destruction. The federal, state and local bureaucracy would not budge.

After a disaster had been declared in the county following the flood of 1997, the feds came in and offered homeowners the Hazard Mitigation Project grant program. It's designed to get people out of harm's way in the event of periodic flooding, either by buying their homes or flood-proofing them.

Constance Reiber, who owned the log home on Washington Street, chose to sell the house. She was one of 10 along the Ohio River in Clermont County who took a buyout.

The village was told it could save the log house by buying it back for $34,000. But with an annual budget of just $35,000, that was inconceivable. Give it to us, said some in the village, and we'll not hold the county or anyone else liable in the event of a future flood and damage. No deal, said authorities. That the log house had endured some 200 years and 23 Ohio River floods was of no consequence.

When fellow residents learned of the sale in 2001, they began to organize. Demolition was halted. Residents and government officials went round and round. Did the house have historical significance beyond its age? Did it represent a distinctive architectural style? It was determined it did not -- except, of course, to the people of Chilo.

'Kind of a passion'
The conflict finally ended when the state decided the county held all the cards. The house had to come down -- the federal government had paid for its demolition. The county feared future flood projects could be jeopardized if it reneged on this buyout.

The house came down, log by log. But it became a salvage, rather than a demolition, project. Woflhaus Custom Log Homes in nearby Neville approached the contractor hired to destroy the log house, inquiring about saving the logs. The contractor agreed.

Steve Herndon, Wolfhaus owner, meticulously numbered all the logs before taking the house apart. When it was finally disassembled last August, Harry and Ann Santen drove to Chilo from their home in Indian Hill to take a look.

"After they took it down, we saw the logs,'' Ann Santen says. "We turned them over and saw they were in good shape. Steve sketched out some pictures of what it might look like.''

Now, on a recent Sunday afternoon, they stand on their property and admire the house before them. All the logs are in place.

"Look at how they fit together,'' Harry Santen says, admiring the workmanship.

Tobacco, wheat, corn and hay grow on the farm, which the couple have owned for 34 years. The Santens have been tent-camping on the property with their two grandchildren.

"Two hundred years ago, we're figuring Jefferson is president and Lewis and Clark are coming through,'' Harry Santen says. "It's a pretty spot for it.''

Work began in September. Winter delayed the project. Wolfhaus is shooting for June to complete construction. Herndon takes great delight in restoring these historic structures.

"It's kind of a passion to reclaim old buildings,'' he says. "It's something I enjoy. In this case, the only things that were salvageable were the logs themselves. It's a personal satisfaction to me.''

For Herndon, the most difficult task in the reconstruction was finding logs to replace the ones lost. He managed to do that with another log house disassembled in Neville.

"The size of the logs was almost unmatchable,'' Herndon says. "We could match species of wood, but not the size of the logs. Those are chestnut logs.''

The next step is to put the windows in, then a metal roof, then the chinking between the logs, then the flooring and trim. He can look at the log house and imagine what it will become.

"We have as much pride in it as the owner does,'' Herndon says. "Very much so.'' ©



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