He is destined to be a King. He rules over everything on the land called planet Dune. 

Iron Maiden, To Tame  Land (1983) 


In July of 2019, a group of friends and I, a foreigner from the Yucatán peninsula in México,  traveled to the Hocking Hills to holiday in what was described to me as a log cabin in the woods. My expectations were little more than glorified camping. The word “log cabin” actively created a setting in my head’s brain: rustic living in the woods with basic living facilities. I had questions that needed clarification upon arrival. The log cabin in the middle of the woods was massive and looked imposing on top of a hill. The front porch was massive, as big as the hallway in Pierce Hall (with the flags on top). Inside, it comprised two levels, equipped with multiple TVs, internet, a full kitchen, a living room, furniture, a “basement” with two rooms, a full bathroom, games, and quick access to a hot tub. I was experiencing a big culture shock.  I was confused, head stretching, beard clutching, feeling like an uncanny prank. I didn’t get it. 

Figure 1: Typical log cabin rental 

Let’s untangle this.

Log cabins in the us are a kind of Vernacular Architecture. For Oliver (2000), vernacular architecture means a building of people made by the people out of locally available materials. It does not refer to buildings designed and built by professional architects and builders. For W.M. Heath (1988), vernacular architecture is a craft whose value is not in style but in its capacity as cultural messaging.

Original American Log Cabins from the 19th century are crude, windowless, and chimney-less, built around logs without nails or sawn lumber (Hoagland 2020:16). Moreover, they have multiple meanings associated with the pioneer or settler way of life: a home in the wilderness, settling in a hostile environment and isolated surroundings with a mission to tame the land, and making a good living for themselves and their family (Hoagland 2018:13). Cabins represent the idea of mobility since they were a critical tool in the American expansion from the East to the West in the 19th century (Figure 1). Log cabins are created from the material that dominates the natural environment; they represent a transformation of the environment from the wilderness to a building, the uncivilized to the civilized, and some nothing to something. 

Figure 2: An original log cabin home built by the Swedish in Delaware during the 1700s.

Hence, the humble log cabin can be interpreted as a sort of folk origin story, one in which families can have a fresh start from nothing and construct a home from the land that “god gave them.” For example, we can see this origin myth adopted and used politically in Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace, a log cabin in Kentucky. The cabin is now a shrine in the middle of the woods where people can pilgrimage. The Center for Land Use Interpretation (https://clui.org/ludb/site/abraham-lincolns-birthplace-cabin-shrine) defines it as follows:

A Romanesque memorial, with 56 steps, one for each year of the president’s life, built on the location of his original birthplace cabin…Inside the structure is his birthplace cabin—which, however, is not really the actual birthplace cabin. The Lincoln family moved to another farm two years after he was born, and it is likely that the original log cabin was burned up for firewood by subsequent owners, probably in the 1830s.”    

Does it matter that it was the original cabin? No. That is the point of symbols and myth-building. It constructs an idea where people base their identity and create a community.    

Figure 3: Memorial to Abraham Lincoln’s birth cabin

Going back to my culture shock for a bit, the root of it has to do with, as a foreigner,  not being submerged into the log cabin ecosystem of meanings. Not raised in the US, my ideas and values of vernacular are very different and have other contexts and meanings. The Log Cabin is more than a holiday house infused with amenities. It’s an idea of how much people have accomplished from scratch. 

The log cabin is, by excellence, the vernacular architecture of the US. It is heavily rooted in the collective imagination as people tame the land and make something out of nothing. This idea, of course, has problems. There are some colonial, racial, religious, and other issues with this myth. The most obvious one is that people were here before the Europeans arrived, and the land was lived and modified many times by different Native American groups (who themselves have vernacular dwellings). The Log Cabin myth is only one of many stories people attach to a place. 

The Kenyon archaeological project has been digging an old dining hall made of logs from 1828 for about six weeks. Using vernacular architecture at the beginning of Kenyon College while massive stone buildings, such as Old Kenyon and Ross Hall, were constructed did not happen in a vacuum. It can be interpreted as settlers – pioneers taming the hill, transforming it from “nothing” into something. 


The blog’s title, “to tame the Land” is based on the 1983 Iron Maiden song of the same name. Believe it or not, the song is about Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi novel Dune. The novel is about resources, taming the land, and myth-building. It seemed appropriate.   


Abraham Lincoln’s Birthplace Cabin Shrine. (2023). The Center of Land Use and Interpretation.

Asadpour, A. (2020). Defining The Concepts & Approaches In Vernacular Architecture Studies. National Academic Journal of Architecture, 7(2), 241–255.

Heath, K. W. (1988). Defining the Nature of Vernacular. Material Culture, 20((2/3)), 1–8.

Hoagland, A. K. (2018). Log Cabin: An American Icon. University of Virginia Press.

Oliver, P. (1996). Vernacular Studies: Objectives and Applications. Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review, 8 (1), 12–12.

Iron Maiden (1983) To Tame a Land, A Piace of Mind, EMI. Youtube.