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The Log Cabin

An American Icon
Alison K. Hoagland

BUY Paper · 320 pp. · 7 × 9 · ISBN 9780813942575 · $29.50 · Feb 2019
BUY Ebook · 320 pp. · ISBN 9780813940878 · $39.50 · Mar 2018

For roughly a century, the log cabin occupied a central and indispensable role in the rapidly growing United States. Although it largely disappeared as a living space, it lived on as a symbol of the settling of the nation. In her thought-provoking and generously illustrated new book, Alison Hoagland looks at this once-common dwelling as a practical shelter solution--easy to construct, built on the frontier’s abundance of trees, and not necessarily meant to be permanent--and its evolving place in the public memory.

Hoagland shows how the log cabin was a uniquely adaptable symbol, responsive to the needs of the cultural moment. It served as the noble birthplace of presidents, but it was also seen as the basest form of housing, accommodating the lowly poor. It functioned as a paragon of domesticity, but it was also a basic element in the life of striving and wandering. Held up as a triumph of westward expansion, it was also perceived as a building type to be discarded in favor of more civilized forms.

In the twentieth century, the log cabin became ingrained in popular culture, serving as second homes and motels, as well as restaurants and shops striking a rustic note. The romantic view of the past, combined with the log cabin’s simplicity, solidity, and compatibility with nature, has made it an enduring architectural and cultural icon.

Preparation of this volume has been supported by Furthermore: a program of the J. M. Kaplan Fund


The Log Cabin: An American Icon will appeal to an audience as wide and diverse as the forms and uses of the American log cabin itself. Alison Hoagland’s engaging study of this archetypal American building form combines in-depth research and fieldwork with vivid anecdotes and a broad analytical perspective. Especially valuable is her fresh and multifaceted interpretation of the building type as an icon permeating much of American popular culture, whether evoking pioneer virtues and humbly born presidents, creating quaint tourist experiences in the automobile age, or forming childhood memories of Lincoln logs and little houses on the prairie. Hoagland assures us that we will never take the log cabin for granted again.

Catherine W. Bishir, author of Southern Built: American Architecture, Regional Practice

In The Log Cabin Alison K. Hoagland explores the log cabin both as a "seemingly simple structure" and as a symbol freighted with numerous "narratives and counternarratives."... Hoagland’s stimulating, interdisciplinary study benefits from semiotic reflections upon twentieth-century mass culture, from prairie-themed children’s books and television shows to commercially prefabricated log homes, Lincoln Log toy constructions, and maple-flavored Log Cabin syrup poured from miniature tin cabins.

Journal of American History

The Log Cabin is a book that belongs on the shelf of every historian who cares about the perpetuation of the American Dream, as well as anyone who has ever slept in a log cabin, even those who did not go on to become president of the United States. The cover and design are first-rate, and every illustration supports the author's analysis.

Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians

About the Author(s): 

Alison K. Hoagland, Professor Emerita in History and Historic Preservation at Michigan Technological University, is the author of Mine Towns: Buildings for Workers in Michigan’s Copper Country and Buildings of Alaska.

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