Tightening his hand around the end of a pry bar, he crouched down in the cool dampness of the one-room cabin and began to loosen a slender strip of knotty pine from the wall in front of him. Crack! Pop!
The board creaked and the rusty nails holding it in place reluctantly gave way, revealing the hidden beauty of the home's original log walls which were once again visible after decades of going unseen.
Piece by piece, Stewart and a group of volunteers have spent the last several days peeling back the layers of old siding and other materials from the rediscovered log cabin located about 3 miles southeast of Cloverdale. The property on which the cabin sits was recently sold and the previous owner wanted to preserve the home, so he donated it to Putnam County's Heritage Preservation Society.
Stewart and others from the historical society approached members of the Greencastle Park Board earlier this month with hopes that they would agree to have the cabin placed in Robe-Ann Park, where the Daughters of the American Revolution already maintain a similar home.
Unsatisfied by the board's reluctance to make a quick decision, Stewart inquired with officials in Cloverdale and they seem interested in having the cabin displayed in their town's park on U.S. 231. Members of the historical society plan to attend the park board meeting on June 30 to make their plea.
Meanwhile, work to dismantle and move the cabin is underway. In order to assess the cabin's condition on Monday, Stewart met at the site with local resident Art Harris, who specializes in these types of restorations.
The men observed large beams of elm, poplar and walnut, which were stacked to form the walls of the original 17-by-20 foot cabin. They were pleased to find the logs have been well-preserved by the layers of wooden clapboards and asphalt shingles that have covered them since the mid-1900s.
Harris estimated the cabin was built around 1850 and would have been constructed of local materials found among the hills and hollows of the area. He said the builders would have used mud and clay, mixed with hay or animal hairs, to make the mortar, or chinking, that they used to seal the area between the logs. Much of that material remains in place.
The bottom layer of logs for the cabin was placed on a bed of large stones, which were stacked at the four corners of the home and served as a foundation.
Over time, the northwest corner of the Cloverdale cabin has sunk into the ground, causing the entire structure to tilt slightly to one side, but Stewart and Harris believe it is still in good condition. Inside the cabin, wood paneling and layers of peeling wallpaper cover the log walls.
It is believed that families who lived in the home prior to the 1950s added the wall coverings inside and out for purposes of insulation and to conceal the logs.
The last family to live in the home on a full-time basis, according to Stewart, was Jack Swope and his wife Thelma, along with their children. After the Swopes moved out, a couple named Gladys and Elmer Ferrell owned the home and used it mainly for a weekend getaway and fishing retreat.
Gladys died last year but willed the property to Gary and Wilena Hankins of Plainfield who sold the property this week.
"Gladys loved it so much and we just didn't want it destroyed," Wilena, who was the executor to the Ferrell's estate, told the BannerGraphic Monday. "I just couldn't stand the thought of someone buying the property and coming in here and destroying that."
Her husband Gary, who grew up in the area, said a lot of people he talked to didn't share his thoughts about preserving the old cabin.
"Everybody was saying, 'Well you ought to just throw a match to that thing,'" Gary said.
But the historical society was happy to oblige his offer to restore the cabin, and this past weekend, inmates from the Putnam County Jail and laborers with Putnam County Community Corrections began the process of getting the cabin ready to be moved.
Stewart said the owner of Cook Lumber, located in Putnam County, has agreed to dismantle and reassemble the cabin.
But volunteers are still needed to continue removing debris from in and around the cabin and preparing it to be dismantled. Workers will also be needed to help reassemble the cabin and reconstruct the roof which was rotten.
Stewart said he hopes the cabin will be ready to be disassembled by next week. He's asking anyone who wants to help to call him at 653-9646.
"It will be interesting to know what it will take to get this thing (restored)," Stewart said.