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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Historic log cabin has long history

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The interior of the cabin was remodeled with knotty pine paneling in the mid-1900s. It was used for storage by the last owner and had fallen into disrepair in recent years.
CLOVERDALE -- If walls could talk, they would speak volumes at a historic log cabin currently undergoing restoration just outside of Cloverdale.

The tiny, one-room structure, which historians believe was built around 1850, is nestled peacefully against a backdrop of wooded hillsides and rolling meadows about 3 miles southeast of Cloverdale.

It is in the midst of a rebirth after its owners, Gary and Wilena Hankins, decided to donate it to the local historical society which jumped at the chance to preserve of rare piece of Putnam County history.

"We wanted it preserved," Wilena said.

The couple drove out to the site from their home in Plainfield this week to take a look after volunteers removed layers of shingles and clapboards that covered the logs for more than 50 years.

"I was just so thrilled when we came down here and saw it," Wilena said.

According to an abstract of the property where the cabin is located, a man named John Howard bought the 80-acre property on Sept. 11, 1837. Completing the sale at the courthouse in Greencastle, he paid just $160 for the land, which breaks down to a mere $2 per acre.

In 1841, the land was assigned to a William M. Quinlan and it has continued to change hands since that time, including a couple named Mildred and Albert Beck, who lived there in the 1940s, Jack and Thelma Swope who were there in the 1950s and 60s, and Gladys and Elmer Ferrell who owned the property until last year.

Exactly where the construction of the cabin falls along the timeline is not known.

It's not clear the Becks knew the history when they moved to the cabin from Indianapolis in the 1940s and cared for 13 adoptive children there.

The Becks story is outlined in a book titled "Unbreakable Bonds," written and published in 2003 by Elnora Wood Crane, one of the couple's nieces who lived with them in the home for four years.

"One has not lived until one has lived in a three-room house with 16 people eating beans two or three times a week," Crane wrote in her book.

When the Becks and their adoptive children -- who were actually their nieces and nephews -- lived in the home, it consisted of the one-room cabin, which served both as the living room and sleeping quarters for the kids, along with an attached kitchen and one bedroom.

Crane and her five brothers and sisters, along with that many more cousins, slept in four beds located in the living room. Crane's aunt and uncle, who they called Aunt Mil and Uncle Al, along with their only son Arvine, slept in the bedroom.

"We were definitely in close quarters with 14 kids plus two adults living in our three-room house," Crane writes. "There were no fights or jealously. We were all in the same boat -- we needed a place to live."

And live they did. Meals were a daily ordeal with more people needing to eat than there were dishes to accommodate them. To remedy the situation, the family had to eat in shifts, pausing in between groups to wash the dishes.

Each night before the children went to sleep, they tied their shoestrings together so that when morning came, they would be able to tell which pair belonged to which child.

They commanded the school where they attended due to their shear numbers, which Craned joked about in her book. She said the principal wrote home one day that "Contrary to popular belief, the Woods boys do not run the Cloverdale school."

The Woods boys found plenty of trouble on the homefront as well including electrifying the outhouse toilet and zapping unwary guests at the farm.

"When an unsuspecting victim sat down, my uncle would flip the switch and give them a nice big jolt," Crane wrote. "Our neighbor Jane came flying out of the outhouse with her pants around her knees."

After settling down from their activities of the day, the family would gather in the living room -- which today is the original one-room cabin -- and sing songs like "Old Shep" and "Billy Boy."

"There are probably more good memories of the farm than bad ones," Crane wrote. "Our question today is, 'Where would we have been without the help and love of Aunt Mil and Uncle Al?'"

Earlier this week, three of the Beck's nieces returned to the cabin to check out the progress of the restoration.

"They were here and they were talking all about it," said Gary Hankins who was also at the cabin this week.

His wife Wilena was the "adopted" daughter of Gladys and Elmer Ferrell who owned the property until Gladys died last year. Wilena knows how much the Ferrells loved the property -- and the Wood children before them -- and wanted to preserve that memory.

"They were just like parents to me," Wilena said of the Ferrells. "I want to preserve as much as I can in their name."

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