Log cabin construction in the United States dates to the middle of the 17th century, when Swedish explorers applied their Scandinavian construction techniques to the Mid-Atlantic. These buildings were constructed as temporary shelters, making use of the readily available lumber in the wilderness. German settlers also brought their own log construction techniques to the United States in the early 18th century, and are credited with popularizing the use of square-hewn log timbers. As immigrants passed through the Mid-Atlantic and spread throughout the country, they took the log cabin style with them.
While not a common architectural style in Florida, historic log construction is usually seen in proximity to the state’s cypress swamps. The cypress harvesting boomed in the first half of the 20th century, largely due to the railroad expansion of that time and the increased ability for logging companies to ship their product. Cypress was a popular construction material due to its imperviousness to moisture and insects. A Cypress Log Cabin was featured at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair as part of the Century of Progress Homes of Tomorrow Exposition.
Alex Shaw, the state dairy inspector for Florida’s west coast, and his wife Beatrice constructed their log cabin in the 1930s on the northwestern bank of Lake Byrd in Lutz. The Shaws built the cabin using local cypress and Hillsborough River limestone rock. The Shaw family moved to Tallahassee in 1947, and Alex Shaw was appointed the director of the dairy division of the Florida Department of Agriculture. The Shaw family maintained the cabin as a summer destination until 1971, when they sold it to Russell Crumpton, a neighbor, who deeded it to his son and daughter-in-law, Danny and Joni Crumpton. The log cabin was deeded to a trust in 1987, and it was sold in 2004 to Bella Vita Development.
In 2003, Bella Vita rezoned the property to a Planned Development District for a subdivision of 13 single-family homes. The conditions of the rezoning required the Shaw’s log cabin to be relocated for preservation. The cabin was disassembled, log by log, in 2004. Each log was measured and tagged prior to disassembly. After an extensive search for a new location in a historically appropriate context, the log cabin was rebuilt at the site of the Learning Gate Community School in 2005. Some of the original materials, including the chinking, roofing and flooring materials, and some of the cypress logs and limestone rocks, were replaced with in-kind materials during the log cabin’s reconstruction at its new location.
The cross-shaped log cabin sits on a pier foundation of concrete blocks covered with limestone rock. This building is constructed from horizontally-laid saddle-notched cypress logs and is topped by an intersecting gable roof. The original tin roof is no longer intact, and the roof is currently covered with composition roll roofing. Fenestration consists of original eight-over-eight double-hung wood-sash and four-light paired wood casement windows set in wood surrounds. An exterior chimney, constructed from concrete block and clad in limestone rock, is located on the north side of the building.
The Shaw Family/Learning Gate Community School Log Cabin is one of the earliest surviving log cabins in the area to exhibit few non-historic exterior alterations, and the building retains its historic physical integrity. Through the use of local cypress and limestone, the log cabin exhibits construction materials and design adaptive to the Florida environment. The log cabin has an historic association with the area’s early settlement and social history, and it is one of the few remaining buildings associated with the Shaw family. As such, it is a good representation of Hillsborough County’s settlement heritage in a rural setting and may be considered eligible for local Landmark designation.