HENDERSON — Following an electrical fire in the 2000s that burned the modern part of Eileen B. Pretre’s childhood home on Rays Bay Road, an 1820s cabin was discovered in the walls.

Mrs. Pretre and her husband, Neil, eventually donated the “Ray” cabin to the Henderson Historical Society in memory of Mrs. Pretre’s mother, Ellen Fitzgerald DeLaVergne. Prior to being moved onto the society’s land, the cabin was hidden under other building material for a number of decades, which helped to protect it.

Now, due to harsh north country weather, the roof of the historic cabin is in need of repair. Aside from rain and snow, creatures like squirrels and chipmunks are wreaking havoc on the roof and using it to gain access to the interior of the cabin.

“We’re trying to keep as much of the original (cabin) as we possibly can, preserving the history as much as we can,” said Jon-Marie Pearson, publicist and trustee with the Henderson Historical Society. “I think they tried to hold off doing the roof in hopes that we could preserve it as long as we could, but with all the little varmints coming in — it’s a prime location for them in the winter because it gets them away from the elements — I think we also have a chipmunk that built a home on the other side.”

The cabin’s exterior was built using flat, hand-hewn logs, with military square corners. There is no chimney and it once featured spacing between some of the wooden logs, indicating the structure may have once been used by spies.

Saving a treasure Fund drive started for repairs to preserve 1820s cabin in Henderson

An early 1800s log cabin at the Henderson Historical Society will receive some structural repairs. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

According to Elaine J. Scott, recording secretary for the Henderson Historical Society, Henderson’s 1812 historian said the cabin was either built in Sackets Harbor by the military and then transported to where it was in Rays Bay, or originally built in Rays Bay by the military stationed at Sackets Harbor as a listening post or a hideaway for spies going up and down the Lake Ontario shore to keep tabs through the peek holes.

The Henderson Historical Society has had several appraisals to repair the roof with a material that would maintain the authentic look of the cabin. The cost of repairs, as well as labor and some money set aside for unforeseen problems, comes to about $4,000.

“We’re hoping maybe we won’t need the whole amount if we can get a team to come and volunteer and help with us tearing the roof off,” Ms. Pearson said. “If we could possibly do it ourselves, that would save us quite a bit of money, and then we can look into doing the funds towards other projects like our windows and painting the church.”

The cabin is used every year as a teaching aid for local fourth-graders to see what their ancestors could have lived in during the 1820s. It’s also the focal point of the society’s annual Heritage Days, making it dear to the community.

Because of the cabin’s historical and local significance, a GoFundMe campaign has been started by Ms. Pearson to raise the necessary funds for the project. As of Tuesday afternoon, the GoFundMe campaign has raised $500 of the $4,000 goal.

Restoring history

An 1820s log cabin at the Henderson Historical Society will receive some structural repairs. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been difficult for the society to raise the funds to make the necessary repairs to the cabin. The society’s museum has been closed for the season, and all fundraising events canceled due to state mandates.

According to Ms. Pearson, this will be the first time the society has done a whole replacement of the cabin’s roof, previously having done smaller repairs as they were needed.

“We’d prefer to have someone come in that’s done repairs with historical buildings, we don’t have it set in stone right now just because we’ve had to put it off,” Ms. Pearson said. “A lot of people have come giving estimates; with the whole COVID thing it’s kind of changed what companies are still working, who’s still open, so it’s hard to set someone for next summer when we don’t know how the whole COVID pandemic is going to work out.”

While the campaign has not met the full fundraising goal, it has gathered enough funding to order the main wood to be used in the repairs, so that will be purchased soon so it can be stored to season, a process the society does not want to rush.

Saving a treasure Fund drive started for repairs to preserve 1820s cabin in Henderson

Items resembling the time period fill the early 1800s log cabin at the Henderson Historical Society. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

The society was hoping to have the repairs finished by winter, but because it’s taking longer than anticipated to raise the funds, they are now hoping everything will be completed next summer.

“It’s important to maintain the cabin because we see a lot of our history disappearing,” Ms. Pearson said. “You see so many historical homes around here being torn down and just not being taken care of ... our history is slowly disappearing in this modern technology world.”

Those wishing to donate to the restoration efforts may do so by visiting gofundme.com/f/1820039s-log-cabin-roof-improvements.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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