By Sarah Searle
When my husband and I purchased our small farmstead on Purcell Road, just outside the town limits of Lovettsville, it was through the eyes of two people who had grown up here and who were familiar with the types of buildings you might encounter in an area with historic rural heritage. Many farmsteads have a collection of buildings and outbuildings that span several eras. Ours was no different: a main house that dated to the turn of the century, some sheds most recently updated in the 1980s, and a log cabin that seemed the oldest of the structures — but that we knew very little about. Based on the huge American Chestnut timbers and the building style, it seemed reasonable that the cabin could have been the first structure built on our property, sometime in the 1700s or 1800s, perhaps — but we had no information about that upon purchase.
The cabin had clearly been maintained fairly recently. Its large hearth and chimney were in good shape and operational, it had electricity run out to it, and a few period furnishings transferred with the sale of the property, indicating that it had been used for family dinners or special occasions. The upstairs of the cabin was boarded off, in less good shape, with birds, mice, and other critters taking up residence.
“Some fun history,” was scrawled on a manila envelope left for us by the previous owner. I sifted through the contents: the invoice for the purchase, transportation, of the timbers of a log building from a town in Maryland; a building permit for the construction of the cabin in the ‘70s; and not one, not two, but three recipes for mixing chinking to fill the spaces between the timbers; some sepia-toned photos from the preparation of the site where the cabin had been reassembled and various stages of its construction.
So, the cabin was not original to our Lovettsville property, but instead came from somewhere in Maryland. And for some reason, the previous owners of our property had decided to purchase the cabin’s timbers, and reconstruct it here. How old was it originally, where exactly was it from, and why did they bring it here? We didn’t have great answers.
Every once in awhile we’d run into someone in town who remembered when the cabin had been constructed by the previous owners. Stories abounded: The cabin’s timbers had been purchased for $1 before being brought to Lovettsville! (We knew this wasn’t true from the invoice, but it was a fun story nonetheless.) The cabin had some sort of relationship to Bonnie of the eponymous Lovettsville institution Bonnie’s Country Kitchen, and her family members would come sit on the front stoop of the cabin to remember their history with it! (Still researching that one.) The cabin was from just across the Potomac and had been brought over piece by piece! This last story I brought into my own narrative. We weren’t sure exactly where the cabin had come from, but since our invoice indicated Maryland, it seemed reasonable.
Five years passed. We continued to maintain the cabin, finishing out the upstairs, adding in a few antiques of our own, and occasionally renting it out as a rustic Airbnb. Until one day, this spring, a visitor knocked on our door and said, “I’m here to talk to you about your log house – which used to be my log house.”
The owner of the property where the log cabin used to sit before it came to Lovettsville, in Frederick County, MD, had been contacted by Bob and Linda French, who were doing some archival work to restore the photos from an article about a historically Black community known as Sunnyside, in Mountville, Maryland. Imagine our delight to be informed that the cabin had originally been a general store, owned for several generations by the Hawker family.
The article being updated by the Frenches had details about the contents of the store when they were finally auctioned off in 1974. Other details emerged: ‘”Store ledgers were discovered in the stock room stating that the Confederate soldiers forced their way into the store and made off with all they could carry,” said Diane Hawker of Sunnyside […]’. Our mysterious cabin was developing a timeline and some details.
We’re planning a visit to Sunnyside (which really is, in fact, just across the Potomac), and have plans to learn more about the reason the former residents chose to purchase and reconstruct the cabin here. Those former residents, as it happens, were Marty and Henry Dyker, Lovettsville residents who were active in the Lovettsville Historic Society. According to the article, “…a Lovettsville, Va, woman purchased the Hawker log store, which had ceased operation in 1965. The structure was taken apart log by log, brick by brick. Each piece of material was carefully numbered and charted so that the store could be faithfully reconstructed in Virginia to its original specifications.” We may not know yet why they chose to bring the Hawker General Store to Lovettsville, but we’re grateful for the care that was taken to do so, and the stories we’re able to uncover in the process.