The journey to the Pacific Northwest during the 19th century was anything but easy for settlers. Along with dangerous wildlife and unpredictable weather, they encountered heavily wooded landscapes that made it difficult to traverse.
But they faced an even greater challenge once they reached their destinations: they had no shelter. And even though they were more than capable of building their own houses and barns, they had to constantly battle with logging companies to try to scrounge up enough scrap wood.
The settlers noticed that the loggers left behind lots of large stumps that would otherwise be considered useless. That’s when they had to get clever…
During the 19th century, thousands of American settlers made the trek to the Pacific Northwest with the hopes of establishing farming communities in order to make a living. And while the journey was treacherous, it was nothing compared to the challenge they faced upon arrival: locating enough scrap wood to build the structures they needed for shelter. So they decided to get creative—and that meant making use of the massive tree stumps that were left behind by logging companies.
Logging companies considered these stumps useless, but the settlers saw a lot of potential. With a little bit of work and some elbow grease, they knew they could turn the old stumps into makeshift shelters that they could store their items in.
It was no easy task; many of the stumps needed to be burned or rooted out in order to make enough space to put anything inside. This required a lot of manpower and many hours of labor. Still, with actual lumber so scarce, the settlers had no other option if they hoped to have a place for their belongings.
At first, the stumps were used to mainly to house livestock and farming supplies. No one thought of making an actual house for themselves—that’d be silly, right? They didn’t think they’d be able to create enough livable space for each one of their family members using these stumps…
Soon enough, the settlers needed to strengthen the roofs of their stump shelters with scrap wood. They even built windows into the sides of the stumps. At that point, these structures were starting to look like tiny houses! Naturally, the settlers started to place beds and kitchen equipment inside their makeshift homes. They were gradually turning the stumps into actual living quarters!
The stumps did a decent job of keeping them protected from harsh weather, especially in the winter when the temperatures would drop dangerously low and the snows would roll into the Northwest. The houses weren’t perfect, but at least the families, livestock, and their harvested crops were relatively safe from the elements.
For a long time, the stumps were mostly used as temporary lodging for the settlers while their actual homes were being built. However, records show that, as early as 1847, one family—the McAllisters—decided to build a proper functioning home out of their stump in Nisqually, Washington.
Eventually, the McAllister family moved from their stump house into a proper home. But instead of abandoning the wood from their stump house, they turned it into a small barn that served them well for the remainder of their stay in the area.
In 1892, a man named William D. McDonald actually opened a United States Post Office in a large, roofed structure made entirely out of abandoned stumps! The office was located in a remote region of the Olympic Peninsula in the state of Washington.
Here is an example of another sturdy stump home; this one was meant to house a family. The roof was cleverly designed to avoid the accumulation of water, and the stump was actually tall enough to store household items in a loft area.
Two children fill up a canister of water from their family’s outdoor water container. Families would divide chores among members, and everyone took part in keeping their stump house in proper working condition. It truly was a remarkable and creative way for settlers to live!
The settlers needed to make the best of their surroundings and they certainly used every resource they had to do just that. These shelters actually looked pretty cool, too. It’d be awesome to spend a few nights in a stump house today!
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