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Giant tree stumps

Up until the middle of the nineteenth century, tall and dense stands of Douglas fir, spruce, cedar, and hemlock blanketed most of the area from the Cascade Range to the edge of the ocean. Beginning with the California Gold Rush, a huge surge in lumber production in and around Puget Sound occurred. Over two-dozen Puget Sound sawmills provided San Francisco and other boomtowns with much-needed building material. As more and loggers poured into the Pacific Northwest’s old-growth forests, huge amounts of logs were harvested, hauled away either by oxen or where possible floated down river. What was left behind was a scarred landscape, consisting of deep ruts, scrap wood, and stumps, lots of stumps. Many of these stood 10 feet high and 20 feet in diameter. The reason these enormous monuments were left behind was because the grain in the trees became more and more uneven towards the base of a tree.

Once an area was cleared of trees, loggers moved onto the next site to begin the process all over again. When pioneers arrived in these areas, they discovered the abandoned logging sites and realized they could be turned into rich farmland. Even so, these sites embodied years of work just to clear out what was left behind, including those giant stumps. Many tried chopping or burning them; others attempted to cut them down to ground level – quite a daunting task. However, some would-be farmers saw a different use for the stumps. The uneven stumps were leveled off to provide a platform for so-called “stump dances”. But, with little wood left behind by the loggers for structures, more enterprising families came up with less frivolous uses for the stumps. By hollowing them out and adding a roof, they could be used as barns or chicken coops that provided safe structures against various predators, such as raccoons, bears, and bobcats. Others took that idea a step further. Rather than using the large stumps as a place for animals, why not turn them into homes? Thus was born the stump house.

Windows and a door were added to provide functionality as well as a more traditional house-like appearance. Stump houses provided around 250-300 square feet of living space and required virtually no maintenance, save for the occasional roof repair. Unbeknownst to these families, they were in the forefront of the tiny house craze that has popped up in the last 15 years or so.

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According to historical records, in 1847 the McAllister family settled near Nisqually (about 80 miles east of present-day Olympia). They would be among the very first to hollow out one of the enormous tree remnants and turn it into living quarters. For many years, a giant stump was their home. Later, a proper structure was built, and the stump was turned into a barn.

Many years later, a new use for one of the humongous stumps was found when a post office was opened. In 1892, William McDonald opened up the very first U.S. Post Office in the remote northern portion of the Olympic Peninsula. The Elwha Post Office was located about 10 miles southwest of Port Angeles. This hollowed out cedar stump served as a PO for many years before it was sold and became the aptly named “post office house”. This aging structure still stands today.

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