Education Heritage/History Lifestyle

History Feature: A Second Chance for the Cabin at John C. Campbell Folk School

Log Cabin Museum. Photo courtesy of John C. Campbell Folk School

By Lauren Stepp

If walls could talk, the Log Cabin Museum at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown would tell quite the tale.

According to executive director Bethany Chaney, the rustic chalet was constructed at the request of founders Olive Dame Campbell and Marguerite Butler in 1926. Four years prior, the two women had traveled to Scandinavia to study folk high schools. A longtime fixture of the Danish countryside, these schools offered practical learning and cultural enrichment to regular working people.

Inspired by their experiences abroad, Campbell and Butler returned to America and established their very own institution in Brasstown. But in addition to hands-on instruction, the women also wanted to “preserve aspects of traditional Appalachian life,” says Chaney. That’s where the museum came in.

Moved by the cause, locals Cliff Waldroup and J.A. Caldwell each donated a cabin. “Based on oral histories,” says Chaney, “one cabin was built before the Civil War, and the other was built in the 1890s.”

Log Cabin Museum. Photo courtesy of John C. Campbell Folk School

The cabins were moved from Cherokee and Clay counties to Brasstown. Twenty men ages 18 to 78 then reassembled the edifices, connecting them by a dogtrot.

Once the 795-square-foot structure was complete, Campbell and Butler put out a call for “fast-vanishing relics of early days.” The surrounding community answered with enthusiasm. Per a Folk School brochure, the original list of museum furnishings ranged from “one powder horn from Luther Mauney” to a “pair of tongs found in the streets of Murphy.”

Needless to say, the museum was an interesting place to be. But in recent years, it has fallen into disrepair. “The building suffered from exposure to the elements,” confirms Joe Harvey, buildings and grounds director.

Hoping to restore the cabin to its former glory, Harvey has been working with Barry Stiles, director of The Foxfire Museum in Georgia, as well as Folk School staff and local community members. So far, the team has removed and trimmed trees, hewed logs for support beams, replaced the original fireplace hearths and upgraded the cedar shake roof.

“The cabin has some really neat features,” says Stiles. “The doors and window shutters all have handmade wooden hinges, which is something you don’t see very often anymore.”

The floors are also made from split chestnut logs smoothed with adzes, an ax-like tool with an arched blade. “This type of floor was typical in the early 1800s,” says Stiles.

Perhaps the most noteworthy feature is one of the chimneys, which is fashioned in the “stick-and-mud” style. “Basically, it’s a chimney made from logs and daubed with clay,” says Stiles. “There may only be two or three examples of this type of chimney in the entire state of North Carolina.”

According to Chaney, the remodel is expected to be complete by early 2025—just in time for the Folk School’s 100th anniversary.

“Restoration enables the Folk School to use the historic structure as an educational space once again, in keeping with the original intentions of the school’s founders and donors,” she says. “This is particularly important to us as our 100th anniversary approaches in 2025. We hope the Log Cabin Museum will have another 100 years of life in it.”

The John C. Campbell Folk School is located at 1 Folk School Road, Brasstown. To learn more, visit or call 828.837.2775.

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