For citizens of Marquand a piece of history was almost torn from their lives in the early morning hours Oct. 4 when a fire caused heavy damage to the Henry and Jane Bess-Sitzes log homestead in the Marquand Historic Park.
Soon this will be just another chapter of the history of the cabin but while the structure can hopefully be saved and other portions rebuilt, the contents and artifacts that were lost can never be replaced.
From 1989 until the the fire, the cabin stood in the park as a reminder of the community’s pioneer past. Many feel restoring the cabin is the only option and will work to make sure it continues to be the symbol of the town.
“It has been the centerpiece of our little town and festival for years now,” Marquand Mayor Ed Kennon said. “It was, and should be again a symbol of appreciation for our ancestors and a contribution to our children.”
Kennon said the cabin is an important symbol to teach today’s era of the kind of lives those before us lived and improved upon.
“Marquand Development Corporation has stepped behind this project,” MDC Member Denny Ward said. “It was a convoluted situation to the fact that the city owns the land that the cabin sits on, so who really owns the cabin?”
Ward said they always felt the cabin belonged to the people but, in order to take responsibility for it and ensure its protection, somebody had to take ownership.
“So the City of Marquand has agreed to partner with MDC and enter a lease agreement that is a 99-year lease,” Ward said. “MDC will now lease from the city the cabin, the depot and the bridge. We will also carry them underneath our insurance umbrella so that if, in the event something like this ever happens again, there will be some funding to come back in.”
Ward said people have been very generous with not only monetary donations but commitments of time.
“We have brought in two restorationists,” Ward said. “The first one who reported back was from Barn Savers from Louisville, Kentucky. His recommendation was to take the logs that are there, saw them into lumber and make a floor out of it for a new cabin. Well that is not going to happen. That is not our cabin. That is not our history. That is not this county’s founding father. So we are not going to allow that to happen.”
Ward said the second restorationist was far more confident that a restoration could be successfully accomplished.
“The char on the inside of the logs is about a fourth-inch deep,” Ward said. “We plan on bringing in a commercial sand blaster and blasting away as much char as we can. We will then be looking at manually taking a draw knife and taking away what is left that can be removed.”
Ward said there are logs at the top that will need to be replaced, and they are looking for original logs.
“We are very fortunate, a lot of the cabins and log structures that were built in this area were built from pine, but this particular structure is made of oak,” Ward said. “Due to the density of the wood and the age, the penetration from the moisture is not going to take a toll on it quickly. It will eventually, but our hope is that by spring we can start making a difference.”
Ward said the next step is to evaluate the cost of the work needed and determine how much can be done by volunteers in order to set an amount of funding needed for a complete restoration.
Ward said when the cabin was placed in the park, the community and the whole county came together to embrace the structure and brought to it historical items that represented the founding fathers.
“Whoever this arsonist was had no idea, I don’t believe, what they were doing,” Ward said. “The contents, the artifacts are gone.”
Few things such as the fireplace tools and ash kettle survived. They will be preserved and placed in the restored cabin as a reminder of the fire, a piece of the cabin’s history.
Items such as a rope bed which belonged to Capt. Peter Sitzes which was on loan from the Virginia Priday family, a loom made by Virgil Whitener for his wife Nola as a wedding gift, an original plat map of Marquand, original tin-type photos of Henry and Jane Bess-Sitzes and many other one-of-a-kind artifacts did not survive the flames.
This will not be the first time the town and MDC have worked together to ensure the history of their beloved cabin. In October of 1989, when MDC acquired the cabin from the Sitzes family, the project was forced into overdrive.
“In the midst of all of this, the brothers had sold the farm to some people from Seattle, Washington,” Ward said. “The people from Seattle wanted to retain the cabin and they gave us 30 days to completely dismantle it, remove it from the site and clean up the area where the cabin stood.”
Ward said for 30 days, he, Shirley Gilmore and a handful of concerned citizens banded together, completely dismantled the cabin and brought it to town.
“We did a numbering system from bottom log to top log and stacked it north, south, east and west,” Ward said. “We dismantled the fireplace, marking the stones so that the dated stone would go back exactly where it was positioned.”
Ward said the cabin was dismantled in October 1989 and reassembling began in January 1990.
“None of us had ever built a cabin before,” Ward said. “We didn’t know how to build a cabin. We knew how we took it down and it was just like Lincoln Logs which was fun. Well it was fun then, but I’m not sure I’d find it as much fun now.”
The challenges the cabin has faced and will face moving forward will continue to bring the community together to fight for its history.
“We invested so much into that structure and I am so determined that it is going to stay there,” Ward said.
“It is a landmark for the city, park and county,” Madison County Chamber of Commerce Vice President Allison Boyer said. “When you mention Marquand to citizens of other communities they said ‘you mean you live where that neat cabin is in the middle of town in the park.'”
Boyer said the cabin has to go back and the countless hours and donations that were made to bring it there are historical to the county.
“It was heartbreaking and very disappointing to think that someone would do this to such a historic building,” Boyer said. “It is obvious that the arsonist does not care about the historical value or the meaning that this cabin has to the county. I hope someday that person is found to answer for his crime and tell us why the cabin.”
There will be a fundraising event for the Henry and Jane Bess-Sitzes Log Homestead on April 11 at the Homan Hall Performing Arts Center. The St. Louis-based Die Laughing Theatre Productions will bring “Lucy Goes Cruising!” for a fun-filled evening. Reserve tickets by calling 573-783-5438 or 573-783-3282.
Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at firstname.lastname@example.org