Cowtown's historic cabin moves

The challenge was making sure the 1870s cabin didn't fall apart.

But after five months of restoration, Old Cowtown handed over the key to the Heller Cabin to Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer on Saturday morning.

The cabin now stands at the entrance to the living history museum, which re-creates part of Wichita from the same era.

The cabin, donated by the estate of Wichita resident Donna Heller, was originally built by Civil War veteran Leonhard Hoffman in the town of Elmo.

Heller's cabin is ranked by historic preservationists as one of the nation's top 10 structures remaining from that era. But the cabin stood at the back entrance in bubble wrap for seven years.

The City Council approved moving it in March, and the Cowtown board financed the project with help from private donations.

"The biggest challenge was moving it across the park without it falling apart," said Eric Swenson of Dondlinger Construction, after Saturday's opening ceremonies.

Although considered what Cowtown assistant curator Teddie Barlow called "an excellent example of high quality workmanship for the time," 130 years had taken its toll.

Two of the rotting logs had to be replaced, Swenson said, and special bracing kept the cabin upright during its renovation.

Contractors also had to figure out how to fill gaps between the logs — a process called chinking — while trying to keep as close to materials of the era as possible.

Dondlinger ended up using a mixture of white Portland cement, lime and river sand to fill the gaps.

"It took a lot of planning and careful attention to detail," David Dennis, president of the Cowtown board, told the group Saturday.

Brewer said he often begins public speeches to groups about Wichita's rich history, which dates to 1870.

"What a better way to preserve that when you walk into Old Cowtown and see a real cabin from 1870," Brewer said.

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