Crestwood eyes moving cabin

Cabin is in good shape but move requires engineering

By Gloria Lloyd, News Editor

The city of Crestwood is taking bids to see what it could cost to move a 200-year-old historic log cabin from Affton to the Historic Sappington House in Crestwood, doubling the number of Sappington houses at the site.

The nonprofit Sappington Foundation has raised nearly $100,000 to move the house, but no one really knows what it could cost since a similar log cabin move has not been done that often.

In March, aldermen approved a nonbinding letter of intent 5-0 to move the cabin after new owner Jim Freund offered to donate it if the city covered relocation. John Sappington was a cousin of Thomas Sappington, whose 1808 brick home is the centerpiece of Sappington House Museum.Freund has given the city until Aug. 1 to move the cabin or has threatened to sell it to a buyer outside St. Louis County.

But Crestwood hasn’t agreed to fund the move yet. An engineer studied what it would take and came up with detailed bid specifications, funded by $26,000 from the Sappington Foundation. The city is leaving bids open for two weeks instead of the usual one week so that word of mouth can potentially get more contractors involved.

Bids will close Thursday, May 27, and a final decision whether the city will hire a contractor and move the house could be made either at a videoconferenced special meeting Tuesday, June 1 or at the videoconferenced regular meeting set June 8.

“We’ll find out what someone’s willing to do it for. .. We’ve had people coming out of the woodwork (with historic expertise),” said City Administrator Kris Simpson. “There’s always the unknown unknowns, but this is probably going to get us anywhere form 70 to 90 percent there. There’s always the possibility, especially with a home this old and a move as complicated as this, that as we get into it the cost is going to go up even more.”

To develop the bidding documents, which include dozens of diagrams of how various pieces of the house have to be pulled apart and put back together, Case Engineering has been examining the house inch by inch.

“It has a certain kind of charm and historic preservation piece that is really noteworthy, but my job is to worry about the money so I am worried about the cost,” Simpson said. “Ultimately the board will have to decide.”

With the board turnover in April, one of the new members of the Board of Aldermen is Ward 4’s John Sebben, who is a member of the Sappington Foundation. He ran unopposed in April. At the same time, two of the aldermen who have been skeptical at times about the project, Ward 1 Alderman Mimi Duncan and Ward 4 Alderman Ismaine Ayouaz, departed the board.

Retired St. Louis County parks historian Esley Hamilton, who filled out the application for the cabin to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, said that he reluctantly supports the plan to move the cabin to Crestwood because he would prefer it stay on its original property and be lived in by an owner, as has been the case for hundreds of years until now.

Freund — who wants to build his dream house on the property — submitted an offer that was accepted, but another buyer who wanted to live in the house submitted an offer the next day, just losing out on the house, Hamilton said.

The log cabin is notable for its age, how well preserved it is and that it’s still standing, Hamilton said. Many other log cabins have been demolished, including one that was built as late as the 1890s and was listed on the National Register but burned to the ground. Another one owned by Joseph Sappington’s son Sebastian along Gravois Road was demolished in the 1960s. Sebastian was a close friend of Ulysses S. Grant, and there are letters between the two still surviving.

“It’s not who lived there, it’s the remarkable survival of the house and the pioneer construction of the house that makes it important,” Hamilton said of the Joseph Sappington cabin.

The log cabin has siding on it, which actually makes it more historic than log cabins that stripped the siding off, Hamilton said. Most log cabins were sided at some point when that became popular, but when people have gone back to rehab the house they’ve torn the siding off. Keeping the siding makes it “more authentic,” Hamilton said. The cabin is also unique because it’s built on three different floors with three different levels, just a few inches between parts of the first floor, but then five steps down to the kitchen. The kitchen has a cathedral ceiling that allows you to see the construction of the rafters and the whole house.

“They restored it back in the ‘60s I think and leaving the siding on was very advanced preservation thinking for that time, but they exposed the logs on the inside so you have that really rustic look on the inside of the house,” said Hamilton.

The logs are in such good shape and so thick that a fire years ago barely caused any damage. The only reason a move like the potential one to Crestwood is possible is because the cabin is in such good condition, the historian said.