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Log home restorer Tim Kilby gives new life
to a house on the verge of collapse

by Heather Berry

Tim Kilby says “log homes are a vanishing species,” so he makes his living restoring them one piece at a time. He took an especially personal interest in the Isaac McCormick house as it would become his home.

Although the old Isaac McCormick place was an eyesore to most onlookers, Tim Kilby saw much more. Tim bought a 23- acre farm in Defiance and when his neighbors saw the dilapidated log home that sat upon it, they advised him to doze it and start over. But he moved into the rustic house, with ivy growing inside and wind whistling through its cracks, and he dreamed about what the home could become.

“One of the reasons I bought the property was because I knew what was under the old blue tin siding,” Tim says. “I knew there was a good bag of bones in there.”

That bag of bones hidden in the tall grass was a rare style of log home that dates to the early 1800s. Tim new he’d just bought a huge money pit, but in his mind he could see the finished project — and that was enough to carry him through the long days of work to come.

The bare bones of the old log home as it stood in the fall of 2004 before Tim began the addition on the back.

The old McCormick homestead offered Tim a chance to do for himself what he does for others. When Tim’s not working on his own place, he dismantles and reconstructs antique log and post and beam houses for a living.

For the next two years, Tim and his wife, June, photographed and numbered every board, cleaned the gaps between the logs and literally put most of the house away in an old barn. “We stripped it down. There was no roof, nothing,” says the 44-year-old as he surveys the now-finished interior.

One thing Tim needed to do before he went any further was locate an old picture of the house because it had been dramatically remodeled in 1906. Luckily, he was able to get in touch with a great-great-granddaughter of Isaac McCormick who shared several photos, including a portrait of the original builder.

When the father passed away in 1904 the son took over and made major changes, some of which were documented in old store ledgers.

“It showed the son, known as I.M., bought things such as brick and sash cords — but there was never a mention of a level being purchased,” says the Cuivre River Electric Cooperative member. “The floors pitch in every direction in this place.”

Elizabeth and Isaac McCormick originally built the log home Tim restored.

The younger McCormick’s additions turned the original floor plan into a center-hall house. Other changes included adding a bay window, raising the roofs and reframing everything.

Ironically, the elder Isaac bought the land in 1845 on the courthouse steps and the son, after putting too much money into modifications, lost the log home in the same spot nearly 100 years later.

The home was owned by several families between the 1940s and 1998 when Tim bought the place, but Tim just shakes his head when he thinks about one of the last home owners building skills.

“Anything the last guy did never made sense. My outside door went out, so if it snowed, I couldn’t get out. His plumbing looked like something the Three Stooges might have done,” says Tim. “I guess I’m really lucky he didn’t attempt any electrical work.”

Finally, in the fall of 2004, Tim decided if he was ever going to put this house back together he’d have to take a break from his real job and instead work on his own log home.

Tim’s goal was to restore the home and list it on the National Register of Historic Places, which would require any additions to be approved by preservationists in Washington. Tim’s third set of plans was approved. Now the puzzle work began, piecing it all back together — and adding an addition in the back to house the plumbing and laundry room.

“I didn’t feel the need for the back addition, but my wife did,” he says with a smile.
Nearly a year later, Tim and June declared the task finished and began moving period furniture into the cozy log home. “It’s larger than you think,” he says of the 2,450-square-foot home. “It rambles around a lot.”

The finished “Isaac McCormick House” is now on the National Register of Historic Places after a solid year of work.

One of Tim’s favorite features in the log home is the cherry staircase in the center hall.
“When we first saw the staircase, it had layers and layers of black and red paint on it,” Tim says. “It took us nearly two weeks to strip it down to the beautiful woodwork, but it was well worth it.”

Fireplaces in all of the main rooms and bedrooms are also features that add to the charm of this old log home.

Tim says he didn’t mind spending a year to rebuild this log home. “They are a vanishing species and I think they’re worth saving,” he says.

Most of the 60 log homes and cabins that Tim’s rebuilt have been saved from the mouth of a bulldozer as people keep knocking historic buildings down to make room for condos or subdivisions.

“I try to let developers know that it’s good PR to let someone move the log home off-site instead of knocking it down,” says Tim. “It’s better to give it a new life for someone who really wants it.”

Tim says he’s ready to begin work on “the granddaddy of all cabin” projects — the restoration of an 1820s cabin that was built by the founder of Moscow Mills.

The home features a fireplace in each of the main rooms.

“The (Andrew Miller) cabin’s going up in St. Louis,” says Tim. “In one way, I hate to put the cabin there because it’s going to be out of context; but in another, it’s great because everyone will get to see a piece of history from now on. It’s a museum-quality cabin and this owner wants it done right.”

He says he could do more work with a crew, but he’d just rather work alone. And why not — he can refurbish historic homes, do the stone work, design the plans and do all of the custom woodwork for any project he tackles.

“Yes, it might have been simpler to start this from scratch,” says Tim, looking around the beautiful log home he’s given a new life. “But I love it and it looks good sitting right here, where it’s always been.”

You can contact Tim Kilby at 705 Highway F, Defiance, MO 63341 or call (636) 987-2679.

Rural Missouri magazine - April 2014 issue
 
 
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