Rustic Style – 1880-1940

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Photo: Caretaker's Cabin, ca. 1937, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Zion National Park, Utah. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. National Park Service , n.d., [cc0-by-1.0 (],, via Wikimedia Commons, accessed March, 2014.

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The Rustic Style of architecture emerged out of the resort architecture of the Adirondack region of New York State in the late 19th century, where wealthy and elite members of New York society began to build "rustic camps" as retreats from the hustle and bustle of the city. The trend was an outgrowth of the era's romance with natural landscapes and the western frontier. These homes were usually designed by prominent city architects (though they were often built by local woodsmen) and were quite large and luxurious. The look and feel on the exterior were rustic, but inside were found all the amenities of an urban dwelling. For those with more modest incomes, popular periodicals offered plans for smaller cabins that also became extremely popular. The style is characterized by: the use of indigenous materials (e.g., large peeled logs and stone are commonly used); broad, wood-shingled or seamed metal roofs; wide overhangs, often with exposed rafters; and simply proportioned door and window openings. Buildings are generally very simple with little or no ornamentation, and materials are often left in their natural condition.

In the 1910s, the United States Forest Service and the newly created National Park Service developed policies that called for the design of new buildings on their lands whether public or private to be harmonious with their surroundings; the adoption of the Rustic Style was the logical choice. This use of the style in the national forests and parks helped to spread its popularity in the early decades of the 20th century, as automobile and rail travel allowed an increasing number of people to visit these places each year.

For private, residential structures, the heyday of the style lasted until the Great Depression, when the construction of vacation homes slowed substantially. However, the style did continue to proliferate during the 1930s and 1940s, through the public work of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Works Projects/Progress Administration (WPA). Because these groups spent a considerable amount of time on improvements to state and national parks and forests, it was logical that they would build in the Rustic Style. Further, the style was nicely suited to both organizations because it typically had lower material costs (as materials were often simply harvested on-site), and called for a labor intensive method of construction.

Popular publications also kept the Rustic Style in the public eye during the 1930s. From 1929 to 1932, several popular magazines, including The House Beautiful, Ladies' Home Journal, American Home, Sunset, House and Garden, Good Housekeeping, and even Popular Mechanics, and Popular Science ran articles recommending log cabins as the ideal vacation home in the mountains. The articles glorified the cabin and several of them included not only plans, but drawings of how to make notches and construct with logs.

In addition, in 1935, the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service spelled out their ethic for building structures in the parks in a publication called Park Structures and Facilities. The main tenet of their philosophy was that the structures should be subordinate to, and in harmony with the environment in which they are set. This was to be accomplished, in part, by the use of native materials. In forested areas, those materials were logs, lumber, and rock. The publication covered all types of structures from buildings and bridges to picnic tables and drinking fountains, and included plans and detail drawings for most of the facilities illustrated. Also included was a discussion of log construction that gave detailed advice regarding the scale and type of logs to select. Thus, property owners and their architects had good examples, both in popular magazines and throughout the country's parks, of well-designed rustic architecture, from which to draw their own inspiration, ideas, and designs. When economic difficulties began to moderate in the late 1930s, construction of summer homes began to increase. The continued use of the Rustic Style by public entities and its continued popularity in the press ensured that it was the style of choice for mountain vacation homes until building ceased in 1942 due to the demands of World War II.

  1. Michael A. Bedeau, Nevada State Historic Preservation Office, Lena N. Gale Cabin (Good Medicine Cabin), Douglas County, NV, nomination document, 2001, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

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