DADE COUNTY, Ga. — His wife thought he should just bulldoze it, but Luther Killian was salvaging what he could Thursday of the log cabin his family built just after the Civil War in Slygo Valley.
The cabin hasn't been occupied since the early 1960s. Since neither Killian nor his three siblings want to restore the decaying structure, they've decided to sell the 26-acre property they jointly own.
"I'm embarrassed to sell the property, but it's time," Killian said. "It's been a bit gut-wrenching. I've already said goodbye to my [ancestors] and apologized to them."
Before the land sells, Killian is salvaging the original cabin's hand-hewn timbers, the fireplace's limestone blocks and the roof beams that are joined with wooden pegs. He plans to use the materials to build a covered patio at his Ridgeside home.
"My brother's an architect. He's going to help us [design it]," Killian said. "He doesn't know that, yet."
Killian, a math teacher and wrestling coach at the McCallie School, on Thursday had McCallie students Julian Nunally, Eric Wolf and Ralston Hartness and retired teacher Steve George help him strip away the clapboard siding and tin roof that were added as the cabin was expanded to several rooms.
As they tore the structure apart, they found old bottles inside the walls. The cabin used square nails made by Jim Hixson, the uncle of Killian's father. A small sheet of wood inside a wall was signed by Killian's ancestors.
One added-on room that Killian's father, born in 1901, and his aunts, born even earlier, talked about, Killian said, was "a parlor when the girls got to courtin' age."
Water still flows at the bottom of the cabin's stone-lined well, but other vestiges of the family's pioneer past live on only in Killian's memory. He pointed out the site of the "good-sized" barn, a meal grinder, uncle Jim's blacksmith shop and a smokehouse for the farm's hogs.
While the cabin eventually had electricity, it never had running water, and the only source of heat was two fireplaces.
"You get used to it," George said of the lack of heat. His grandparents lived in Detroit and left a bedroom window open year-round, he said.
"They liked to sleep in the cold," George said.
Killian's great-great grandfather, Henry Killian Bennett, bought the Slygo Valley property in 1857 from the estate of a man who had gotten it by lottery as part of the Indian removal.
The farm was 75 acres at one time, but it got cut in two in the 1960s and 1970s by Interstate 59.
Killian's father logged trees that stood in the interstate's path, and some of the rough-cut timber is still on site.
Killian still remembers the sight of trees cleared by heavy machinery as far as the eye could see in both directions for the highway.
"If Daniel Boone saw this, he would probably cry," Killian thought at the time. "They destroyed the woods."
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.