140-year-old Utica cabin moved to Wagner for museumUTICA (AP) — Most passersby might have totally overlooked the log cabin sitting in the field southwest of Utica. Even if they noticed the cabin, the onlookers would likely have considered it a curious pile of wood needing removal.
UTICA (AP) — Most passersby might have totally overlooked the log cabin sitting in the field southwest of Utica.
Even if they noticed the cabin, the onlookers would likely have considered it a curious pile of wood needing removal.
But for the grandchildren of John and Bessie Machacek, the 1872 cabin represents much more. It’s the last link to their family’s homestead and history.
Now, the 140-year-old cabin — which was destined for destruction — has found a new home.
Recently, movers loaded up the cabin and hauled the structure 45 miles west to Wagner. The Machacek descendants donated the cabin to the Charles Mix County Historical Society, which will incorporate the cabin in its museum complex along South Dakota Highway 50.
Cheryl Mack, one of the descendants, said she doesn’t know why she asked about the cabin last November. But she believes the cabin would otherwise be headed for the woodpile.
“This cabin was close to being torn down due to the land-owner needing the land to farm. The subject just happened to come up,” Mack said. “My husband said that nobody was restoring the old cabin, so let’s do it.”
Mack called the land-owners, Larry and Martha Celmer, to inquire about restoring the cabin. The Celmers gave the Machacek clan a chance to find a new home for the old structure.
“From then on, the search to find a home started,” Mack said. “We contacted area museums, and we finally found the Wagner museum was interested in taking on the project.”
Richard Kafka, representing the museum, was on recently hand to watch the crew load up the cabin and give it a ride to its new home.
“This is a dream of ours to get a log cabin,” he said. “We have been trying to get a couple of them, but they were either too big or something else didn’t work.”
The Charles Mix County Historical Society will restore the Machacek cabin and make it a centerpiece of the Wagner museum complex, Kafka said.
“It’s so important to save these log cabins,” he said. “We sure would hate to lose them.”
John and Bessie Machacek emigrated from Czechoslovakia in 1860 and homesteaded on the site. The couple had four children: John, Lillian, Joe and Adeline.
“Cottonwood lumber was dragged by the oxen from the Missouri River to build the cabin back in 1872,” Mack said. “There was also a sod house built at the same time, which is not standing anymore, with walls 36 inches thick.”
This log cabin was used as a house during the first two years, then was converted into a shop when the sod house was built next door.
Bessie Machacek, who lived to age 101, spoke Bohemian her entire life and never learned English, Sternhagen said.
“Our grandmother came from Czechoslovakia at the age of 16,” Sternhagen said. “She never wanted to go back (to the Old Country), even though her brother and sister were still over there, because she feared the Communists.”
Besides Mack, the family onlookers at the move included her cousins Ilene Sternhagen and Norma Reining of Tabor; Norma’s husband, Larry; and in-law Marlene Syrovatka of Lesterville. The family members reminisced about the cabin, the sod house and neighboring trees that were the scene of childhood mischief. They spoke of a chalk rock building, also built on the site, with walls 2 1/2 feet thick.
The Machacek relatives described how quickly the search for a new cabin home came together, with the arrangements finalized only a week earlier. They also spoke of the recent record temperatures nearing 70 degrees. They saw the ideal January day as a blessing on the cabin-moving effort.
But mainly, they marveled at their ancestors who persevered to till the prairie and start a new life in a new country. They also stood in awe at how a family lived in the tiny log cabin, which Kafka said measures about 18 feet by 15 feet and about 12 feet high at the spire.
The moving crew, led by Francis Doom, of Wagner, arrived on the scene and began shoring up the cabin to provide adequate support for the trip. He was particularly concerned about the walls and the cabin’s ability to bear weight.
“We intend to keep the cabin intact rather than dismantle it,” he said.
Even after getting the cabin mounted, the trip to Wagner remained a challenge. The crew was taking the structure on South Dakota Highway 50, where it traveled past Tabor, Tyndall and Avon on its way to Wagner.
“This will be a wide load,” Doom said. “If you’re going down township or county roads, you don’t need a permit. But if you’re going down a state highway, you need a permit.”
Doom, who owned Wagner Building and Supply from 1964-82, came out of “retirement” to lend his expertise to the move.
“I am tickled pink that this is happening,” he said.
Sternhagen gave a sigh of relief when the cabin was loaded after some tense moments.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s part of history, and something you don’t see very often,” she said. “I guess I thought (the cabin) was all going to fall apart. It looks like petrified wood, except for the flooring.”
Recent onlookers included Darold Loecker, a Celmer family friend who was checking out the effort while the Celmers are wintering in Denver.
“I think it’s great that somebody is going to keep (the cabin) going and use it for the future,” Loecker said. “(The Celmers) were farming around it for the last few years. Come April, they were going to level it. I am pleased to know the cabin is going to stay going.”