There’s a log house in New Jersey that was built a hundred years before George Washington was born, and it’s for sale. The C.A. Nothnagle Log House in Greenwich Township, built around 1643 and officially the oldest wooden structure in North America, is a literal house-shaped piece of history (it’s been in the National Register of Historical Places since 1976), and as you might imagine, history isn’t cheap; the house is presently listed at just under $3 million.
This house is so old that it had a dirt floor until 1730. The fireplace, placed somewhat awkwardly in the corner, with the chimney inside the house (those settlers needed all the heat they could get), sports Scandinavian ironwork that dates to the 1590s, an era in which I’m pretty sure people still unironically wore helmets with horns on them. The fireplace is built from bricks that were used as ballast in one of the ships that brought the settlers from Europe, meaning they spent almost a year marinating in ship’s bilge. (A modern day equivalent would be a backsplash made from recycled urinal porcelain.) History isn’t just bloody, it also involves various other bodily fluids.
The house consists of two parts – the original 16 x 22 foot cabin, and a sizeable addition, which was built in the early 1700s. The original cabin, believe it or not, was considered large by the standards of the day, when the typical cabin was closer to 12 x 12. Experts believe a family with as many as six children lived in the original cabin, which meant that eight people had to share a single bathroom, and when I say “a single bathroom,” I mean “a literal hole in the ground out in the backyard.” It almost makes me feel guilty about the time I threatened to report my parents for child abuse to the police just because they wouldn’t buy me a “Star Wars” bed-tent. At some point, the original structure was also used as a dairy, as the present owners have dug up “Nothnagle” branded milk bottle stoppers.
Judging by the way the logs are notched together at the corners of the house, experts believe the house was built by Finnish settlers. (Finnish log house experts say it’s the oldest log house of its kind on the entire planet.) Construction was straightforward; they stacked square-hewn oak logs horizontally, joined them at the corners, and shoved gravel and mud into the cracks to seal gaps. Amazingly, there isn’t a single nail in the house. It sounds primitive, but it’s survived almost four hundred years. That’s partly because log houses tend to age well, if they’re well built enough to avoid decay and mold. As the house settles downward (which is why nails can’t be used in log houses – the settling would slowly tear them out), and moisture evaporates from the aging wood, the log house becomes progressively stronger, until it’s almost invulnerable. At this point, the Nothnagle House could probably survive nuclear war.
The present owners, a couple named the Rinks, have owned the house for 49 years, during which time they’ve treated their home as a public museum, generously opening it to the public. (They once hosted an impromptu group tour at 2AM when a bus stopped by to look at the house.) Harry Rink, now 88, spent many years repairing the log house by hand, scouring the New Jersey countryside until he found just the right clay to spread between the logs, and then mixing, purifying, and applying it by hand. One of the conditions of the sale is that the new owner agrees to a life trust, which would allow the Rinks to continue living in the log house until their deaths.