Historic log home restored to former glory

The Larson House has been given a new lease on life thanks to the work of Sylvester McNeil. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)The Larson House has been given a new lease on life thanks to the work of Sylvester McNeil. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
The Larson House has been given a new lease on life thanks to the work of Sylvester McNeil. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)The Larson House has been given a new lease on life thanks to the work of Sylvester McNeil. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
The Larson House’s new owners are Louise Munson and Joe Wright who have been happy to get to know Sylvester McNeil as he’s helped them restore and renovate the venerable old log home.(Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)The Larson House’s new owners are Louise Munson and Joe Wright who have been happy to get to know Sylvester McNeil as he’s helped them restore and renovate the venerable old log home.(Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
The Larson House’s new owners are Louise Munson and Joe Wright who have been happy to get to know Sylvester McNeil as he’s helped them restore and renovate the venerable old log home.(Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)The Larson House’s new owners are Louise Munson and Joe Wright who have been happy to get to know Sylvester McNeil as he’s helped them restore and renovate the venerable old log home.(Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
Once covered in drywall the Larson House’s interior still bears axe marks from when then logs were first shaped. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)Once covered in drywall the Larson House’s interior still bears axe marks from when then logs were first shaped. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
Full restoration of the Larson House is still a year away as Sylvester McNeil needs to remove the remaining drywall from the kitchen and other parts of the home. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)Full restoration of the Larson House is still a year away as Sylvester McNeil needs to remove the remaining drywall from the kitchen and other parts of the home. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
Sylvester McNeil said that work on the Larson House for the last few months has been a gift and a delight. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)Sylvester McNeil said that work on the Larson House for the last few months has been a gift and a delight. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)

Restoring the historic Larson House on Judson Road has been “a gift” for Sylvester McNeil.

The log home restorer has spent the last several months painstakingly returning the 109-year-old cabin to its former glory on behalf of the home’s current owners, Joe Wright and Louise Munson.

“I almost said to Louise ‘I’ll do this for free,’” McNeil said. “It’s history. The work that I do is mostly on homes that were built 10 to 40 years ago. I enjoy what I do and bringing back the life of a home but something like this is just beyond special. Every day was just a joy to go back to work on it.”

One of the oldest structures in the South Cariboo still standing, the house was built in 1912 by the Larson family and has been used as everything from a home to a doctor’s and dentist’s office to a schoolhouse.

Indeed, it has gone through so many iterations over the past century that it wasn’t until McNeil pulled off the outside cedar siding that he found it was built of strong local stone foundation and solid hand-hewn square logs with rough dove-tailed corners.

“It was everything. It was a doctor’s office, a dentist’s office, a store, a bit of a schoolhouse and a gathering place,” McNeil said. “This book by Marianne Van Osch called The Homesteader’s Daughter is about all the settlers who lived here and the chapter ‘A Doctor in the House’ is about the Larson House.”

The book was key to the couple deciding to restore the old homestead. The couple, who moved to the area from Kamloops two years ago had briefly considered tearing down the house or moving it but after consulting a home inspector, they were pointed in McNeil’s direction. Munson, who approached McNeil at the Loon Bay Craft Market, said his eyes “lit up” when she asked him to assess it.

McNeil said he went straight to the Larson House and peeled off a section of the old siding. He then stripped part of the exposed log and stained it to show them what their home could look like. A week later he was told he had an unlimited budget to restore the home to its former glory.

“The longer we spent in it the more we wanted to honour the history and restore it,” Munson said, who began researching the home via books like The Homesteader’s Daughter. “It’s absolutely amazing to read while you’re sitting in this house about who’s been there and how it arrived. I never learn a detail that doesn’t excite me about this house.”

Due to the era of its construction, McNeil said the original log home never was treated with any preservatives and by the time the logs were covered by the cedar siding in the 1960s they had been burnt black by ultraviolet light. Worse, when the siding was installed, McNeil said there was no appreciation for the wood as whoever did it cut slots in the logs and filled them with two-by-fours to make the siding even.

READ MORE: Home restoration booming in South Cariboo

Using a commercial diamond wheel, McNeil took off an inch of burnt wood to get to the log’s white wood. He then used a jackhammer to get the logs even again before grinding them to their 1912 look and staining them.

“We’ve tried to keep the same look from the day it was built. It had to be done right and we’ve kept that look inside and out,” McNeil said. “It’s taken the last two months to restore the east, west and south side of the walls. We’re waiting until next year to do the north side because there’s an addition there.”

Even removing the drywall inside the house has been a step back in time. McNeil described being showered by Monopoly money when he removed parts of the roof while Munson said they found old cotton shirts and pyjamas used as insulation.

Munson and Wright’s decision to restore the house was timely, McNeil said, as he found evidence of bugs eating the old wood. Had it been left for another decade he’s not sure it would have been salvageable. Now, though, he figures it can last for decades.

“Because of the foundation and the thickness of the logs preserved with a good quality stain and chinked inside and out I could see it lasting a couple of hundred years,” McNeil said. “As I said to my wife, this house is a gift. It’s what I enjoy doing.

“No matter how old it is is, no matter how deteriorated, there’s always white wood under that deterioration.”

Munson and Wright. meanwhile, are taking their restoration a step further. The two have turned the property back into a working ranch, raising chickens, cows and horses, just as the Larsons did over 100 years ago.

”I personally feel like we’re doing it justice to bring it back to what it was and to be ranching the same property,” Wright said. “To bring it back to being a ranch is really important to me, it’s an ongoing project.”



patrick.davies@100milefreepress.net

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