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Restoring Historic Buildings on a Texas Ranch

Texas homeowners take to restoring historic buildings on their ranch — including a "dog-trot" log cabin.

The humble beginnings of the Mitchell home.

Ten thousand acres of native Texas grassland makes an impressive setting for a ranch. If you continue to expand your operation and acreage, you may inherit some log structures that have been sitting around for decades. Then, with a little work and inspiration, they can be converted into guest quarters. That’s how it worked for Connie and Joe Mitchell, owners of the Ten Triple X Ranch located on the fringes of the Texas hill country. Several years ago, Connie and Joe relocated from Dallas to live full time on the ranch to tend thousands of heads of cattle.

Connie and Joe first met in Enid, Oklahoma. After marrying and moving to Texas to form a telecommunications company (the 10-XXX, which would become the name of their ranch), they began a cattle operation. One of the tasks on the ranch is making sure that visitors are looked after properly. “It just seemed logical with all this space to open it up as a guest ranch and for corporate retreats,” Connie says. “We soon figured out that we’d have to house folks, and what better place than in the buildings scattered around the ranch?”

The reason buildings are scattered across thousands of acres is easy. The Mitchells started with 4,000 acres and purchased more parcels as they became available. “What’s so interesting is that every time we would acquire a new plot, inevitably it would have one or more historic buildings attached,” Connie says. “I think we’ve discovered and restored 11 structures, including a 1930 school house.” Restoration of these structures was an easy decision; Joe majored in architecture at Oklahoma State University and was eager to put his skills to the test.

The Mitchells also decided to add a generous-sized log cabin to the mix. “Some of the buildings were in such disrepair when we inherited them,” Connie says. “We called on [Waco-based] Heritage Restorations for assistance, since they are skilled at reclaiming and resurrecting historic timber structures. We were familiar with their work since they had previously built a barn for us. With their quality craftsmanship, we knew this log cabin would ultimately be perfection.”
A sitting area in the home

Heritage had just the cabin in mind when the Mitchells called in early 2005 — a hand-hewn 1836 Ohio dog-trot they’d disassembled and had at their restoration workshop. “We all thought this was an exceptional example of a traditional dog-trot with two pens or cabins connected by a breezeway,” says Heritage supervisor Troy Dumont. “Usually logs that were used in these buildings were half this size, but these 14-to-24-inch hand-hewn oak logs were beautiful.”

Once the site overlooking 25-acre Penny Lake was cleared of cypress and scrub, Connie, Joe and other ranch staff patiently watched over a five-month period as Heritage erected a 23-by-66-foot cabin on a concrete pier and beam foundation. The strategic east-and-west placement allows for a constant breeze to run through the building. The crew raised the logs course upon course, then chinked with white masonry cement between each course. The original joinery was used to connect the two halves of the dog-trot on both the first and second floor, then built custom millwork, cabinets, flooring, and doors with antique wood to round out the cabin.

More about this restoration process was featured in the July 2008 issue of Country's Best Log Homes.

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