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Photos by Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
The kitchen at Beside Still Waters was added on so guests at the retreat could fix their own meals.

Retreat into the past

1800s cabin rented out to lodgers after years of restoration work

A bathroom was one of the features of Beside Still Waters that was finished by owner Klare Stech. She also finished a well and septic system for the cabin.
Owner Klare Stech finished the restoration project begun by her ex-husband, Matthew Heller.
You can search the two-bedroom cabin, but you won’t find a phone or any televisions.
The cabin is decorated in a simple style and doesn’t feature many modern conveniences.
The restored cabin has a loft bedroom upstairs and a master bedroom downstairs.
Photos by Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
The Beside Still Waters cabin was built in the 1800s and now sits next to a pond near Spencerville.

A lot of people peruse classified ads for good deals on items such as used lawn mowers and dining room furniture.

But it’s a bit unusual to buy an historic building that way – let alone a log cabin dating from at least the 1850s and likely used by federal Indian agents engaged in removing native tribes from Indiana.

Still, that’s how a log cabin getaway spot run by Klare Stech ended up on more than 40 acres of land in Cedar Creek Township at 18017 Devall Road outside Spencerville.

A Fort Wayne native, Stech says the saga of Beside Still Waters Greenhouse and Log Cabin Retreat and its unusual overnight lodging accommodations began nearly two decades ago when her ex-husband, Matthew Heller, saw the cabin advertised in an issue of Peddler’s Post.

The structure then sat on land that had been a turkey farm off Maysville Road near St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church, which traces its founding to 1838.

Although nearly hidden from view and modernized over the years with an addition and siding, the cabin caught Heller’s attention. He bought it and had it moved to its current location.

Stech says that over the years, Heller put a great deal of work into restoring the structure, with the idea of turning it into a bed and breakfast. In the past 10 years, Stech has finished the project, getting the place hooked up to electricity, a well and septic system and finishing a bathroom and a kitchenette added onto the back. She says she decided to let lodgers make their own breakfasts, and other meals if they so desire.

“I’ve had couples just getting away for a weekend, and I also have a family therapist who refers clients here when he’s doing intensive therapy. Ministry people have stayed here for retreats,” says Stech, 52.

The cabin also has attracted small families attending sports games or tournaments and those touring area colleges, she says – it has a bedroom downstairs with a king-size bed and a loft-like sleeping area upstairs with a double bed.

In the wintertime, guests who bring their own equipment can cross-country ski on wooded trails on the property and in nearby Metea Park. In the summer, there is fishing and swimming in the pond that the cabin’s front porch overlooks.

And, Stech says, “I allow people to pick the tomatoes and use the herbs that are growing outside their door.”

An avid gardener, Stech also runs a greenhouse business on the property. She has a degree in horticulture education from Purdue University and a master’s degree in organizational leadership from IPFW.

But, she says, restoring the 30-by-50-foot cabin has given her an education in 19th century frontier construction techniques.

For one thing, she says, the people who built the cabin, likely during the administration of President Andrew Jackson, used squared-off logs, not round ones.

The builders apparently preferred tulip poplar – tulip trees, she explains, “were abundant and they grow very straight and tall, and they don’t have many branches. So, to make a square log, it’s the perfect kind of tree.”

Builders used corn cobs for insulation in the mortar between the logs – something Stech discovered when she was rechinking the exterior and had to pull out too many cob remnants to count.

When the cabin was moved, there was no roof and “just window openings,” Stech says. Still, the structure was still remarkably solid.

“The tulip poplar logs were very resistant to insects and were in good condition,” she says. “And the notching was all very good – it was not rotted in any way, and the joints were not loose.”

Oak used in the downstairs floor also was still “very good,” she says.

During restoration, lath and plaster was pulled off interior walls, taking them back to the original logs. For partitions between rooms, pecky cypress wood from Florida, with its naturally aged and distressed look was used; Stech says it was another bargain find by her ex-husband from Peddler’s Post.

Completing the interior are an open-beamed ceiling in the living room, pine paneling in the eaves and on the second floor, and a wooden staircase added by a cabin restoration company that also power-washed the exterior. One newly built section of floor consists of a variety of woods from trees that grow in Indiana – maple, red and white oak, cherry, walnut and ash.

The place is heated primarily with a gas stove. Rubberized cement chinking material offers snugness, even in cold weather.

For decorating, Stech stayed rustic. Visitors are greeted in the living room by a mounted bison head – one that was raised on the property during a rather short-lived experiment, Stech says. There’s also a mounted deer head and several pelts of animals found on the property used as décor.

In the bathroom, along with a modern tiled shower, there’s a galvanized tub with claw feet and a wooden ledge seat and a sink dropped into an antique oak cabinet with a pine top.

The cooking-ready kitchenette, with a country-style chicken motif, features a slate countertop that Stech installed herself. Beadboard-style distressed cabinets made from alder wood were constructed and installed by a nearby Amish couple.

The look is completed with quilts – one in the main bedroom features, appropriately, a log-cabin pattern in maroon, forest green and cream. Adirondack-style chairs and sofa do service in the living room.

“We haven’t mixed cabin with contemporary,” Stech says, noting there are no televisions, no Internet and no phone in the cabin.

“I tell people that right off,” she says, adding that the lack of such modern conveniences hasn’t hindered attracting lodgers.

Guests often are content to sit on the front porch in rocking chairs gazing at the pond and trying to spot wildlife, Stech says. She and her husband, Joseph Stech, have seen foxes, raccoons, opossums, deer, wild swans, several kinds of ducks, Canada geese, blue and green herons and the occasional migrating loon.

“One person in my guest book said she also liked the fact that there were no clocks,” Stech says.

“But you could always look at the clock on the microwave I guess,” she adds, laughing. “There is a microwave.”

rsalter@jg.net

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