Autumn long has been recognized as the best time to visit Brown County.
Trees that line the winding roads to Nashville glimmer in shades of crimson and gold as sunshine streams through the branches of maples and elms. Dried leaves flutter across the road as the wind picks up, and customers keep an eye out for roadside bargains.
But beyond what lies on the main road to Nashville is a lesser known feature of Brown County — one that Dennis Parman knows well.
Brown County is home to more than 1,800 authentic log cabins, and Parman has restored many of them.
He has been in the construction business since 1977. What began with installing vinyl siding for his father-in-law’s construction business eventually led to the full-time commitment of restoring log cabins. His business, Peaceful Valley Construction, was founded in 2005.
Parman and his wife, Betsy, first bought a log cabin in 1996 to restore. In 2002, he purchased a log cabin, disassembled it and moved it to Brown County, where he reassembled and restored it.
Parman has a passion for history, particularly that of the 1700s and early 1800s. He recalled how, as a boy, he wanted to live in a log cabin. Growing up, he was determined to learn as much as he could about the colonial and pioneer eras. As an adult, his interest shifted to that of construction. How did they build the cabins so stout so as to sustain hundreds of years of nature’s wrath? How can that craftsmanship be replicated today so as to maintain the charm of the cabin?
He did his homework. From installing vinyl siding, he began building pole barns and framing houses. In the 1980s, he restored homes in downtown Indianapolis, but along the way, he was learning. Sometimes he would work on projects after hours to hone his craft.
Part of the appeal for restoring cabins is the respect that comes for the craftsmen who originally built the cabin, Parman said. He focuses on restoring old cabins, not ones built primarily from kits. Today, many cabins are torn down or burned, rather than investing the time and money to restore them.
“I hate to see any of the cabins destroyed,” he said.
It is the character of the older cabin that makes it more attractive than a new one, Parman said.
“You cannot duplicate the look and feel of an antique, hand-hewn cabin,” he said. “There’s just nothing like a cold winter’s night and watching the snow come down from a log cabin.”
Parman and his wife live in a cabin he rebuilt on his property. Planning what goes into the place is primarily his wife’s job, he said, although his initial designs reflect where the grander pieces of furniture eventually will stand when he completes the construction process. He shops for pieces at auctions and antique shops that will make a perfect fit in his renovations. Many of the finishing touches in his restored cabins are handmade, such as the solid doors that welcome the family home.
Parman’s crew is only four strong, including himself. The others are family members or longtime friends. His confidence in his crew is strong, which he said eliminates lots of headaches that one might have with a staff that has little experience.
Over the years, they have learned how to fashion logs to match the existing pieces when there is not enough of the original material to go around. Original windows are replicated with double-pane glass to help with the high costs of heating and cooling.
Sometimes something as simple as the antique hardware on a solid door can make a big difference in the overall look of the cabin, he said.
It is the love of the job that keeps Parman looking for that next project.
“I love what I do,” he said. “The easiest part of the job is working for a good customer and getting to know that person and them getting to know me.”
Deciding to restore a log cabin or have one built is a tough decision for some, Parman said. His advice for those who are contemplating a log cabin build is to not be afraid of the journey.
“Make sure it is sound, first,” he said. “Most importantly is to have confidence in your builder and have everything checked out first. That is what makes the difference.”
Carol Edwards is retired after a 30-year career teaching elementary school students at Greenwood schools. Send column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.