Brinegar Cabin in Autumn

Brinegar Cabin suggests to me that sustainable living is not a new concept. What’s new is that now we have a choice.  Not that long ago it was the way almost everybody lived.  Today we have the Tiny House movement, which seems to be recycling those ideas, but with a modern touch.  It’s all about living small, and I mean really small by most “normal” definitions. Down to 200 square feet for two people in many cases.  More importantly, it’s about living lean.

One of the popular themes is living green, keeping a small carbon footprint. My own take is that while being efficient in term of using energy and materials is always a good thing, it only partly explains the phenomena. A big part of the appeal comes from getting rid of all the junk the clutters our lives. It’s about getting down to what’s important for life and happiness, and leaving the rat race that requires always having the latest cell phone, cool sneakers and a wide screen TV. Face it, most people live in a home that’s a museum of their life. Collections of stuff.

That got me thinking about how people lived before the carbon age. And a good example of that lifestyle is Brinegar Cabin. It’s a well preserved National Historic Site located at milepost 238.5 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, not far from the Virginia and North Carolina border.

Martin Brinegar purchased 124 acres for $200 in 1876. Two years later he married Carolyn Joines and they moved onto the property. At first they lived in an existing one room cabin. Over the next 3 years Martin built the home by hand, using stone, wood and clay from the site. They had 3 children, which were all born and raised in that small cabin. Martin and Carolyn lived there for 50 years. It’s interesting to consider that they had everything they needed.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that living in the late 1800s would have been some kind of Eden. There were no antibiotics, you could get a cut and die of infection. Traveling more than a few miles would have been a major undertaking. And it would have been hard work. Cutting firewood, preserving food to get through the winter, even getting clean water all required a lot of time and labor.

Brinegar Cabin in Autumn

I’m glad someone made the decision to preserve this site. It’s given us a glimpse of what life was like before the age of oil and pollution. Plus, it’s a great site for photography, easily accessible. The parking lot is just a few feet out of frame to the left. There are great views of the southern Appalachian mountains, and it’s free. Can’t beat that.

So sustainable living and tiny houses existed before McMansions. Maybe the pendulum is starting to swing back the other way. Living lean might be a good thing. Especially with the advantages of hi-tech insulation and materials, modern medicine and communications, not to mention medicine.


Quote of the Day
“Ours is a culture based on excess, on overproduction; the result is a steady loss of sharpness in our sensory experience. All the conditions of modern life – its material plenitude, its sheer crowdedness – conjoin to dull our sensory faculties.”
Susan Sontag


Blue Ridge National Heritage Area