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Stump Sweet Stump

Posted by Johnine Larsen on March 30, 2017
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We grow ’em big out here—trees, that is. We’ve all seen the Pacific Northwest’s giant evergreens while out hiking, and most of those giant trees are second- or third-growth! The really massive old-growth Douglas firs and western redcedars were felled long ago by pioneer loggers. And like the Giving Tree, some of those massive trees experienced a second life as stump houses.

Those old-growth trees expanded so much near the base that they wouldn’t produce straight lumber, so early loggers cut them 10 feet off the ground. That left landscapes dotted with towering, useless stumps, until some enterprising settlers decided to hollow them out, put roofs overhead, and move in.

These homes weren’t large, but neither were other frontier homes at the time. A stump provided shelter, a space to cook, and a place to sleep. That’s all the homesteaders needed. In their own natural, woody way, stump houses remind me of today’s Tiny Home movement.

The most famous of Washington’s stump houses was the Edgecomb Stump House.

In the late 1800s, a Swedish immigrant named Gustav Lennstrom made his way from Europe to New York to Tacoma to the wilderness of modern-day Arlington. Gustav hollowed out a 22-foot-diameter cedar stump, then added a roof, window, and door. He installed a wood stove and a stovepipe, and then Gustav, his wife, and his three children moved in. Almost a hundred years later, one of Gustav’s grandsons told The Seattle Times:

“When [Gustav] came to this country, he made a beeline for the Pacific Northwest; there were people from Sweden that he knew. My grandfather bought this acreage at Edgecomb, a stump farm. It had been logged off but the stumps still stood. It was not land that you could cultivate. About all you could do was raise dairy cattle. And that’s what he made a living at.”

Across the PNW wilderness, similar people made homes in former trees. Other stumps were hollowed out less meticulously to become storage sheds, chicken houses, or pens for pigs and calves. Still others were leveled off to make platforms for “stump dances.” Settlers would spin and twirl on top of a 10-foot-high stump to the tune of fiddles, clapping, and frontier singing. In 1892, the Olympic Peninsula’s first U.S. Post Office, located ten miles southwest of Port Angeles, opened inside large, roofed stump.

Homes have come a long way since Washington’s early years!