The Log Cabin
1923 was the year of Presidents Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge. It was also the year that a physician, Dr. Melville Little, decided to build a home for his family in Niles Center. He chose to build a log cabin and hired carpenters from Finland who designed and styled the log cabin after the buildings in their native land.
Niles Center (now called Skokie) was a vast open prairie of tall grasses and few trees in those days, so the logs were harvested and shipped down from Phelps in the north woods of Wisconsin. The logs were white cedar and very long and straight, scarcely tapering – even through the length of the largest room. Thirty-six tons of granite were used in the foundation of the 4,000 square foot building. The huge fireplace that still stands in the Great Room was built with cobblestones recycled from Chicago’s old streets as modern pavements were laid. The fireplace alone cost $5,000. The total cost of the Log Cabin was $45,000 which was a huge sum in 1923 and even for houses built in the decades to follow.
In the two-story living room where the fireplace stands, a large tree stump was left and seats built around it. There was a balcony at the north end of the living room. From this high vantage point musicians would perform for the dances and parties below. This balcony has been used for over 50 years, now as the home base for Boy Scout Troop 72.
In 1927, Dr. Little sold the property to the North Shore Military Academy but only two years later the country was hit by the Great Depression and the school did not survive. The cabin stood empty among the tall prairie grasses but then the homeless, often called tramps and hobos in those days, found the deserted building, took refuge, and set up housekeeping in this sturdy structure.
In late 1930, a new church congregation was formed, the Niles Center Community Church, sponsored by the Methodist Episcopal Church. They rented a storeroom in the Bronx Building on Dempster Street for their worship space. A few months later, the congregation purchased the log cabin on Lucille Court (now called Concord Lane) at a cost of $18,000–quite a bargain compared to what Dr. Little spent to have it built only seven years earlier. The building was still in good shape and did not need many repairs, although the tree stump was cut to the ground and a raised platform was constructed over it.
The Log Cabin served as the sanctuary, parsonage, and Sunday school for the little church for more than three decades. During that time the ministers’ families lived in the three east rooms on the first floor and the upper floor was occupied by students from Northwestern University and Garrett Seminary. The students paid off part of their rent by firing up the furnace and shoveling the snow in the winter months and cutting the grass in the summer. This arrangement continued through many pastorates until 1943 when the pastor volunteered to serve as a chaplain in World War II. The congregation had grown and a separate parsonage was purchased for the pastor’s family.
Over the years, the balcony that overlooks the Great Room has served many purposes. It has served as the choir loft, Sunday school classroom (with more classes being held in the room below), and as seating for the service as membership grew. For the last few decades, the balcony has served as the headquarters for Boy Scout Troop 72 which has been sponsored by Skokie Central UMC for over 50 years.
On February 15, 1953 the last Sunday service was held in the Log Cabin. The congregation had grown along with the Village of Skokie and so the adjoining property was purchased and the church now extended to Kenton Avenue on the west. The sanctuary building was constructed and the first service was held the following Sunday in February of 1953. In 1957 the Education Building was built to house the Sunday School classes and church office. The Log Cabin has remained a vital “heart” of the congregation and is still being used for classes, meetings, youth group activities and for Boy Scout Troop 72 today.