Voluntourism: Saving 1911 Brolliar Park Cabin in the Coconino NF

Dream of building a log cabin? Voluntourism might be the answer

Log cabin on Brolliar Park meadow framed by pine trees

Have you ever wanted to build a log cabin? HistoriCorps volunteers are living that log cabin dream at Brolliar Park Cabin in the Coconino National Forest. Voluntourism, which is a term for using vacation days to volunteer in faraway places, is helping people live their dreams while giving back to meaningful causes. In this case, volunteers are helping preserve an historic log cabin on the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona.

Here’s how it works…

Volunteers in construction helmets work on small Brolliar log cabin

HistoriCorps provides opportunities for voluntourism

HistoriCorps, a non-profit organization, provides volunteers like you opportunities to save and sustain historic places on public lands. Historical sites like Brolliar Park Cabin where volunteers of all skill levels – you don’t need to know a thing about log cabin building – are helping save pioneer log homes and other historic structures.

HistoriCorps field staff work with you to learn preservation skills and put those skills to work saving historical places such as Brolliar Cabin that have fallen into disrepair. I decided to visit the Brolliar Park Cabin project site to learn more about this unique way to see off-the-beaten-path places and travel inexpensively.

You see, I  recently learned that HistoriCorps provides all meals, tools, training, and equipment for volunteers who afterward, return home with a real sense of accomplishment.

Log Cabin Building the Old-Fashioned Way

HistoriCorp volunteers line up log to be rolled to the roof as a roof beam
Learn preservation skills and put those skills to work saving historical places such as Brolliar Cabin.

The crew is hoping to start the roof the day that I arrive, but they are still putting up part of the gable and placing round-log roof beams. They move the hand-scribed logs the old-fashioned way – with rope hoists and wooden handle timber carriers, which make moving heavy logs a manageable, two-person job.

wooden handle timber carrier with black metal hooks
Wooden handle timber carrier
The iron clasp of the wooden handle timber carrier opens around the trunk and tightens by gravity and a bolt when you lift the log. Purchase your own wooden handle timber carrier here:  https://amzn.to/2IUvrcI

What I learned at Brolliar Park Cabin …

Tall stands of mature Ponderosa pine trees line the grassy meadow called Brolliar Park. Under their shade on the dry forest floor, large stumps stand as evidence of logging days of the late 1800s. The Brolliar Park Cabin was built after the early logging era, although the historic cabin has sat in this serene setting for more than 100 years.

Brolliar Park Cabin BEFORE preservation
Brolliar Park Cabin BEFORE in 2018 photo. Courtesy of THE BROLLIAR PARK CABIN PRESERVATION PROJECT: CNF Report 2019-11A

HistoriCorps Brolliar Park Cabin Project

The west gable of the Brolliar Park Cabin was removed because the old logs were deteriorating from the southwestern exposure to the scorching Arizona sun. The historic log cabin seemed to be “melting away,” as can be seen in the photo above. The gable was reconstructed from Ponderosa pine logs harvested within 200 yards of the cabin and also from pieces of the original purlins that were no longer viable but had portions that could be reused in the shorter gable sections.

“My pry bar just ran out of juice,” announces Patrick Kennedy, Building Supervisor of the HistoriCorps project. He’s near the top of the roofless cabin trying to pry a log beam into its resting place, a notch cut on the top of the gable log. Workers on the inside of the log house hoist ropes that roll the round beam upwards. 

Kennedy oversees volunteers that staff HistoriCorps, the nonprofit that provides volunteers hands-on experience preserving historic structures on public lands. I’m impressed by how well the team communicates to each other over the noise of the wind at the historic log house. For work safety reasons, they announce a toss of a rope or the start of a log lift.

Today’s Brolliar Cabin volunteer crew came together from Minneapolis, Minnesota; Jacksonville, Florida; Salina, Utah; and Flagstaff, Mesa and Prescott, Arizona, to help preserve the historic log cabin. Volunteers come in for a week at a time, and after their week is done, a fresh crew arrives. I’ve caught these folk on the fourth week of a four-week project, and they only have two more days to finish up and get the roof on.

Voluntourism after Retirement

“Volunteering after you retire – that’s what it’s all about,” says voluntourism champion Jane Jackson of Flagstaff. Three summers ago, the boomer volunteered at her first HistoriCorps project. That was at Palace Station stage stop on the Senator Highway near Prescott, AZ. She’s been back with HistoriCorps every summer since.

Historic Log Cabin photos to PIN on Pinterest

David Brolliar Used Non-Traditional Log Construction

The first thing that you may note about the Brolliar Park Cabin is its non-traditional construction. Most traditional log home construction alternates butts (the widest part of the log) and heads or tips (the narrowest part of the trunk) along each wall. In this log cabin building method, the direction of each log is rotated, as logs are layered to keep the wall roughly level. That log cabin building method is shown below in a replica of a cabin at Valley Forge National Historic Park in Pennsylvania.

replica of log cabin showing logs alternated with lareg end, then narrow end of logs
TRADITIONAL log construction with direction of log ends rotated to keep the wall level. Photo by Rdsmith4 - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5 via WikiMedia. Valley Forge, PA, cabin.

If you look closely at the photo of the Brolliar Park Cabin below, you can see that homesteader David Brolliar did not alternate the butts and heads of the logs as he layered up his log home. Instead, on each wall of logs, he laid butts in the same direction. To compensate for the uneven heights, he then set logs from the adjoining wall in the opposite direction. At the corner, the end of the wall with the widest part of the logs meets the narrow ends of logs of the adjacent wall.

Logs laid with butts in the same direction

Fat corner, skinny corner

“There’s a fat corner, skinny corner – it works a bit,” says Patrick, who traveled from Monterey, KY, to supervise this project in the Coconino National Forest. He’s been with HistoriCorps since 2012 and working with various log cabin building methods since the 1970s.

Al Osberg is the HistoriCorps crew leader.


Another Example of Brolliar's Non-Traditional Log Cabin Building Method

historic photo of John Hance in front of cabin with loggs laid with butts in same direction.
John Hance in front of log cabin with butts of logs laid in the same direction. By SMU Central University Libraries via Wikimedia.

It seems that other log cabins in the region used this non-traditional log cabin building method as seen in the photo above of the John Hance Cabin located at the top of the Grand Canyon. The Hance Trail at the Grand Canyon is only 126 miles from the Brolliar Park Cabin near Mormon Lake.

Newspaper with quote below
Coconino Sun Newspaper. Friday, November 7, 1919

Interestingly, Brolliar professed to be an associate of John Hance in a news article in the Coconino Sun (Flagstaff) in November 1919 edition.

Dave Brolliar, who had just caught up with his work on his ranch south of Mormon Lake and could thus spare time to come in for supplies, told Alf Dickinson at the Pine hotel on Friday: “Me and old man Hance [John Hance] is responsible for most of the scenery hereabouts. He dug the Grand Canyon, and I wheeled the dirt out on a wheelbarrow and made the San Francisco Peaks. (1)

Pioneer Cattleman

Studio shot of two young men standing in cowboy boots with cowboy hats in hands.
Bert (L) and David (R) Brolliar circa 1890. Photo Credit: Durham 1994

Shortly after the American Civil War, the pioneer cattleman David Brolliar was born in Dubuque, Iowa; it was 1867. (2)

His parents are said to be of Amish heritage, which is confusing when you look at the French spelling of the family surname. Digging deeper into genealogy, I learned that his ancestors did indeed come from France – the Alsace region – about 100 years before David was born. Sadly, the couple who brought their young French family to the New World around 1769 died of Yellow Fever contracted in Jamaica en route. Consequently, at the voyage’s end in Philadelphia, city leaders took in the orphaned children. “It is believed that the children were then bound out to farmers in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.” (3) Lancaster County is, of course, Amish country.

The story gets better…

Right Out of a Zane Grey Novel

Book cover with illustration of two cowboys attempting to rope wild horses

David Brolliar lived in corn country until he was a teenager, and then, after his parents’ deaths, another generation of orphans (David and younger brother, Bert) left for the Arizona Territory to be with their older sister. The siblings lived in Stoneman Lake, south of Flagstaff, and later David became a skilled horseman, catching and training wild horses, and selling horses to the Army and markets back East. His life seems right out of a Zane Gray novel as the horse trader was even charged with possession of a horse “of disputed ownership.” Charges were dropped. (4)

Finally, in his early forties, cowboy Brolliar must have been ready to settle down because in 1910 he applied for a homesteading permit on a tract of land now called Brolliar Park. Brolliar Park is south of and about a 75-minute drive from Flagstaff, AZ. Unless you drive like my husband.

Corral gate frame Brolliar Cabin in distance

Brolliar completed building his log house in 1911. By 1914, he was growing oats, barley and potatoes on 23 acres as prescribed by the homesteading laws. Within three years, 138 head of cattle grazed in the park, and 50 acres were under cultivation with hay added to the mix of crops. After struggles with red tape, the government awarded ownership of the 158.42-acre property to Brollier in 1920. A barn with horse sheds, a chicken house, a box house and corral were reported as part of the property. (5)

The Pioneer Cattleman, a lifelong bachelor, died in 1938. His homestead is now part of the Coconino National Forest. (6)

Meanwhile back at the ranch today…

Old logs taken off the cabin lay in front of cabin
Old logs taken from structure show Brolliar's rough scribe work and saddle notch cuts

'Brolliar was not as picky as we were'

“We scribed the notches off the logs,” Patrick describes the prep work on the new, replacement logs. “Brolliar was not as picky as we were. In preservation work, you differentiate your work from that of the original. That way, people in the future can tell the different building phases.”

“We’re not restoring the cabin to its original construction. What we are doing is preserving it the best we can,” explains the log construction expert. The crew used the same log cabin building method – saddle notch cornering – as David Brolliar did back in 1911.

Brolliar cabin with more roof beams up than last photo

“We’ll add a magic preservative that sort of ages the new wood. It takes the pop off of the new wood. We used it in Kentucky for covered bridges,” Patrick reveals. “I hope to get the roof on tomorrow if it’s not too windy.”

Arrow points to door of cabin in center of south side of Brolliar Cabin
The arrow points to the doorway where joy found the sherd of china.

I sit for a spell at David Brolliar’s horse corral and talk with Joy Smith, the volunteer kitchen helper. “Right in the middle of the doorway, I found a piece of china with a rose on it. They said it was pretty fancy for Brolliar. Why would someone bring china out here?” Joy asks, looking out across the vast meadow surrounded by hundreds of acres of Ponderosa pine trees. Joy gave the historic artifact to Flagstaff Ranger District Archaeologist Jeremy Haines and showed him exactly where she found it.

Why is that important?

Artifacts make up the cultural context of an historic site and tell the story of those who have gone before us. Moving the artifact or relic disrupts the story, and so it is crucial to leave found objects in their place. It would be like removing evidence or clues from a crime scene. Besides that, removing artifacts fifty years old or older from state and federal lands is illegal, so please respect our historic sites.

Brolliar cabin before renovation
BEFORE - Coconino National Forest photo
DURING preservation work UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

Where is Brolliar Park Cabin?

Brolliar Park Cabin, located 75 minutes from Flagstaff, AZ, is south of Mormon Lake in the Coconino National Forest. 

Here’s how to do it yourself…

Here’s how to do a volunteer vacation yourself… OK, so if it’s like the voluntourism stints I’ve done in Tanzania and around Arizona, it’s not really a “vacation” as such. I’ll let the HistoriCorps website explain:

“No prior experience is required. HistoriCorps will provide all meals, tools, training, and equipment for volunteers on this project. Volunteers are responsible for their own transportation to and from the lodging site. If a project requires a commute, we will plan to carpool to and from the job site. … HistoriCorps does not charge for its volunteering projects.”

The next HistoriCorps volunteerism project takes place at the Pinedale Ranger Station in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest later this month. Anyone interested in helping out may register as a volunteer at https://historicorps.org/pinedale-rs-az-2019 for this volunteer vacation experience.

About HistoriCorps: HistoriCorps, founded in 2009, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides volunteers of all skill levels with a hands-on experience preserving historic structures for public benefit across America. Volunteers work with HistoriCorps’ seasoned professionals to learn preservation skills and put those skills into practice to save historic places. HistoriCorps works to ensure America’s cultural and historical resources will be enjoyed by generations to come.

UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Wittig is an Arizona travel writer who encourages all – solo, female or boomer travelers – to live their dreams while exploring the world. Make your next adventure “UNSTOPPABLE” no matter what your budget by exploring more of Stacey’s travel tips.

(1) Coconino Sun (Flagstaff) November 7, 1919 edition, p. 3.

(2) Haines, Jeremy, and Stein, Pat; THE BROLLIAR PARK CABIN PRESERVATION PROJECT: CNF Report 2019-11A, 04/04/2019, p. 3.

(3) www.brolliar.com

(4) Haines and Stein, pp.4-6

(5) Ibid., p.11

(6) Ibid., p.12

This article contains AFFILIATE LINKS which means that when you link to a seller listed on this page and make a purchase, Stacey may receive a small commission. Your price is not affected – you are not charged any more, but the commission does help keep this blog up and running to deliver travel information to you

10 thoughts on “Voluntourism: Saving 1911 Brolliar Park Cabin in the Coconino NF”

  1. The ‘magic aging treatment for the new logs is Valhalla Lifetime Wood treatment. It almost instantly shades the wood to a colour it would attain eventually by exposure to sun and weather. The colour depends on species of wood. Oak goes very dark, pine silver and so on.

    As to the unconventional construction, I’m not such an expert. The method seems to work and as illustrated was in local use. It is unconventional in my experience which has been largely based East of the Mississippi.

    • Thanks so much for detailing that information, PAtrick. I was looking for that stain on Google but didin’t have the Brandname. Did you buy it in Flagstaff?

    • Hi Patrick, Great before and after pics! I have also seen all butt or all crown corners in log barn construction where the ground is sloping and by putting all fat ends together the top log came out relatively level. Interested to know how Maia’s gable end replacement went. Total dismantle or one log at a time?

  2. Thank you, Stacey. We love what we do. Our juice is our volunteers, the heart and soul of HistoriCorps, kept fresh and insatiable by our wonderful Project Supervisors and Crew Leaders, Patrick and Al among our best. Always fun to read about our work, but your article is especially gratifying. Thanks again. Towny Anderson, Executive Director

    • Thanks so much, Towny Anderson!

      Let me know if you’d like any of these photos for your use at HistoriCorps. I can send high resolution photos. Keep up the good work!

  3. Stacey – Thanks for taking the time to do this story and share it with the public. This project was a great success, and only came together through the partnership between the Forest Service and HistoriCorps, and through the many people – local and abroad – who came together to contribute their brains and brawn to save this place. I love your coverage of this story!

    • I’m glad you loved the coverage of this story, Jeremy! It is such a heart-warming story that it was easy to write about!


Leave a Comment

Want to know How to Buy Cheap Flights?

Master UNSTOPPABLE Stacey’s secrets for finding cheap flights, and you’ll be going to more of your dream destinations than you thought possible.

Get instant access to the
How to Buy Cheap Flights report

Like what you see?

Then Join the UNSTOPPABLE Travel Community

Get UNSTOPPABLE Stacey’s tips and inspiration delivered conveniently to your email inbox.
No spam, promise!