The oldest standing log cabin in Northwest Missouri is the Harris Family Log Cabin, reconstructed for display at the Jamesport City Park. The 18×18 cabin was built between 1830-36 about four miles east of Jamesport. Present-day family members only speculate about the furnishings for the family which included 10 children.
The Harris family traces their ancestry back to Sir William Harris, born in Cressex, England, in 1583. He and his wife, Alice, and son sailed for America on the ship “Prosperous.” By 1620, the son, Captain Tom, married, and settled on the James River in Virginia to raise his family of 17 children.
A grandson of Tom Harris named Richmond drifted to North Carolina and enlisted in the Revolutionary Army. After the war, he moved to Kentucky, married, and had six children, one of whom was Jesse Harris. This was the same Jesse Harris who came to Missouri in 1830 to homestead land in what is now Grundy County.
Jesse had left his wife, Polly, and their 10 children back in Kentucky when he started building his first cabin. But the presence of so many Indians in the area made him concerned for safety, so he left the half-finished cabin in 1832 and returned to Kentucky.
Before long, however, Jesse learned that the Indians had moved to Kansas territory, so he and two friends organized a wagon train of 30 or 40 units to bring several families to the area. Among them were the Arbuckles, Darnabys, Wares, Dockerys and Embreys.
Jesse completed the cabin in 1836 before the winter set in. One Harris child died on the long journey to their new home, but the parents had a new son the following year — the first white baby born in Jefferson Township.
The reconstruction of the cabin was a family project. Ray Harris of Seattle, Wash., and his cousin, Herbert Harris, did much of the work. Both men, in their 70s at the time, had fathers who were great-grandsons of Jesse and Polly Harris who built the cabin.
Each log was carefully numbered at the original site back in a pasture. Most of the labor was done with hand tools in the old-fashioned way. During the reconstruction, logs were fitted together, fastened with wooden pegs and square nails. Also helping in the project were Amish workmen.
The front door and latch are believed to be the oldest available in the county. Antique glass was installed in the windows. A sleeping loft was reconstructed. Rough sawed lumber was used to rebuild the floor that rotted away after the cabin was used in recent years to shelter cattle and sheep.
Johnny Kurtz constructed the native stone fireplace which covers most of the south wall of the cabin. It took two weeks to construct, using 27 tons of rock. It is a replica of the original fireplace which was torn down before 1900.
Cement was used as a filler between the rocks and in the log walls for durability, though the original material was mud. In the late 1800s, the log walls had been covered over with weather-boarding, helping to preserve them. Also several additions had been built on at various times.
The rock foundation, the old cellar and a pear tree planted by Polly Harris from a seed she brought from Kentucky still remain at the original site on the Levi Beechy farm.
The log cabin has numerous distinctions: site where the first yarn and thread was spun in the township (by Polly from wool, flax, and hemp); site of the first school, in a shed addition with 15 students; site of the first church services, by Baptist minister Rev. Elijah Murrell, and later the first marriage, Elizabeth Harris to Rev. Ben Ashley; site of first birth of a white child, James Porter Harris, the father of Dr. George Dowe Harris, early day Jamesport physician (the last Harris to live in the cabin).
— reprinted from “Treasure the Times,” a tourism publication, Gallatin Publishing Co., 1988