Preserving peninsula history: Volunteers for cabin restoration sought

Posted: Monday, December 28, 2009

Unlike time which can't be slowed or stopped, history can be prevented from slipping away, but only if it is preserved. And, in order to save an iconic structure from a by-gone era of Kasilof, volunteers are desperately needed.

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Photos By Joseph Robertia
Photos By Joseph Robertia
The Watchmen's Cabin at its new location at the McLane Center Museum.

"We need more workers," said Gary Titus, historian for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, who on his days off oversees the cabin restoration work being done on the historic Watchmen's Cabin.

In October of this year, the cabin -- built between 1882 and the late 1890s -- was moved from near the mouth of the Kasilof River's northern side to the Kasilof Regional Historical Society's McLane Center Museum on Kalifornsky Beach Road in Kasilof, where roughly six other historic structures -- in addition to numerous outbuildings and caches -- already reside for preservation purposes.

Currently, in addition to Titus, regular volunteers on the restoration crew are Bud Crawford, Mike Wiley, Bill Nelson, Rob Levenhagen, Dawn Fry, Tom Daulton and Lucretia Fairchild. And while they all work hard, Titus said it could last a long time.

"This project could go for three or four years," he said. "So with 50,000 people living on the peninsula, including all the retirees, it would be great to have a few more folks."

Titus said people of all levels of building ability are needed, and all necessary tools are provided.

"We could use some carpenters and skilled people like that," he said, "but we could also use people who don't have any experience with tools and just want to learn. We'll take anyone, even if they can only come for an hour a week."

Typically, volunteers work every Wednesday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., November through March. They never work when the mercury is below zero, though.

The volunteers already on the project represent a wide variety or experience and interest levels.

"An opportunity to learn this for free, it doesn't come up very often," said Rob Levenhagen of Kasilof.

He and his partner, Dawn Fry, have also stayed in similar cabins around the state to watch over canneries in the winter months. As such, Fry said she had a special interest in helping preserve on of these structures.

"We're sentimental about it," she said. "Winters in these are interesting, and I bet it especially was in this one, 100 years ago."

Mike Wiley of Clam Gulch has been a part of the restoration efforts on all the cabins at the McLane Center, but said he also felt a close tie to the cabin. Having taught at nearby Tustumena Elementary School in the late 60s and early 70s, he said he remembered occasionally dropping off children who lived in the by-then rundown cabin.

"I remember feeling bad they lived in such a dumpy place," he said. "I never imagined I'd be working on it one day."

Bill Nelson of Kenai also worked with Titus on the restoration of the historic Andrew Berg cabin. He liked it so much, he came back for more.

"I enjoyed it," he said. "Its a slow process, and it can be stressful at times because you don't want to make any mistakes since we're trying to replicate it to as near as natural as it was."

Still, Nelson said the overall experience is a positive one.

"At the end of the day, you wish you could keep on going."

Anyone who wishes to volunteer should show up with warm work clothes and a sack lunch. To learn more about the project, or to check with Titus to see if the weather is warm enough to work in, volunteers can call him at 260-5410 either the night before a workday, or early that morning.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at

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