2000 Maltese Cross Cabin Restoration
Theodore Roosevelt National Park

In 1883, Theodore Roosevelt traveled to the Dakota Territory to hunt bison. Before returning home to New York, he became interested in the cattle business and joined two others as partners at the Maltese Cross Ranch. The Maltese Cross Cabin was built during the winter of 1883-1884 in the Little Missouri River Badlands, seven miles south of the newly established small cattle town of Medora. The cabin was built according to Roosevelt's wishes. The cabin had a main floor with three rooms including a bedroom where TR slept, a basement and an attic formed by a high-pitched roof. Shortly after Theodore Roosevelt sold the Maltese Cross Cabin in 1898, the new owner removed the original roof and replaced it with a flat one.

During Roosevelt's presidency, the cabin was exhibited in St. Louis and Portland, Oregon. It was moved to the North Dakota capitol grounds in Bismarck in 1906 where it stayed until it was moved to Medora in 1959. In 1960, the cabin was completely disassembled to treat the existing logs. When it was put back together, carpenters, working with a historic architect and using photographs taken right after it was originally built, constructed the new roof and attic the way it looked like when Theodore Roosevelt lived there in the 1880's.

Since 1960, little had been done to the cabin, and managers at Theodore Roosevelt National Park began looking for financial aid to complete the needed repairs. The park received funding for the cabin's restoration through the "Discover Presidential Log Cabins" Program, sponsored by Aurora Foods Inc., makers of Log Cabin syrup.

Following is the restoration work that was completed as a result of the partnership between Aurora Foods, the National Park Foundation and the National Park Service.

Before anything could be done, officials at Theodore Roosevelt National Park had to write up a plan that described what was going to be done to the cabin and how it was going to be completed. This plan had to be approved by both federal and State of North Dakota historians to insure that the integrity of this historically significant log cabin was not changed in any way.

1. Replace the gable ends to the Maltese Cross Cabin. When the new roof was put on the Maltese Cross Cabin in 1960, it had two steep sides that were covered with shakes and two flat ends called the gable sides or gable ends. Carpenters used wood from old buildings for the gable sides so the appearance of the roof matched the rest of the cabin. These boards shrank and became cracked over the years, which was allowing rain and snow to leak into the cabin, causing damage to this historic structure. To prevent further damage, it was clear that the gable ends needed to be replaced. Just like in 1960 when aged wood was used, workers again searched building supply places for rough, sawed lumber so when the work was completed, the cabin would still look old. All the old wood on the gable ends was removed and replaced with weathered lumber. While the boards were off, bat droppings had to be cleaned from the wood that remained. The new wood was measured and cut using modern equipment such as circular saws. The boards had to be cut to the same width of the lumber that was being removed and installed with special nails called cut-nails that resembled those that were used in the original construction of the cabin. Before the new boards were put up, construction paper was put up to help keep rain, snow and dust from getting into the cabin. Smaller two-inch boards were nailed over the seams between the eight-inch boards. This type of construction is called "board and batten."

2. Chinking and daubing repair. When log cabins are built, a mixture of mud and other materials are used to fill the seams between the logs. This mixture is called mortar, chinking or daubing. The existing masonry mortar filler that was used on the cabin had cracked and fallen out between some logs. For the restoration, some of the remaining mortar was removed by hand using chisel and hammer, and was replaced with local sand, lime and cement that matched the color and hardness of the remaining mortar.

3. Treat exterior wood with preservative treatment. When the cabin's logs were treated with a preservative mixture in 1960, a chemical was used that is now considered harmful to humans and the environment. Wood preservative solutions were researched for a recipe that follows the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation and is environmentally safe. A chemical was found that could be purchased commercially and was considered safe to use. This liquid product is effective against both wood- boring insects and decay fungi. It is also important to note that this type of treatment does not make the wood water repellant because this could cause water to be trapped inside the wood, causing it to rot. All wood surfaces on the outside of the cabin were sprayed twice using a small hand sprayer.

4. Repair threshold to front door. The threshold to the front door was so worn that there was a large gap between the door and the wood threshold, allowing precipitation and debris such as leaves and dust to be blown into the cabin. Small critters could also crawl into the cabin. The threshold was cut out and replaced so that the bottom of the front door fit snugly against the new wood.

5. Replace UV Plexiglas protection. Because the cabin has windows on all four sides, the ultra violet rays of the sun can be very damaging, especially to the historic objects inside the cabin. Special UV Plexiglas had been installed on the inside of all windows 12 years ago but the sun's rays eventually caused these protective barriers to loose their ability to block ultra violet rays. As part of the restoration, all the UV Plexiglas was replaced. Large 4' x 8' sheets of the Plexiglas were cut using a table saw.

6. Replace floor mat in cabin. Over 30,000 people visit the cabin each year. A protective mat had been put on the floor where people walk many years ago, but it had become torn from the excessive use. Rain leaking into the cabin had also caused the mat to rot. This old floor covering was removed and a new floor runner was installed where people walk.

7. Install new interior Plexiglas barriers. In the summer, when the park receives most of its visitations, the public is taken through the cabin on ranger-led tours. However, during the winter when the park staff is reduced, one can go into the cabin on their own. During this time, Plexiglas barriers are put up on the interior of the building. Due to limitations that the Plexiglas imposed, the area available to walk was very small. Also, the old Plexiglas barriers were scratched and hard to see through. When the cabin was made ready for winter this year, new barriers were installed. The area where the public could stand was increased to allow for wheelchair use during the winter. Inset barriers were also built into TR's bedroom and the kitchen to allow for better viewing of these two rooms. Large Plexiglas sheets were framed with wood, which were then connected to together. The public can now walk into the front door of the cabin and see the living room area as well as the kitchen and bedroom through clean Plexiglas.

8. Landscape outside of cabin. A walkway around the cabin was fixed and leveled. Also, dirt was brought in and replaced next to the cabin to repair a drainage problem. Water now drains away from the cabin.