With the need to live in the midst of the forests and streams, Richard Aiken purchased the shell of a historical cabin in Missouri’s Ozarks for only $100. But his vision quest and unique process of restoring the centuries-old property would see him turn what was once a barely-standing wreck into something utterly extraordinary.
Meet Richard Aiken
At first glance, one wouldn’t expect Richard Aiken to be anything beyond a suit and tie type of guy. He has academic accolades galore, and an impressive résumé to boot. The man’s a certified psychiatrist, a lifestyle medicine specialist, and chemical engineering research scientist, with degrees from both Princeton University and the University of Utah.
He’s also researched and taught in Zurich, Switzerland and Stockholm, Sweden. Today, he practices psychiatry full time in Springfield, Missouri. He’s a man of many hobbies and one consists of him taking up projects in his garage. But for a while, there was a whole different side to Richard that most people didn’t see.
Outdoors Man In Disguise
Under Richard’s white-collar exterior was an outdoors man who had an overwhelming passion for all things nature-related. Years ago, he lived in Park City, Utah, where he would regularly venture into the mountains to spend an entire week in the midst of the great outdoors.
Today, he describes those times as having been some of his most fulfilling. While his life’s course moved on for a time, the desire to once again live in the heart of the forest pines and rolling streams found him. Instead of dreaming about it like most would, Richard decided to embark on a vision quest and do something completely spontaneous.
Scouring The Ozarks
Packing up a tent and some firewood for a weekend getaway wasn’t enough. Richard wanted his very own cabin. Seeing as he was living near the Ozarks in Missouri, he really wanted a cabin that would capture the magic of the historical cabins that used to fill the mountainous area.
He placed ads in the local papers detailing exactly what he was looking for, but it turned out finding his dream cabin would be harder than he’d thought. The few cabins out there that were in decent condition were very pricey, and Richard was looking for a steal. Just when his dream felt like a lost cause, he got a call.
An Offer That Couldn’t Be Refused
A local Missouri man named Billy Howell responded to one of Richard’s ads and made him an offer he simply couldn’t walk away from. He said he was giving away a free cabin. The only downside was that it wasn’t by any means spanking new — but, in fact, it was built all the way back in 1830!
Billy and his wife had lived in the cabin between the 1950s and 1970s. However, they eventually moved out and hadn’t spent the night there since. A cabin straight from the history books was exactly what Billy was offering. Although the cabin was everything Richard had hoped for, he didn’t feel entirely comfortable with the exchange.
Having a Fair Exchange
While Billy offered the cabin at no charge, understandably, Richard didn’t feel comfortable taking it for free and decided he had to pay him at least something for the cabin, even if it wasn’t a large sum of money. When asked during an interview about the transaction, he said he’d paid $100 or $200, but he couldn’t remember the exact number.
Despite the fact that on the face of it the deal looked like a total steal, the cabin was in very rough condition. Given its age and the last four decades of neglect, the cabin had really taken the brunt of what nature’s elements had to offer. What was ensuring that it wouldn’t just collapse?
A Cabin In Despair
The centuries-old historical cabin hadn’t been lived in for forty years and nature had taken its toll. The ceiling and even some of the walls had completely caved in from years of heavy rain, snowfall, and savage winds. They had also started using the cabin as a trash receptacle.
It was a miracle that the structure was even standing. Billy quite clearly had no use whatsoever for the cabin and took the first chance he had in getting rid of it. Upon seeing the cabin’s state, it became apparent to Richard that he was in for more of a job than he initially imagined.
It Was a Trash Bin
The cabin that had been battered by time was a glorified trash bin. Rebuilding wouldn’t even be a real option for a while. Before Richard could even start in on the actual work, he’d have to clear up decades worth of garbage.
Once he removed the refuse and took it to a nearby dump, the cabin started looking better already, and he finally got a clear look at what he was working with. However, that was only the beginning. Richard observed his surroundings and realized that he’d need to do something drastic if he wanted his nature getaway to be viable.
Relocating the Cabin
Given that the location wasn’t ideal, Richard saw it fit to relocate the whole cabin completely and place it somewhere that could afford him some real privacy. With that, Richard and his wife began scouting out a decent expanse of private land upon which to rebuild their historical cabin.
No way were they going to put their dream cabin in a public space: Richard wanted to feel like he was truly outside of civilization and into the wild. While combing through the rolling green hills of the Ozarks, they suddenly came upon something so incredible that it immediately brought Richard’s wife to tears.
The tears tumbling down Richard’s wife Mary’s cheek weren’t tears of sadness, but of pure joy. The land they had stumbled upon was absolutely stunning. Not only was the area consumed by lush greenery, but there was also a lake nearby, which Richard would later aptly name the Lake of Joyful Tears.
For most people, their chief concern would be the expected hassle that comes with relocating a whole structure. One could imagine lifting the entire cabin and sticking it into the back of a massive truck. Instead, Richard found the task to be far different than what he had thought it would be.
The Cabin’s Big Move
For almost two centuries, the cabin had been located on the same grounds, but Richard was about to grant it a whole new beginning. Surprisingly, the relocation process was pretty easy. They just labeled all the logs with where they belonged, and though it had managed to stand on its own for centuries, they disassembled the whole structure.
Every piece of wood had to be marked with detailed instructions, as it was originally built in such a complex way. The new yet aged cabin would be the perfect getaway for Richard and Mary, but there would be one aspect of the cabin that would leave many people turning the other way.
It Has To Be Historically Accurate
While most would want their cabin to be modern enough to at least have power and a functioning bathroom, Richard wasn’t having it. He stressed that he would keep the cabin as historically accurate as possible. That meant that there would be neither plumbing nor electricity.
As Richard explained it, not installing appliances saved him a lot of money, and the cabin wouldn’t be a place for someone who didn’t feel like roughing it out in rural Missouri. And yet even though the cabin’s wood was rotten and it’d ultimately be easier to just create a brand new cabin, Richard had a clear vision as to what to do with it.
According to Richard, having no plumbing or electricity still wasn’t enough for the cabin to be as historically accurate as possible. He demanded that the original wood be used wherever possible. What’s more, he even managed to incorporate some of the original nuts and bolts that dated back to the 19th century.
While Richard knew a thing or two about deconstructing and rebuilding a structure, he couldn’t build the cabin alone. Richard needed to gather some workers, but not just any kind: they had to be able to work as had been done 200 years ago. To get that old world touch, Richard turned to a group of people who are still living centuries in the past.
The land that Richard ultimately chose for his cabin isn’t located too far away from an Amish community. The Amish sect that he called upon for help originally hailed from Switzerland and were extremely conservative. Richard appeared to be entering a time capsule as he entered their land of horses and buggies.
Richard was able to communicate with them to a certain extent. Though their first language was Swiss German, some of them were hip to English. While the Amish could build a historical cabin from scratch with ease, there was one demand that Richard made that would prove to be a challenge — even for them.
Respect The Land
Being a vegan and bearing a deep respect for all living things, especially trees, Richard made one request that would have the Amish carpenters scratching their heads. He did not want them to cut down any trees whatsoever for the project. Everything would need to be recycled.
Needless to say, the Amish weren’t ones for buying lumber at Home Depot. Their wood usually came directly from the trees. Though initially they’d agreed to his demand, one day Richard walked onto the work site and found the Amish workers cutting down a tree. In disbelief, he dropped what he was doing.
Richard sprang into action. He raced toward the Amish workers, demanding that they stop chopping down the tree in defiance of his orders. Yet even as the men stopped sawing, one explained to him that they needed to sacrifice this one tree. They claimed it wouldn’t be going to waste: the tree would be the centerpiece of the entire cabin.
The workers tried to soothe Richard by saying he’d be able to see the log from anywhere within the cabin, and that way, he’d always be able to appreciate it. But Richard’s reaction would manage to even catch his own wife off guard.
The Sheer Irony
Despite his deep-seated stance towards protecting all living things, the Amish managed to convince Richard and change his mind about the fact that they hadn’t listened to him. Richard went from being angry to actually liking the idea of having the tree as a centerpiece. Yet although they managed to bridge that complication, the hardships were far from over.
While trying to complete his vision of a historical cabin, he’d spent up to $400 with every trip to the hardware store. Often, he’d needed to make rare purchases, like square nails and very specific hinges that would fit the 19th century aesthetic. Ultimately, his vision quest for the perfect period piece would land Richard with some serious regrets.
Roof Shakes and a Basement
While putting together his dream cabin, Richard made two critical mistakes. A big part of 1800s construction is roofing shakes. While Richard loved the way they looked, in hindsight he came to realize that they weren’t the best financial decision. While beautiful, roof shakes are extremely high-maintenance and are generally in need of replacing within a few years.
He also regretted putting in a basement. The bedrock surrounding the cabin was rough and full of uneven surfaces, and constructing a basement there turned out to be more work than it was worth. Yet bare bones as it was, this old-style cabin without plumbing or electricity still contained one appalling secret.
Cheaper On Paper
The cabin that Richard began calling his “Cathedral” ended up costing him about $40,000. Upfront, that’s more expensive than a modern-day cabin or outdoor shed. However, Richard could have done a lot of things that would have saved him money.
For instance, he could have just gone to a raw mill to get wood cut, but he chose to construct his own joinery. While initially expensive, he went on to state that he actually ended up saving money due to the lack of plumbing and electricity. After some time, the cabin was complete — and it was time to add some truly novel touches.
A Space For More Than R&R
Richard has always been a huge fan of the opera, so of course he couldn’t resist bringing a touch of the opera to his cabin. For instance, the cabin’s patio is no normal patio. It also acts as a stage, and Richard is planning to throw a number of small concerts and events on it.
Once his team of Amish workers hit the road and left the finished product to Richard’s own devices, he had to do a lot of run-of-the-mill maintenance inside the cabin. Though the outside is instantly striking, what’s inside is a total surprise to the senses.
A Gloriously Cozy Interior
The historical cabin’s inside brims with all the coziness of the old world. Out of everything in the cabin, Richard was most proud of his Rumford fireplace, which took him almost six months to design. It’s a total homage to his interest in Count Rumford, an Anglo-American physicist best known for his investigations of the laws of temperature.
Also, Richard had ensured that every geometric angle was precise. The cabin was furnished with a handmade wooden table. Before the space could be lived in, however, there was one last thing that he had to do: to give the cabin a new name. His choice closed a circle dating back two centuries.
Honoring The Past
Richard decided to name his creation the Hudson Cabin. In land deeds dating back to the early 19th century, the original owner’s last name was Hudson. While he’s been long lost to the annals of history, Richard wants the man’s legacy to live on. But the second reason for the name is something that is much more personal.
Coincidentally, Richard and his wife spent their honeymoon in a cabin called Hudson For Two! Now, he has his old Hudson cabin to remind him of his marriage and all the wonderful things that have stemmed from it. But if Richard and Mary ever feel the need to step into the present era or have guests over who prefer electricity, they have an idea.
While living like it’s 1830 is all fun and games for a few days, sometimes we need to connect back with the world. Luckily for Richard, only a ridge away from Hudson Cabin is his ranch house. While it isn’t as uniquely cozy as his home in Springfield, it has all the running water, flushing toilets, and electrical sockets that one could ask for.
While Richard prefers being in the wild, the ranch house is perfect for when he wants to bring groups of friends over. But something shifted in Richard’s life through the process of creating the cabin. In fact, it changed something fundamental about himself.
A New Point of View
In the beginning, despite his vision, Richard actually wasn’t too jazzed about building the cabin. He’d often step into the office after a weekend of work and do nothing but complain about the process! This all changed when one of his coworkers asked him why he was building it. He replied to her by saying, “To get it done.”
She then told him that there was no point in building the cabin if it made him unhappy. Digesting her words, Richard took a long look at himself. He decided that he would make an effort to enjoy creating the cabin. Today, now that he’s finally finished the Hudson Cabin, many might be wondering: how often he actually stays there?
If you think that the entire family is at the historical cabin every weekend, you’d be wrong. Richard’s wife Mary admittedly isn’t the biggest fan of the Hudson Cabin, nor their ranch house. She prefers life with the comforts of her Springfield home. As you can imagine, this alone keeps Richard from moving his whole life into the cabin.
However, this doesn’t stop Richard from taking that 45-minute drive to the cabin at least once a week. Usually, he’ll go over there and make sure everything is clean, tidy, and in perfect working order. However, he rarely undertakes that journey alone. He has some unique companions.
It seems the Hudson Cabin is constantly filled with activity. Richard is currently working on a few home renovation projects. When he does head out to the historical cabin for some hard work, he doesn’t forget to pick up the Amish friends who had helped him in the first place. The part of the cabin requiring the most attention is the wood keeping it together.
Richard is constantly working to preserve the cabin’s wood using natural oils. While it takes a lot of work, it’s worth it for Richard. He says that being right there with the chirping birds and howling winds of the wild isn’t just good for his psychological health, but also for his entire spiritual well-being.
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