The History of 1860

Main HouseThe timber slab hut that is ‘1860 Luxury Accommodation’ started its life in the 1860’s near Emerald Victoria, approximately 60 kilometres from Melbourne. According to Sovereign Hill historian Barry Davis, ‘1860’ was built by a German with good building and possibly cabinet making knowledge. This horizontal timber slab construction has been hand hewn from local Mountain Ash (Eucalypt) trees. The cabin is particularly unusual, not only for its wide timber slabs, but also the way the slabs dovetail at each corner. The cabin would have been built entirely by hand using just a few tools including: a broadaxe, falling and trimming axe, crosscut saw, paling knife, adze, maul & wedges. The original hut would have sat on dry stone footings and had an earth floor made from a mixture of ox blood and mud. The original roof could have been either bark or split timber shingles.

Catapult yourself many years into the future to the mid 1980’s. The couple who owned the cabin needed to demolish it to make way for their new house. Whilst appreciating the old cabin, the owners were acutely aware of its historical interest and the potential difficulties should it be classified by the National Trust.

Whilst reading the newspaper one day, the couple come across an inspiring woman (Bronwyn Raynor) who was running a Pioneer farm that served as a wildlife refuge and a home for homeless young people. They visited Bronwyn and within days were making arrangements to gift the hut and relocate it to Bronwyn’s farm at Taggerty Victoria. With her team of volunteers, Bronwyn soon had the cabin up and running as part of her operation.

In 1994, I was establishing Typo Station, a life skills and vocational training program for at- risk young men based on a remote property in North East Victoria. A number of people mentioned to me that I must link up with Bronwyn Raynor. I visited Bronwyn’s farm and immediately fell in love with her ‘slab hut’. In a throw away line I told Bronwyn that if she ever wanted to sell the hut, to please give me a call. Over the years Bronwyn and I became good mates.

In 2003 I received a call from Bronwyn, saying straight out, “Are you still interested in the Hut, I’m selling up and want it to go to a good home”? My wife Gina and I bought the hut and set a plan in motion to dismantle the cabin piece by piece and rebuild it at our property in Beechworth with a view to turning it into self contained accommodation.

1860 is this cabin, together with rescued materials from a warehouse, an old stables and salvaged trees from local farms. Where possible, ‘1860’ has used recycled and reclaimed materials to minimise the ecological cost to the environment of building our accommodation. We have also attempted to maintain the wonderful character of an original mountain cabin so that we can share with our guests this great experience.

Over four years we went to great lengths to beg, borrow collect, demolish, swap, barter, mill, split, cart and salvage genuine and unique materials for 1860. Obtaining the right materials was almost  as big a project as the building of the cabin. I have lost count of the number of buildings I’ve partly or fully demolished let alone the de-nailing I’ve had to do.

The origins of some of our items are as follows:

  • Slab Hut, two main rooms- farm at Taggerty.
  • Slabs around ensuite and kitchen- Old stables in Markwood
  • Truss timbers and kitchen benches- Old Albury warehouse being demolished
  • Jarrah Floorboards- Old Army training barrack in Wangaratta
  • Baltic pine ceilings- Salvaged from old house in Tungamah
  • Blacksmith Bellows Coffee table- From a farm near Yackandandah
  • Dining room table- Reclaimed Blue gum from old benches in army barracks
  • Red gum posts- Milled from rescued trees in the King Valley
  • Second hand corrugated iron roof- Old stables in Markwood
  • Bark- Old stables in Markwood
  • Fence palings- Salvaged red gum, farm at Baddaginnie.
  • Doors- Salvaged from old house at Tungamah.
  • Mantel piece- Old railway Sleeper
  • Fireplace Plinth- Window sills from old Beechworth Pub.

Our use of traditional materials extends to the use of flattened bark in our gable ends and an original lime mortar recipe to caulk between timber slabs. While these products will require more maintenance than others over time, we believe in honouring the integrity of the building whilst also offering modern conveniences and luxury.

1860 is a living building and those who stay become part of its history.

Matt Pfahlert