ERDC Team Helps Preserve History for Colorado’s Burgess-Capps Cabin

With the help of an interdisciplinary team at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), the U.S. Air Force Academy Cultural Resources Management Office has plans for future rehabilitation and preservation of the historic Burgess-Capps Cabin in Colorado, keeping it standing for years to come.

The team, with members from ERDC’s Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Fort Worth District, provided critical support to the 10th Civil Engineer Squadron at the Academy by assessing the condition of the Burgess-Capps Cabin. The team created a maintenance manual to guide the Academy’s Cultural Resources Management Office in managing, preserving and restoring the cabin in hopes of continuing its use for educational and museum purposes.

“The best part of my career is being able to ensure that historic buildings on military lands will continue to be used by many generations to come,” said Adam Smith, CERL research architect and project manager. “The stewardship of these historic buildings is integral to not only the history of the installation, but the history of the country as a whole.”

Burgess-Capps Cabin. PHOTO BY PATRICK ADELMANN

The Burgess-Capps Cabin is located on the Academy and is one of the few log cabins that remain in central Colorado from the time of European settlement. Its construction began in 1875, and it is made of hewn log walls chinked with mortar. Inside, there’s a loft with an enclosed stairway, a stone fireplace and a chimney.

“The log cabin plays an important role in the history of U.S. development of this portion of the Front Range of Colorado,” said Smith. “It is one of the few buildings that was kept during the construction of [the Academy] during the 1950s, primarily due to the important role the family played in the area.”

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In 1975, the cabin was placed on the National Register of Historic Places under the name “Pioneer Cabin.” Because of this placement, the Academy must follow the precepts of the National Historic Preservation Act for the preservation of the log cabin as a historic resource. It is currently used as a history interpretive site and requires unique repair and maintenance practices.

With the log cabin due for an analysis of structural integrity, the Academy asked ERDC to complete the assessment because of a 35-year history of working with Department of Defense historic buildings. The interdisciplinary team conducted a comprehensive examination of the log cabin, which included photographing its components, creating a 3D digital model encompassing both exterior and interior elements, performing structural and material analyses and outlining repair strategies to preserve its historical integrity.

USACE Fort Worth District, Joseph Murphey took large-format, old-school photographs of the log cabin. These images are designed to last 500 years. PHOTO BY PATRICK ADELMANN

Members of the ERDC-CERL team, comprised of August Fuelberth, Adam Smith, Carey Baxter, Madison Story, Pete Stynoski, and James Wilcoski, along with USACE Fort Worth District’s Joseph Murphey, all played unique roles in the cabin’s assessment.

“This project brought together a group of individuals from a wide range of disciplines, including architecture, archaeology, history, structural engineering and civil engineering, who all worked to provide an in-depth analysis of the building including its history and construction, down to the chemical makeup of its material properties.,” said Fuelberth, CERL architectural intern.

Black and white photo of Colorado’s Burgess-Capps Cabin by Joseph Murphey, USACE, Fort Worth District.

From CERL’s Cultural Resources team, Fuelberth was the primary author on the report. Story, a CERL social scientist, wrote the history behind the Burgess-Capps cabin. Baxter, an archeologist, performed the 3D digital scale of the log cabin. Smith served as project manager and main content editor.

“Being a part of the Burgess-Capps Cabin project at [the Academy] was a tremendously rewarding experience due to the uniqueness of the cabin, its history and its ties to times of early European settlement in this part of Colorado,” said Fuelberth.

From CERL’s materials and structures branch, research engineer Pete Stynoski performed the work and the analysis on the materials used in the log cabin, including concrete, chinking and the type of wood used for the logs. James Wilcoski, structural engineer, performed the structural analysis for the log cabin.

Black and white photo of Colorado’s Burgess-Capps Cabin by Joseph Murphey, USACE, Fort Worth District.

From USACE Fort Worth District, Joseph Murphey took large-format, old-school photographs of the log cabin and mentored Fuelberth in transforming the 3D point cloud that Baxter created from her scans into measured drawings.

“We live in a digital age, but these old school negatives are processed to last for 500 years— long after the digital images are unreadable or lost,” Murphey said. “These documents are a time capsule message to the future that will inform it about our collective past. It’s an honor to work on things that will far outlive you.”

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“My hope is that the cabin will receive proper maintenance and appreciation, and that it will ignite curiosity in those wanting to learn more about the settlement of this area, long before this land was used by the Air Force, and how architecture played a role in establishing a shelter created from materials directly off the site,” Fuelberth said.

The Academy’s Cultural Resources Management Office will use the information from the team’s report to rehabilitate the building to meet historic preservation standards, as well as provide insight for the next century.