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Halawaka: Where Nature Dictated Design

SOURCE: W.C. Woodall's Industrial Index, June 1930. "Halawaka - Where Nature Dictated a Design," by Joel Hough in American Landscape Architect.

Please Note: This History Spotlight is taken from the original article in the Industrial Index.


Some years ago, a local electric and power company built a dam across the Chattahoochee River at a point known as Bartlett’s Ferry, twenty miles north of Columbus. This caused the water to back up and form a lake sixteen miles long in the beautiful, wooded Chattahoochee Valley. This glistening stretch of water, which is flanked on either side by rolling forest covered hills, is known as Lake Harding. One balmy spring morning, about three years ago (c. 1926), Mr. Tom Huston, of Columbus, was cruising on this lake in a small power boat, when his attention was drawn to a beautiful, wooded island in the distance. It was a long, narrow strip, standing high out of the water and its growth of tall pines, hickories, and oaks made it loom still higher. Mr. Huston noted a profusion of wildflowers and shrubbery such as violets, yellow jasmine, honeysuckle, mountain laurel, and dogwood, in full bloom. So fascinated was he, that he grounded his boat on a bit of beach and went ashore to explore. Clambering up the steep sides of the island, Mr. Huston reached the summit, and was impressed with the peaceful quality, the restful solitude, and splendid isolation of the island. Here was the place for a home, he thought.

Enthusiastic over the idea, Mr. Huston returned to the island the very next day, accompanied by Mr. Fred Woleben, who also is a great lover of outdoor life. Mr. Woleben had not only spent several years in the United States Forestry Service in the northwest, but he had quite a bit of experience in the great forests of Canada, where, incidentally, he had learned the proper method of constructing log houses. Mr. Huston knew this and was anxious to have his friend look over the site with a view toward building a home which should harmonize with its natural surroundings. “I want to build a home on this island,” explained Mr. Huston to Mr. Woleben, “I want it to be comfortable and to have every convenience, but it must harmonize with its surroundings – blend with them. I don’t want the natural beauty of the place altered – the house must appear as if it had been fashioned by nature.”

Mr. Woleben spent some time on the island studying the situation, and several days later, submitted plans to Mr. Huston. With the exception of minor changes, the plans were approved, and the work was begun. As no timber on the island was to be disturbed, the logs of pine and cedar had to be cut on the mainland and rafted over to the island – a long and tedious process. And as the island is high above the level of the water, all material had to be drawn up slopes with a tractor equipped with a skid drum.

The logs had first been thoroughly water-cured; that is, they had been allowed to soak in water for a certain length of time in order that the cambium layer, or inner bark, would adhere to the log cabin when the outer bark was removed. This layer of cambium then gradually turns to a reddish-brown color, and remains so permanently, adding much to the attractiveness of the finished log house. The logs were to be laid so as to be entirely weatherproof. No chinking or caulking was to be resorted to, however. Some more permanent and dependable method must be found. Then Mr. Woleben recalled something that he had learned up in the north woods. There an old Finn had taught him the method used in Finland in building weathertight log dwellings.

It was decided to adopt the method of the old Finn. Each log had to be fitted into its fellow, above and below, with the utmost exactness, so that no crevice whatever would remain between. This part of the work required such a high degree of precision that Mr. Woleben found it necessary to remain on the ground in personal charge of the crew of twelve or fifteen carpenters and helpers. It took them the greater part of a year to complete this phase of the work. In the meantime, furniture was being designed and built to harmonize with the rugged, woodland atmosphere of the lodge. When the roof was laid the furniture was moved in. Some of the bathroom fixtures, hollowed out of cypress logs, were installed as well as the heating, water, and light systems. Then Halawaka was ready for company.

The island is situated opposite the mouth of Halawaka Creek, which flows into Lake Harding. At the boat landing there is a gateway over which the word “Halawaka” is fashioned with arrowheads. Another feature with attests to Mr. Huston’s interest in Creek Indian lore is the relic room, which contains one of the most complete collections of Native American utensils and weapons found in the South. Most of these relics were uncovered by Mr. Huston’s workers along the river and creek banks near the island. A unique stairway, which is formed of large logs with steps cut into them, leads up to this museum.

As to the island itself, the owner has chosen to leave it, as far as possible, in its virgin state. There are numerous varieties of trees, both deciduous and evergreen, on its four acres of woods. These include hickory, oak, maple, dogwood, black gum, sweet gum, weeping willow, four or five varieties of pine, birch, and several others. The only flowers and shrubbery on the island are those native to this place. Among them are mountain laurel, honeysuckle, violets, wistaria, wild azaleas, wild hydrangeas, wild iris, and water lilies. From time to time, other trees, shrubs, and wildflowers indigenous to the South will be added.

(Editor’s Note: Huston's island is also referred to today as Kudzu Island, Chimney Island, and Herrington Island. Tom Huston lost his peanut company during the Great Depression. A few years later (c.1930s - 1940s), he would also lose Halawaka to a fire. Below is a more recent image of the island.) NEXT WEEK: We will showcase another historic landscape that shaped a Columbus neighborhood - Green Island Hills. I hope you will join us!

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Sid Harden
Sid Harden
07 abr 2023

I live on Lake Harding in the Halawaka Creek area and have passed by the island many times and enjoy sharing the story of Tom Huston with guests. I have seen photos of the outside of the cabin in the past, but it was fascinating to see photos of the inside of the cabin and to hear all of the details regarding the construction and its harmony with nature. What a sight that must have been! Thanks for sharing!

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