Switzer Shares a Piece of History with Visitors
Almost everyone has some kind of dream, but not everyone is lucky enough to have it come true. Linda Switzer of Portsmouth, Ohio, is one of the lucky ones. Since 1996, she has lived her dream in a rustic cabin on Front Street across from the floodwall murals.
“We had lived in a log cabin in Hocking County in the ‘70s and I loved log cabin living,” Switzer said.
Her dream of living in a log cabin didn’t come without a nightmare experience first. Five years before purchasing the cabin, Switzer was in a serious car accident near Buckeye Lake in central Ohio. The accident left her with a broken femur. Despite several major surgeries, she was bedridden for a year-and-a-half. She later progressed to a wheelchair where she remained for four-and-a-half years. Her prognosis to walk again looked bleak until a doctor in Cincinnati told her he would be able to get her walking after just one more surgery.
“I thought I would be walking within two weeks after that surgery, but it still took a year-and-a-half,” Switzer said.
A Portsmouth native, Switzer returned to her hometown for rehab because Shawnee State University was the only place with the equipment to lift her from her wheelchair and into the swimming pool for therapy. To help with her rehabilitation, her parents moved back to Portsmouth from Houston. Eventually, she was able to walk three hours in the morning and evenings on crutches and swim two hours every day at the university. In the winter, Switzer would walk inside the Ghosts in the Attic antique store on Second Street.
Throughout her surgeries and her rehabilitation, Switzer never forgot her dream of living in a log cabin. One Sunday night, her mother called her to tell her there was a cabin for sale on Front Street. Switzer knew exactly where the cabin was because she had seen it three years before.
“I came down the next morning and a man was putting out the garbage and I asked him if the cabin was for sale and he said, ‘Yes, it is. I’m the owner.’” Without hesitation, Switzer said, “I’ll take it!”
“I didn’t see the inside or anything for two weeks,” she added. “I didn’t even know how much it was.”
Switzer paid $45,000 for the cabin. Within three months, she had three offers to buy her cabin ranging from $65,000 to $125,000, but Switzer refused to sell.
Dating back to the 1790s, the cabin was cute on the outside but far from cute on the inside.
“When I bought the cabin, the walls were navy blue, the ceiling was aqua and the floor had white paint on it,” Switzer explained. “The floor in the kitchen was solid black. I used three cans of Gunk® engine cleaner and a lot of paper towels to clean the floor, which was slate underneath.”
Broken water lines were also an issue. “Anytime I wanted water, I had to turn on the shut-off valve in the kitchen, use the water, and then turn it off. I would go to Shawnee State University and take a shower until I got the water lines fixed,” she said.
Furnished with her own antiques as well as antiques from her parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, Switzer’s cabin consists of four rooms downstairs with a small loft over the kitchen for storage. A larger loft over the living room serves as a bedroom.
Proud of her hard work, Switzer wanted to show off her cabin, but her front gate was nailed shut. Switzer removed the nails and started inviting people inside the gate to see her home.
“The first group I invited in were 60 little kindergarten students who were looking at the murals. I brought them in and let them go up and down the ladders to the lofts. After that, anytime I had the gate open, I would invite people in or they would come in,” she said.
News about the cabin and its friendly owner began to spread. Articles appeared in local and regional newspapers including the Columbus Dispatch and the Lexington Herald Leader.
“People from all over the world come to see our murals, thousands and thousands every year,” Switzer said. “I have a lot of guest books filled with the names of people from everywhere.”
Walt Sanders of Bellevue, Ohio, was one of her visitors. He still keeps in touch with Switzer via Facebook and is very complimentary about the cabin and Switzer herself.
“It’s like stepping back in time. Cozy, comfy, simple,” he said. “What a trusting soul! It’s absolutely wonderful of her to open her home to passersby who are perfect strangers. Once you meet Linda, you are no longer strangers. She is warm and welcoming to all.”
The cabin has even seen some famous visitors during the years, including former President George W. Bush.
“One day I’m sitting outside and I’m painting eggs (see sidebar). I look up and there is a man standing beside me watching me paint and I said, ‘My lands, you look like George Bush!’ He said, ‘You really think so?’ He took his glasses off and I said, ‘You even sound like him!’ I said, ‘You need to be careful, you could get shot.’ And he said, ‘I’ve heard that before,’” Switzer chuckled as she remembered that day. “I didn’t think it was George Bush, I thought it was a look alike.”
She said there were six Army helicopters that went over her house that morning, which was unusual. There also were a lot of people wearing trench coats at her house, but it didn’t dawn on her that the man she thought was a George Bush look alike was actually the President of the United States.
“Somewhere in one of my guest books is his name because I always say sign the guestbook,” she added.
When she isn’t busy greeting important guests like the former President at her cabin, Switzer who is an accomplished artist, paints wooden eggs and creates other unique and primitive crafts. She is a member of First Christian Church in Portsmouth where she serves as a trustee and the president of the Christian Women’s Fellowship. Switzer is also active in the community and serves on the Downtown Revitalization Committee and the Cultural Affairs Committee and is involved in the Land Reutilization Program through the Portsmouth City Health Department.
Wooden You Like An Egg?
Log Cabin Owner Also Noted Egg Painter
If you look carefully through your Christmas or Easter decorations, you might find an exquisitely painted wooden egg with the initials LKS. If so, you have one of the finely crafted pieces made by Linda Switzer.
“I’ve always done artwork. I’ve had craft stores and have had my work in state park gift stores and have shipped items all across the United States,” Switzer said.
Switzer has worked for more than 40 years making and selling crafts including wooden eggs, pressed flower pictures, salt dough crafts and cornhusk dolls. She has even done work for major corporations.
“Anchor® Hocking would give me their glasses and they would have me fill them up with candle wax. I filled their orders for candles,” she said.
Her work was so unique and different she even attracted the attention of a buyer from Hallmark.
“A lady asked me one day what my goal in life was and I told her it was to have my eggs in Hallmark. The woman pulled out her business card and she was a buyer from Hallmark,” Switzer explained. “She said they purchased in lots of 25,000 and she told me she needed three or four lots. I just remember it was a lot.”
Although flattered by the offer Switzer turned it down. She said it would have taken her a lifetime to paint that many eggs and taken away her creativity. Her eggs feature birds, flowers, buildings and even a geometric design that resembles stained glass. Following a serious car crash that left her bedridden (see related story), Switzer began painting children on her eggs.
“I was a school teacher and I really missed my kids, so I started painting them on the eggs. I called them egg folks,” she said.
While recovering, the egg painting kept Switzer’s mind and hands occupied.
“It was easy to do lying down, but after years of painting with my leg up and the egg on my chest, it was hard when I sat up to paint,” Switzer recalled. While lying down, she was able to paint 30 eggs a day. “I was really quick. I can’t do that many now, there’s no way. The egg folks and geometric eggs take longer. The birds, schools and churches also take a while to do.”
Switzer has a process for painting her eggs. Once she has an idea in mind, she starts drawing with a Sharpie® on the small, smooth surface of the egg.
“I fill in my drawing with oil and water based paint pens, then I put five to seven coats of varnish on them,” Switzer explained. “I paint them first and let them set overnight to cure really good. The next day I can start varnishing them. The first coat of varnish has to set for 24 hours also.”
Switzer’s beautiful eggs are very reasonably priced, selling for $3-$10.
“I just want to make the people happy. They can get something nice and they aren’t being taken. I like doing it and it keeps me off the streets,” she said with a chuckle.
Photos Ashley Gallaher Quinn