|Houses Chapter 1|
|Written by Administrator|
|Wednesday, 30 May 2007|
“The rude simple character of log houses is symbolic of the pioneer’s primitive mode of life.”
- Charles Morse Stotz, Architectural Heritage of Early Western Pennsylvania
Significant Houses Part 1: The Frontier Era
Although the Swedes were the first settlers to build log structures in America, the major tradition of log building originated in the late 1600s and early 1700s with German-speaking settlers in the Delaware valley. From Pennsylvania and Virginia the tradition of log building began spreading southwest and west with migrating Germans and Scots-Irish in the 1730s, reaching its height during the period of frontier expansion from the mid-18th to the mid-19th centuries.
By the 1780s, Pittsburgh had become a bustling pioneer village with emerging businesses scattered among some 60 wooden houses and cabins. Settlements sprang up nearby to become small villages in themselves, but the region to the east remained sparsely populated, still heavily wooded; its virgin forests remaining largely intact.
The first families to settle in the region east of Pittsburgh were from a wave of Scots-Irish immigrants encouraged by the Pennsylvania authorities to move west, settle the frontier, and farm the land. By the first half of the 1800s, the area now known as Monroeville was a small village nestled among widely-scattered farms. By 1810 the village could boast of two blacksmiths, two stores, and an inn, among the scattered log houses.
When first arriving the settlers would have to rely on temporary housing that could be rapidly built like lean-tos and tents, to shelter themselves from the elements while they were building their log cabins. Suitable trees would be selected, cut to length, and the untrimmed logs were notched and stacked so that each successive log fitted into the groove of the log below. The cracks or chinks between the logs were filled with mud or straw and clay. Next, a bark roof might be constructed with strips of bark being laid in overlapping tiers. Sometimes a kind of shingle was used. Split from trees, and left undressed these shakes were then laid in a similar overlapping pattern.
At one end of the one story, one-room structure, a space was cut out for a fireplace, filled by a stone wall laid in clay or mortar. The chimney was build with sticks of timber, gradually tapering towards the top; the inside being plastered with clay, or mud and straw. Chimney fires were a constant hazard, and a pail of water was always kept near at hand for emergences.
Dirt floors were common, or floors might be made of split slabs, hewn on one side. A doorway was cut through one side of the house; a window hole was cut low in the wall to accommodate a sash of four or six panes of glass. When glass was not available, the window hole might be covered with greased paper.
In a log cabin, one room served as kitchen, dining room, bedroom and parlor, sometimes with a ladder to a partial loft -- a bedroom for the children. Families were large, with six to ten children often crowded with their parents into that single room. With time, an adjoining room might be added on to one side of the structure.Log Houses were larger and more comfortable than the one-room log cabins, often with a second story to serve as a bedroom. By the mid-18th century, round log construction was giving way to square-hewn logs. This reduced the size of the opening between logs that needed chunking, thus helping to keep out rain and cold. In time, some log houses were sheathed with weatherboarding to further insulate them