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The Log Cabin

New world exhibit: Map location 31

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The Log Cabin

How would you house yourself if all you had were the materials to hand? This small, two-room log cabin is typical of those built by early emigrants such as the young Thomas Mellon and his family. Many new arrivals lived in these types of dwellings for years, living frugally and saving carefully until they could build more spacious and permanent homes.

Preparing to build a log cabin took weeks of hard labour. It involved felling trees, clearing away brush and preparing the site, but with the help of neighbours, the cabin itself could be erected in a day.

The Mellon family from County Tyrone arrived in Baltimore, Maryland in 1819, hired a Conestoga wagon and made their way to Greensburg, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

They purchased their first farm in what son Thomas described as ‘a remote and unfrequented part of the country’. This log cabin is similar to the Mellon’s first home in America.

Log cabins are made of logs cut to the correct length, notched to fit together at the corners. The crevices between logs are chinked (filled in) with clay mixed with stones and animal hair. Doors are made from hewn wooden planks pegged together and hung on wooden or leather hinges.

This log cabin has two rooms and a loft. It has one outside door, two small windows and a wooden shingle roof. The floor is made from logs split in two and planed with an adze and the fireplace is in the centre of the house.

For many settlers log cabins like this one became life-long homes. For the more ambitious, they were temporary dwellings until they saved enough money to build a more permanent home from brick or stone.

Cabins were often very cramped. They housed all the furniture and cooking equipment that whole families had brought from the east. Thomas Mellon described his home as ‘cosy and homelike’.

Look out for the changing landscape and planting around the log cabin. Thomas wrote about seeing crops of corn and pumpkins for the first time and his ‘wholesome fear of snakes’.