Water Under the Bridge

By John F. Oyler
Copyright © 2016



The Walker-Ewing Log House
October 06, 2016



I recently had the pleasure of attending an Open House at the Walker-Ewing Log House, on Noblestown Road, between Oakdale anf Rennerdale. Thanks to Loraine and Rich Forster, I was familiar with the house although I had never previously had the opportunity to visit it. Loraine and Rich have discussed it several times at meetings of the Bridgeville Area Historical Society; I was not surprised to run into them at the Open House.

The house is currently owned and lovingly maintained by Pioneers West Historical Society, a non-profit organization with the sole purpose of preserving this magnificent example of frontier life in Western Pennsylvania in the eighteenth century. The exact date of construction of the log house is not known although it certainly was much earlier than 1800.

It is believed that the first settler in this area was John Henry, a Scots-Irish immigrant who came to the Robinson Run region in 1760 as a fur trader. The Treaty of Fort Stanwix, in 1768, opened up southwestern Pennsylvania for settlement. In 1770 James Ewing arrived from Cecil County, Maryland, on the east shore of Chesapeake Bay. His warrants for “Ewing’s Delight” and “Mill Mount” totaled 668 acres and extended from Walker’s Mill to Carnegie.

West of Ewing’s land, along Robinson Run, was Robert Boyd’s claim, “Blanford”, consisting of 322 acres; then Isaac Walker’s “Dragon”, 399 acres; and Gabriel Walker’s “Richland”, 361 acres. Isaac and Gabriel together also warranted 437 acres north of “Richland”, which they called “Partnership”. They had migrated to the Robinson Run area in 1772, from Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

The log house is located on the southern end of “Partnership”. It was originally used as a place to stay temporarily while hunting or during harvest, not as a residence. We know that that the two brothers had farms a mile or two east of its location and that Gabriel’s farm was the site of the only documented Indian raid in this area, in 1782. The Indians killed two of Gabriel’s sons and abducted his two daughters and another son. The children were repatriated twenty one months later and returned to their parents.

According to the Collier Township website both Isaac and Gabriel Walker were heavily involved in the Whiskey Rebellion, were arrested by the Federal troops and taken to Philadelphia. Only after agreeing to pay the onerous tax on whiskey produced in independent stills were they released and allowed to return home.

“Partnership” was eventually patented to William Ewing, in 1817. He was the husband of Isaac Walker’s daughter Jane and a nephew of James Ewing; it is believed that the log house was given to her as a wedding gift by her father. Various Ewing descendants lived in the house until 1973 when one of them, Mrs. Robert Grace, donated the house and the land on which it stands to the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation (PHLF). Twenty five years later she purchased it back and deeded it to Pioneers West Historical Society.

The house is in excellent condition despite its age. Its signature feature is a single chimney which serves six fireplaces, two on each floor and two in the basement. On each floor the two fireplaces are arranged in herringbone fashion, each serving one of the two large rooms on the floor. It is assumed that the fireplaces in the basement were used for cooking, with the meals being carried up a steep ship’s ladder to the first floor.

There originally was access to an attic beneath the gable where children could sleep in a loft. The attic was high enough for an adult to stand erect in it. The house is tastefully furnished with appropriate period pieces. The overall effect is that the house was quite liveable, especially for the era in which it served as a residence.

The exterior consists of hand hewn timbers, squared off and notched to interlock with mating timbers on the neighboring side of the house. The spaces between timbers are filled with chinking. In the early days the chinking was a mixture of fine clay, fireplace ashes, and some fiber, plant or animal.

The classic local reference book, “Landmark Architecture of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania”, written by James D. Van Trump and Arthur Ziegler, Jr. and published in 1967 by PLHF, includes the Walker-Ewing Log House and describes it in rather unflattering terms. Apparently PHLF’s acquisition of it six years later automatically converted it into something to be treasured. In 1970 it was designated a PHLF Historic Landmark, and in 1976 added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Walker-Ewing Log House is a valuable cultural asset for this area. Pioneers West should be commended for their stewardship in preserving it; they deserve our enthusiastic support. The log house is open infrequently but can be seen by appointment. Their website is http://pioneerswesthistoricalsociety.org.

Water Under the Bridge

  • "Water Under the Bridge" is a column written by historian John Oyler. It appears weekly in the Bridgeville Area News, a TribTotal Media publication, as well as in a more expanded form on his blog.

The Author

  • Aside from being Bridgeville's foremost historian, Dr. John F. Oyler is also an associate professor at the Univeristy of Pittsburgh, where he teaches classes in civil engineering.

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