People are fascinated by the way of life from days gone by, and museums love to show how people lived during different periods of time. It has been nearly thirty-five years ago since an old log house graced the landscape at the historical society. It was an extensive project to undertake for the society and played a significant role in the history and growth of the Society during the early years.
It was reported in the Society’s April 1961 newsletter that, “Our biggest project in many a year, the reconstruction of a Pioneer Log House as part of our forthcoming Museum, is under construction and the walls are rising fast. The project developed rather rapidly after the public sale of the former Rankin home in Shelocta several weeks ago. After numerous meetings and a unanimous vote to go ahead with the project at the April meeting, the Executive Committee contracted with the new owner of the house, Mr. Walter Roof of Clymer, to have it torn down, moved to Indiana, and re-erected as a permanent memorial to our pioneer forefathers and their way of life. This part of our heritage will attract visitors from far away in the years ahead. We hope you realize the scope of this project and the financial risks involved.”
Originally standing near the bridge on Route 156 near Crooked Creek had long been a landmark of Shelocta. It had once been the home of Abner Kelly, son of pioneer James Kelly. It is believed the structure dated back to 1883; that is the year Kelly purchased the land on which it stood from Benjamin Walker. Amazingly the logs remained in excellent condition, mainly because at some earlier point, the structure was covered over with siding. Indiana County Commissioners at the time, Frank Barkley, J.W. Everett, and Dee Miller, granted permission to reconstruct the building on county property – the Wayne Avenue side of Memorial Hall north of the National Guard Armory – what is now the parking lot of the Historical Society.
The log house was a two-story, four room house that measured 18 by 32 feet. On the ground floor were the kitchen and living room, each with a fireplace. When it was rebuilt, it was done so as nearly as possible to its original state; although, the upstairs was left without a center wall to provide a larger space in order to accommodate group meetings. The final cost of restoration came to $2,250. The Executive Committee knew they did not have sufficient funds in the treasury to finance this endeavor. A letter was sent to members following the April meeting, about $1,000 had already been collected toward the goal by the end of May.
The timing of this project corresponded with the opening of the Historical Society Museum that summer. Society members were already hard at work preparing two large rooms that would house museum displays, a periodical and newspaper reading room, and a storage area – all housed in the basement of Memorial Hall (the Clark House). The log house was going to serve as an adjunct to the Museum. People around the county were prompted to contribute pieces of antique furniture to help furnish the house.
An informal open house was held October 12, 1961, at which time the public was invited to view the various museum displays as well as the pioneer log house. The log house was furnished with articles typical of the early 1800s: a crane, tongs and andirons for the kitchen fireplace; a drop-leaf table; a hutch table and chairs and iron-stone china. The hope with this was that county residents would donate items of historical value to the area. Our collections today indicate that the county residents did just that.
The Pioneer Log House served to educate students, and adults, about how their ancestors lived in the 1800s, for over fifteen years. A report of the Society’s activities for 1966 noted a count of 786 persons visiting the log house. Sadly, the structure began to deteriorate through the years and it was eventually deemed unsafe. In April of 1979, the director of the county parks supervised its removal. The logs were stored at one of the county park sites until some determination of their disposition could be made.