Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Weekend Trip to Philadelphia: The Swedish Log Cabin

The only time I was in Philadelphia before this weekend was, being picked up  at the airport by my friend, storyteller Megan Hicks, and whisked to or from her home. This time we decided to drive so we could see a bit of Pennsylvania and perhaps even downtown Philly.

The reason for the trip was a house concert at Megan's house, performing with New York author Tommy Pryor whose new book, I Hate the Dallas Cowboys, is due for release in October. Tommy is a native New Yorker and has lived in the city his entire life. Juxtapose him with me, a granny from the West Virginia mountains, and you can see what an interesting evening it was. We had a great time with an attentive, appreciative audience in Jack and Megan's unique home that is filled with art both of their making and from others. Truly an experience just to visit!

But we had some time to sightsee while we were there, and we took advantage of it to visit one site in particular, a small log cabin on the banks of Darby Creek. You know West Virginia is full of log cabins, and we've even moved three for various projects at our own home, so why was this one little place such a draw?

It is because of family genealogy. As we researched Larry's family we were surprised to learn that his heritage was not German as we had thought, but Swedish. And when his ancestors came to America around 1642, they settled just south of Philadelphia. So they probably built little cabins like the one still standing on Ridley Creek when they arrived, and took that building skill with them.

The next generations ventured south to North Carolina and southwest Virginia before finally ending up on Bull Creek in southern Kanawha/Boone counties in the part of Virginia that became West Virginia. We were startled to learn that his family had lived in three countries, two states and two counties without ever leaving Bull Creek--when they arrived there the US still belonged to England, became the US, then the Confederate States of America. During the Civil War West Virginia split off from Virginia, and some years later further political divisions of the state led to the creation of new counties, and Bull Creek moved from Kanawha to Boone county.

So here we were, with the opportunity to see what kind of cabin Larry's ancestors might have lived in. It was charming with its stone corner fireplaces and chimneys, stone in the chinking and the bubbling creek close by.

We puzzled about the location; there certainly wasn't a lot of arable land around the cabin, no big fields to till. But on thinking it over, we realized that probably these people came from places where they did not farm as much as fished and maybe hunted for their food, and the creek may have supplied a good part of their diet.

I think this might have been a springhouse, given it's location so close to the hillside. Or maybe a smokehouse? A sign pointing to the stone wall remains called that structure the "Rock House" but I wondered if it might have been a barn. Odd that the log cabin survived while the rock house did not.

There were steep cliffs around the place, good protection against attack by the probably unfriendly natives. There was plentiful wood for heat and building, and water for household use. Those cliffs were good blockers of winter winds too.

It was a quiet, restful little place, an oddity in the bustle of a county of one million inhabitants; it felt like we were back in the mountains and only the roar of nearby traffic interfered with that vision.

Next time we were in the Philadelphia area we hope to visit New Sweden, the place many Swedish settlers lived when they came to this country around 1636 and after. Genealogy travel has become popular in America, and it's easy to see why because there is just something satisfying about seeing and standing in the places our ancestors once lived.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

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