The Dickson log house is a well-preserved example of a late 18th century log dwelling. It represents a common structure on the frontier of Pennsylvania in the 1790s and is one of only a few such buildings preserved in the area north of the Ohio River. The log house is 16 x 20 feet and dates to approximately 1796. A 16 x 13 foot stone addition had been added; probably around 1820. In addition, the door at the rear of the house may have been cut at a later date.
The house originally stood a short distance north of this present location and the front faced the river. This is roughly where our neighbor’s modern building is located. The log house was found when the existing structure was razed by a new owner in 1983. With the cooperation of the owner, the demolition was halted while local citizens worked to save the log portion of the house. Eventually BAAHA was formed and the log house was reconstructed from the original logs in this present location. Pictures on the wall in the house document the house as found as well as scenes of the demolition and reconstruction.
We call it a log house, rather than a log cabin, because it was constructed with a wooden floor and foundation. A cabin usually had a dirt floor without any foundation. A house was more permanent and was more likely to have the logs squared off.
The log house is significant for two reasons. The first is its direct link with one of the earliest settlers in the area and second for its location. It stands near a major routes of land and water that were used for travel from Pittsburgh to the depreciation lands of Western Pennsylvania and to the Old Northwest Territories (Ohio) once the area was safe for white settlers.
William Dickson bought the land, and adjoining tracts, in 1789. He shared the property with his son John. Approximately in 1795, not long after the land opened up following removal of the Indian threat, John built a cabin for himself and a second one for his parents and family on the Fairview tract. His family cleared the land and farmed until 1825.
David Dickson owned the house until 1860. It was then inherited by Dickson’s niece, Sarah Jane, who was married to James Wilson. After the Wilson’s, the house passed on to several owners. Most older structures in the area disappeared to be replaced by larger, more comfortable homes. After the middle of the 19th century, the log house was sold to a succession of owners.
Most of the land remained controlled by William’s sons, John and David. One third was sold to provide money for Dickson’s daughters.
One daughter, Hannah, married William Courtney in 1804. Courtney had purchased an adjoining parcel from John Wilkins in what is now Emsworth, including the Avonworth athletic field. Wilkins had evicted a squatter named John Cheney. Cheney had built a sawmill in 1800 along Lowries Run less than a quarter mile from the Dickson log house. Courtney operated a mill (sawmill and gristmill) and became a major influence in the area’s early development.
A now forgotten road, Courtney Mill Road, provided a route from this riverside settlement to the “Hilands” which is now West View.
In 1912, Bion E. Merry bought the log house and for approximately 40 years it was known as Merry’s Dairy; a milk processing business. At some time, siding was added to the house which hid the logs from view. Additions to the house also served to obscure its identity. Thereafter, the old Dickson log house became less and less noticed and was forgotten by most as the oldest house in area which became the borough of Ben Avon. But when the time came to raze the building for new construction a local resident did remember its history. Gladys Phillips acted to form a committee to save this house. A plaque memorializing her effort is in the garden. That committee subsequently became the Ben Avon Area Historical Association.
The log house was constructed along an Indian path that was the course of Colonel Henry Bouquet’s 1764 expedition to the Ohio country, and in Revolutionary times, the patriot forces of General Lachlan MacIntosh. General Anthony Wayne retraced this road on his successful campaign against the Ohio Indians in 1793-94. This path ultimately became Brighton Road, also known as Beaver Road. Generally the Brighton name is used from Pittsburgh’s north side to Ben Avon and Beaver from Emsworth through Sewickley and on into Beaver County. The road was improved and relocated until it was largely supplanted by the construction of the Ohio River Boulevard.
The area that became the Dickson property was recognized early on as one of the few spots suitable for settlement on the north bank of the Ohio River. Bouquet’s surveyor noted that the string of hills on this side of the river is broken at this point by a stream (now known as Lowries Run). In 1770, George Washington on his way down the Ohio River remarked on this natural break in the forested hills along the north side of the river. The next time you are boating on the Ohio River try to imagine the high hills sloping directly to the river bank without the “shelf” cut for the railroad. Until you reach the Emsworth dam only small streams cut very narrow openings in the hills. Here at Lowries run is the first wide, flat opening to provide easy access to the inland areas.
After 1800, Beaver Road was built in front of the house. That lasted until 1848 when the road was relocated to higher ground to make room for the Ohio and Pennsylvania single track railroad. The railroad added a third option for travel to the river and road passages that had originally drawn people to this area. The Emsworth railroad station stood nearby until commuter service was discontinued in the mid 20th century.
The house over its time has stood as witness to the westward movement of people and goods in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Merriwether Lewis passed by in 1803 with boats built in Pittsburgh on his way to meet William Clark at St. Louis to start their famous exploration for a northwest passage to the Pacific. Also in 1803, Ohio township was formed as the settlements grew rapidly. The original boundaries of Ohio Township included over 15 present municipalities from Avalon to Beaver County.