A Scurry To Save A Piece Of History A Log Cabin From The 1600s Is Believed To Be Part Of The Last Farm In Folcroft. The Site Is Slated For Development.

Posted: April 25, 2000

FOLCROFT — Like a mummy in a tomb or a fly in amber, the wood cabin quietly weathered the centuries, encased in a whitewashed farmhouse.

A Swedish settler - possibly an ancestor of Daniel Boone - lived there first in the 1600s. And the farmer who lived there last, Eliza MacBeth, vowed to preserve it forever.

But Eliza MacBeth died years ago. And as a neighboring industrial park threatens to gobble up the borough's last farm, preservationists are scrambling to find a way to save the log house.

They're also wondering if it would be worth the effort.

"What is left of the house? How much of the original material is there?" said Kathy Wandersee, a senior preservation planner with the Delaware County Planning Department's Heritage Commission. "If we do save it, how much is there to save?"

For years, the MacBeth family sold vegetables and boarded horses on the 8.29 acres reportedly bought by Eliza's grandfather Lewis Harvey Horne in 1855.

And when the 42-acre Folcroft Industrial Park began to spring up in the 1970s, the MacBeths resisted selling. George and Barbara MacBeth - Eliza's son and his wife, who live near the old farmhouse - declined to be interviewed for this article.

Meanwhile, rumors of a hidden log structure began to spread.

"A friend of mine mentioned to me that a piece of siding had fallen off the house, and you could see wood," said Jean Diehl, 62, a technology aide from Folcroft. "I knew, if it was a log cabin in this area, it had to be old."

After researching land grants, patent maps and property deeds, she narrowed the list of early inhabitants to two, including Andrew Boone, who was reputed to be Daniel Boone's first American ancestor. She rallied a group of historians to visit the cabin in 1976.

The property is on School Lane near Delcroft Elementary School.

The group found that the farmhouse had evolved around the 16-by-18-foot, one-room cabin as the years went by, said Penelope Hartshorne Batcheler, a retired historical architect for the National Park Service, who accompanied the group into the farmhouse. A room was added in the 1830s, with a second story on top of it. Ten years later, a second story was built over the log cabin itself. Then, in 1905, the third story of the farmhouse - with the log cabin still inside - was erected.

"It wasn't a matter of love or preservation, it was a matter of using something that was useful," said Batcheler. " . . . They preserved it out of economics."

Glenn Forrest Alf, an architectural-preservation contractor, remembered the logs appeared to have been felled by hand, an indication that the cabin was built before saw mills were commonly used in the mid-1700s.

But because Eliza MacBeth was still living in the house and the walls of the cabin had been covered with layers of aluminum siding on the outside, and plaster on the inside, it was hard to determine much else, Alf said.

As Batcheler remembered it: "The only evidence it was a cabin was where a log was showing."

Diehl, positive that the building was protected, donated her papers to the borough, and all but forgot about it.

Until she heard about a sale early this year.

Apparently the MacBeths had brokered a multimillion-dollar deal with Forward Air Inc. allowing the freight-transportation company to expand its Folcroft Industrial Park facility with warehouse and office space.

The land-development application, submitted by Pitcairn Properties Inc. of Jenkintown, proposed demolishing the house.

Diehl alerted Wandersee at the Planning Department, who recommended to the borough Feb. 17 that the cabin be retained, moved, or professionally photographed for posterity.

Mead Shaffer, a log-cabin collector from Bethel, tried to interest area historic groups, but had no luck.

"They're very interested at first, but when they look into the situation, they say there are no means, no money, no time," said Shaffer, 67.

The cabin's fate will be decided by the borough, which could pass an ordinance to protect it, or by the developer, if it chooses to work with preservationists to relocate the house.

The cause lost some of its urgency last month, when Pitcairn temporarily withdrew the application due to problems with the lease agreement.

But Diehl knows the cabin's future will be decided soon.

"If they tore it down, I would cry. I'd bleed," Diehl said. "It would be a sense of loss, not just for myself, but for everybody."

Amy Jeter's e-mail address is ajeter@phillynews.com

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