A Look Back in History: Surviving Frontier Log Homes in Kutztown

The smartly restored log house of Devin Siegel on West Main Street.
The smartly restored log house of Devin Siegel on West Main Street. Submitted photo

The many salmon brick Victorian homes in the villages around Maxatawny Township give one the impression that our township is a later, pre-Civil War settlement, but lurking around each corner, one may still find log houses or log cabins that have survived from early American times. Traveling down West Main Street in Kutztown from the University, the smartly restored log house of Devin Siegel, a former assistant high school wrestling coach, is a key structural clue that lying beneath modern sidings in town are several more Kutztown homes with virgin timbering just as desirable if a home owner would venture to restore them to their period condition. Since the Victorian brick architecture of Kutztown University greets many visitors, they are deceived but the town of Kutztown was actually laid out in 1779, containing an exciting array of early American homes, which grew in time with the young Republic.

But perhaps the Pennsylvania Dutch inclination not to throw anything away or demolish homes that are still serviceable for families is an admirable trait. Therefore, historic preservation structures survive here in the East Penn Valley that would not survive elsewhere in modern America. Our early American craftsmen did not build abodes or skilled craft shops for temporary use, but for multiple numbers of uses to serve the institutional family. Among the more intriguing homes of Kutztown’s Main Street is the Levan log house built aside the Town Crier’s 1804 home owned by Richard and Eleanor Shaner, dates from the early 19th Century and is sheathed with contemporary clapboard siding on the outside. Although this log home still contains its original period window casements and doorway, it is one on the landmark dwellings still surviving in Kutztown.

This log home owned by the Brinker family at 356 West Main also has an original fireplace on the west wall, but the more unusual tidbit is that the original occupant of this log house operated it as a tavern in the early 1800’s right next door to the fashionable Conrad Cupp, the Town Crier’s home. Daniel Levan was one of several Levan descendants who were known for operating inns or hotels in our vicinity. Citizens building homes in the town George Kutz laid out in 1779 knew from the other experiences of frontiersmen living in native log houses and cabins that their log walls insulated their houses far better than masonry stone or brick dwellings.

Thus, at the foothills of the Blue Mountains, Kutztownians were prone to build more than their share of townhouses made out of local timber rather than fieldstone or locally made brick. However, aluminum siding or old fashion clapboard, which was used to sheath these dwellings from rain over the years have disguised their early American appearance. Few houses are made of fieldstone within the confines of the town as opposed to numerous barns and farmhouses in the countryside. But almost all the surviving log houses built with period hewn logs had historic fireplaces to warm their interiors. These historic homes once restored to their original condition greatly enhance our town’s early American identity.

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Citizens living in these early American log structures clad with modern siding know themselves the historic age of their homes and the role they played in Kutztown’s historic past. One need not expose one’s historic hewn logs to still be proud of his native abode just to prove to tourists his home is a proud symbol of the East Penn Valley’s past. There are many native log homes in Kutztown, and in each area neighborhoods in the valley. But anyone who takes the chance to uncover the contemporary siding to reveal the original 18th or 19th Century identity of their historic log home, takes the risk that an earlier fire or rainstorm has not damaged the romance of their historic façade or stone dwelling.

However, these historic early American homes in the East Penn Valley are among the best vintage architecture in our Republic pioneered by dedicated Patriots who ventured everything they had to make a new start in the New World. That is why when we look at the restored Seigel home on West Main Street, everyone feels the historic importance that he has achieved by diligently sharing his home’s heritage with the public. But with so many log structures in a Christian community such as Kutztown, folklorists and historians will look for traditional “Seelen Fensters” or soul windows, which were openings, cut in the log walls located in the downstairs bedrooms or Kammer in Dialect where older individuals approaching death slept. The folklore behind soul windows is that upon death, the log block was removed so the soul of the departed may escape through the soul opening and ascend to Heaven. George Kutz, founder of Kutztown being Swiss, as well as many other PA Dutch area residents made this a prevalent Swiss religious practice taken seriously by our forefathers.