The Chestnut Street Log House, one of Lebanon County’s best-kept secrets, will be open on Wednesday afternoons in August in hopes to raise awareness for the historic structure among visitors from the county and beyond.
Gerald A. Collins, Historic Preservation Trust of Lebanon County treasurer, has been involved with the house for decades. He spoke with LebTown about the history of the house as well as its current condition.
The Germanic structure is believed to date back to the 1760s, as its layout resembles 18th-century structures found in Germany today.
While historians have not yet identified the builder and original owner of the house, they have been able to trace deeds back to the beginnings of Lebanon County in 1813. During that time, the property was a plot in Steitztown owned by the Long family.
Because of all that remains unknown, the Chestnut Street Log House was given its generic name.
Lebanon City Council owned the property in the mid-1970s and contracted it out to a regional authority for demolition. There were garages in addition to the house on the property, which had already been taken down.
However, a person who was knowledgeable about log structures suspected that the structure was one because of how the chimney was positioned. They got permission to take a sample beneath the siding and found king’s timber, typical of the English colonial period.
They proceeded to inform City Council that it was a historic property, stressing its significance to current and future generations.
At the time, City Council was given $14,000 of walking-around money from state legislators. As a result of the Trust’s efforts, City Council agreed to reclaim the contract and made the Trust responsible for restoring and preserving the property. City Council donated all of the $14,000 to the Trust, under one condition – to never ask for funds again.
The funds enabled the Trust to begin work on some of the projects that they had planned. The Trust used the $14,000 within the first year of restorations and has been fundraising ever since.
In 1978, the house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. According to their website, the National Register of Historic Places is “the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation.”
The house has a three-room floor plan, which was composed of the stübe, or living room, the kammer, or parent’s bedroom, and the kitchen area.
There is a loft, which served as sleeping quarters for the older children, and a half-basement made of dirt, which served as a refrigeration station.
There was also most likely a well and an outhouse on the property, which was generally located near the garden entrance.
The Trust was required during redevelopment to install a parking lot on the property. In the process of installing an authentic rigger gravel parking lot, they discovered posts that indicate there was also once a small barn on the land.
“I always say it’s like putting a jigsaw puzzle back together,” Collins said. “[We] have pieces of the original fabric. But in some cases, we had to find older boards from other places. We’ve been successful with that.”
In 2013, the Trust received a keystone grant from the state for $25,000.
The kicker? They had to come up with $25,000 in order to be eligible for the state funds.
“We were very fortunate, and consider ourselves fortunate today, in that the county and the city have been very, very supportive of our efforts,” Collins said. “The county supplied much of the $25,000. The city also kicked in some money … and so we were able to go ahead with the project.”
With the funds, the Trust was able to replace three of the exterior walls as seen today.
There is a four-bed German garden in the backyard.
As of last year, it has been planted by representatives of the Daughters of the American Revolution. DAR member Christine Kline is in charge of about 20 on-and-off volunteers who water, weed and otherwise tend to the garden.
This year, a local boy scout who is working on his Eagle badge will construct a small outhouse-like building in the backyard. The outhouse features will not be functional, but the building will serve as a garden shed.
The property is currently owned by Lebanon city. It is held by the Trust under a 15-year lease, which will last until 2028. The house remains a project for the Friends of Chestnut Street and the Trust. And like any project, it comes with its struggles.
The Trust struggles to find volunteers and younger people who are interested in this particular activity, and also has difficulty finding people who are skilled in working with logs using construction techniques from the 18th century, as the goal is to keep the house as authentic to its period as possible.
The Trust wants to increase the visibility of what is believed to be the oldest log structure left in Lebanon County. Light’s Fort is believed to be the oldest structure in Lebanon County.
The house will be open Wednesday afternoons from 1 to 4 p.m. in August. The house is also open at other times, depending on volunteers. Appointments can always be arranged.
There is no charge for tours, but donations are always welcome.
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