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Isaac and Margaret Sharp House
New Garden Township
Isaac and Margaret Sharp House as it appeared in the early 20th
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|Cynthia G. Falk
completed research on the Isaac and Margaret Sharp House
in 1996 while a student in the Winterthur Program in
Early American Culture. The project was undertaken as
part of a course in vernacular architecture at the
University of Delaware taught by Bernard Herman, who
suggested the building as the topic for study. After
finishing her masters degree at Winterthur, Cindy
completed a Ph.D. in the American Civilization Program at
the University of Delaware. She is currently Assistant
Professor of Material Culture at the Cooperstown Graduate
Program, an M.A. program in history museum studies
co-sponsored by the State University of New York College
at Oneonta and the New York State Historical Association.
Today Cindy works with her students to document and
preserve locally significant architectural resources.
When James Crossan
described the house of the late Isaac Sharp as "nearly
new" in 1841,1 the
core of the building had already stood for half a century. Since
its construction in 1782, the dwelling had provided shelter for
multiple generations of the Sharp family. It had also undergone
significant changes. What began as a sizable but coarsely
finished log structure had been enlarged and profoundly improved.
The original appearance and subsequent transformation of the
Isaac Sharp house raise numerous questions about the relationship
between materials, scale, and finish in late eighteenth and early
nineteenth-century domestic architecture. The Sharp house is one
of a limited number of eighteenth-century log structures in the
Delaware Valley that still exist in the early twenty-first
century. Beneath multiple layers of improvements, the building
maintains a level of finish that, even if common in the
eighteenth century, is an exceedingly rare survival two centuries
later (figure 1 and 2).
Figure 1. Isaac and Margaret Sharp House (New
Garden Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, 1782) as it
appeared in September 2003. The vine-covered frame
structure (to the right) and the front porch are later additions.
Figure 2. First-floor plan of the Isaac and
Margaret Sharp house as it existed in 1996.
Because of its unique characteristics, the Sharp house
provides a fascinating comparison with the area's other surviving
eighteenth-century houses, which are predominantly well-finished,
multi-storied, and stone. As a sizable domestic structure that
was associated with an established, prospering family, the Sharp
house does not seem out of place. However, when its un-hewn log
shell and poorly finished interiors are considered, it is clear
that the Sharp house did not conform to period notions of
refinement. Its original occupants, Isaac and Margaret Sharp,
chose to live in a house that was unassuming and old fashioned.
Unlike other family members, they turned their backs on gentility
as expressed through material possessions, as well as leadership
roles in the community and occupations other than agricultural
The history of the Sharp house begins with the history of the
land it occupies. The 94 acres associated with the house in 1841
were situated predominantly in New Garden Township, Chester
County, Pennsylvania. However, a small section of the
"plantation" jutted into neighboring London Grove
Township. This portion of the property was originally part of a
60,000-acre tract that was granted to the London Company in 1699.2 The remainder of the
acreage was part of William Penn, Jr.'s portion of the Penn
family's Stenning Manor.3
Although the London Company and William Penn, Jr. were the first
owners of the land, Joseph Sharp was probably the first European
occupant. In 1714, Sharp purchased two separate 200 acre tracts
from William Penn, Jr.'s share of Stenning Manor. The
western-most of these two tracts included a portion of the White
Clay Creek. Joseph Sharp later acquired an additional 100 acres,
which adjoined the western side of this White Clay Creek tract
Figure 3. Detail from Lands Around
London Grove Meeting, 1700-1730, map drawn by Gilbert Cope,
1914. Based in part on early eighteenth-century survey of
New Garden Township. On the map, Joseph Sharps three
tracts in New Garden and London Grove Townships are clearly
delineated. Copes map and the original survey are
currently in the collection of the Chester County Historical
Society library, map file for New Garden Township.
Until 1723, Joseph Sharp was taxed as a landholder in New
Garden Township, Chester County. In that year, however, Sharp was
one of 22 petitioners to request the formation of a new township,
to be known as London Grove.4
The line that would divide London Grove from New Garden Township
also divided Sharp's 100 acre tract to the west of the White Clay
Creek from the 200 acre tracts he bought from Penn. Since Joseph
Sharp was subsequently taxed as a landholder in London Grove, and
was made an Overseer of the Poor in that township,5 it can be assumed that he
was residing on his London Grove property.
Figure 4. Joseph and Mary Sharp house
(London Grove Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania). The
core of the building is dated 1737. The kitchen addition
(to the left) dates to 1811.
Figure 5. Joseph and Mary Sharp house,
datestone on main house.
Joseph and his wife, Mary (Pyle) Sharp, constructed a large,
two-story, stone house in London Grove Township in 17376 (figure 4 and 5). When
Joseph Sharp, "of the township of London Grove," wrote
his will in 1746, he bequeathed this house and "all this
Plantation whereon I now Live Containing three hundred acres of
Land with all the houses [,] out houses [,] Barn [, and] Tan yard
Part thereof In the township of the said Newgarden and part In
the township of London Grove" to his young son Samuel Sharp.
Because Samuel was not of age, his uncle Samuel Pyle was to
"have the Care of him and Bring him up and give him
Education and Put him to Some trade as he may think fitt."7
Samuel Sharp had reached the age of majority by the year 1757,
when he married Mary Starr, widow of Isaac Starr and daughter of
Richard and Abigail (Harlan) Flower.8
Like his father, although Samuel Sharp owned land in both London
Grove and New Garden townships, he was consistently taxed in
London Grove until 1782. In that year, Samuel Sharp's name was
added, out of alphabetical order, at the very end of the
landholders portion of the New Garden Township list for the
Pennsylvania state tax. Samuel was assessed in New Garden for 80
acres and an "improvement." This reference to an
"improvement" is the first official record of the
"nearly new" house described in 1841.
Figure 6. Isaac and Margaret Sharp house
as it appeared in 1996.
Samuel appears to have constructed the two-story, log house
(figure 6) for his newly married son and daughter-in-law, Isaac
and Margaret (Johnson) Sharp.9
In 1783, while Samuel continued to be enumerated in London Grove
Township, his son Isaac took his place in the New Garden Township
tax records. In New Garden, on the banks of the White Clay Creek,
Isaac occupied 80 acres of land and a dwelling. He lived there
with two other individuals10-presumably
his wife Margaret and his young daughter Lydia.
Ten years after the Sharps were first taxed in New Garden
Township, Samuel and his wife Mary were able to break the entail
on Joseph Sharp's will and sell a portion of their property fee
simple to their son Isaac. Because Joseph's will specified that
his plantation was to be inherited by Samuel Sharp "and the
heirs of his body Lawfully Begoten for Ever,"11 the Chester County Court
of Common Pleas had to approve the division of the real estate
for fee simple purchases. In 1792, after the Court's ruling,
Samuel and Mary sold 100 acres to Isaac and 60 acres to their
son-in-law James Jones.12
Isaac Sharp continued to reside on the property he purchased
from his parents until his death in 1825. At that time, according
to Isaac's will, his wife was given "use of the
farm...during her widowhood." In order to avoid the
inheritance problem his parents faced, Isaac stipulated in his
I Give & bequeath unto my son Isaac Sharp all my farm
situate part in New Garden & part in London Grove
Townships, to him his heirs & Assigns to take possession
of as soon as his mother[']s right ends. With privilege for
my said son Isaac Sharp to sell so much of the land at
anytime he may choose after my decease to pay the Just debts
& to make a Deed or Deeds thereof....Provided my said son
should die in possession of All or part of said farm without
leaving lawful issue to survive him, to lawful age to heir
it, then it is my will that the same by sold & equally
divided among all my children or their representatives.13
The second Isaac Sharp did not choose to divide or sell his
father's farm. At the time of his death, in order to fulfill the
requirements of the first Isaac Sharp's will, the
"plantation" was sold pursuant to an order of the
Orphans' Court of Chester County and the proceeds from the sale
were divided between the surviving children and grandchildren of
the first Isaac Sharp.14
With this sale, the "nearly new" house and 94 acres
of land did not immediately pass out of the Sharp family. The
estate was purchased in 1841 by the first Isaac Sharp's unmarried
brother, Joseph Sharp. However, Joseph Sharp never occupied his
brother and nephew's log house. Rather, he continued to live in
the nearby 1737 stone house, which his grandfather, Joseph, had
built, and he had inherited from his father, Samuel.
When Joseph Sharp died in 1847, he bequeathed "all that
tract of land which I purchased at public sale of the
administrator of Isaac Sharp" to his grandnephew Vincent
Quarll.15 In 1862,
Quarll, who was "of Philadelphia," sold the property,
complete with a mortgage debt of $1000 and two other liabilities
totaling $4500, to Kickwood and Clarkson Moore.16
The following year, the Moores sold the still heavily mortgaged
estate to Pemberton Moore. Pemberton Moore farmed the property
until 1878, when he sold it to Philadelphia attorney, William J.
Crowell17 (figures 7 and
8). Because of a heart condition, Crowell planned "to
'retire' and raise his family" on the rural Chester County
property. The original Isaac and Margaret Sharp house and a
portion of the surrounding acreage remained in the Crowell family
Figure 7. Detail from map of New Garden
Township showing Pemberton Moores holdings. From
Atlas of Chester County, Pennsylvania, From Actual Survey by H.
F. Bridgents, A. R. Witmer and Others (Safe Harbor, PA: A.
R. Witmer, 1874).
Figure 8. Map of New Garden Township
showing William J. Crowells holdings. From
Breous Official Series of Farm Maps, Chester County,
Pennsylvania, Compiled, Drawn, and Published from Personal
Examinations and Surveys (Philadelphia: W. H. Kirk and Co.,
In 1996, when research for this paper was conducted, the Isaac
and Margaret Sharp house stood unoccupied. After the Crowell
family sold the house in the 1970's, new owners made plans to
level the antiquated structure. Although a complete demolition
was never realized, all of the stucco was removed from the
exterior of the building and the rear half of a
nineteenth-century addition was razed (figure 9). Much of the
original log structure and the framing of the surviving portion
of the addition remained without windows or sheathing to protect
them from the elements. To the rear of the structure, where the
removal of part of the addition left a gaping hole, damage had
been catastrophic. From the exterior, the interior spaces of all
three stories of the addition and parts of both stories of the
original log building were visible.
Figure 9. Rear view of Isaac and Margaret
Sharp house with subsequent additions.
Because of the Sharp house's poor condition, many of the
original features of the structure, which were subsequently
covered by layers of plaster and stucco, were discernable once
again. Limited destructive investigation, involving the removal
of plaster and lath, as well as later floorboards, permitted
other elements to be revealed19
Figure 10. Bernard Herman and Gabrielle
Lanier removing plaster and lath in an attempt to find evidence
of a staircase leading from the first to the second floor of the
Isaac and Margaret Sharp house.
As originally constructed, the Isaac and Margaret Sharp house
was a two-story structure, with a partial cellar below and a
garret above. The building was assembled of logs, many of which
were left in the round (figure 11). These logs were layered in
alternating tiers and joined with V-notches (figure 12). The ends
of the logs, which were tapered to accommodate the notched joint,
extended slightly beyond the ends of the building. The spaces
between the logs were chinked with a variety of materials
including stones, strips of wood, and mud. Later, bricks were
used to refill some of the larger gaps between the logs (figure
Figure 11. Detail from fašade of the
Isaac and Margaret Sharp house. Shows both the round and
the very roughly hewed logs used to construct the building.
Figure 12. View of visible gable end of
the Isaac and Margaret Sharp house. Alternating tiers and
V-notch joinery are visible at the corner of the building.
Figure 13. Detail of rear of Isaac and
Margaret Sharp house. Illustrates several chinking
materials including wood, mud, and later brick.
The first-floor fašade of the original log portion of the
Sharp house was composed of three asymmetrical bays (figure 14).
The middle bay housed a door, which was framed with heavy timber
members that had been pegged into the ends of the surrounding
logs (figure 15). The two outer bays were fitted with small,
glazed sash windows. To the left of the door, the lower edge of
one window was situated a little over two and a half feet from
the top of the stone foundation wall. The window to the right of
the door was significantly higher, commencing at roughly four
feet from the top of the foundation wall (figure 16). Like the
door opening, these window openings were probably cut into place
after the building had been assembled.
Figure 14. First-floor plan of the Isaac
and Margaret Sharp house showing original room arrangement and
fenestration. Although the partition between the common
room and parlor may not have been an original part of the plan,
it was certainly a very early addition. The location of a
door in this partition, which would have provided the only access
to the parlor, was not located during field work in 1996.
The location of the original stair is also unknown.
Figure 15. Front door opening at Isaac
and Margaret Sharp house. The vertical wooden member is
pegged into the surrounding logs.
Figure 16. Front door opening at Isaac
and Margaret Sharp house. Original small window opening
with later door and larger window openings to left and
right. The original window was covered over when the new
larger window was added.
The rear wall of the Isaac and Margaret Sharp house also
incorporated a door and at least one other first-floor window.
These were located side-by-side and roughly corresponded to the
door and one of the window openings on the front facade of the
building (figure 17). A second first-floor window opening on the
rear wall probably paralleled the second window opening on the
front wall. Unfortunately, the portion of the first-floor rear
wall that would have accommodated this second rear window was
missing when field work was conducted in 1996. As a result, no
physical evidence remained of the window's existence.
Figure 17. Detail from rear of the Isaac
and Margaret Sharp house. Originally, this area consisted
of a door-window combination. The window was located to the
right and is still evidenced by a vertical piece of window
framing. The door was located to the left and is evidenced
by the brick in-fill and a notched area in the lowest surviving
log. Both the door and window were later replaced by a
single larger window.
One other original first-floor window opening did survive. It
was located on the one visible gable-end wall. This small, square
window (figure 18) was located toward the back of the structure
and was intended to illuminate a pantry situated to the rear side
of the first-floor fireplace. On the opposing gable-end wall,
because an addition was later added, it was difficult to know
whether any original window opening still existed.
Figure 18. Detail from visible gable-end
of the Isaac and Margaret Sharp house. Small window opening
that would have provided light in a first-floor pantry.
With the exception of the attic flooring, which had been
covered, all of the original floorboards at the Sharp house were
removed. Many of the joists that supported the first floor of the
original portion of the Sharp house had also been replaced. The
one surviving original first-floor joist was simply a large log,
approximately a foot in diameter, which was installed without
being hewn or even having the bark removed (figure 19). This
original joist contrasted with those that supported the second
floor. These joists, which initially would have been visible from
the first floor, were hewn so that they were almost square and
were spaced at approximately three-foot intervals. They
originally extended past the front of the building and supported
a pent roof. Rather than being replaced at a later date, smaller
supplementary joists were simply installed between them (figure
Figure 19. Surviving original joist in
the cellar of the Isaac and Margaret Sharp house.
Figure 20. Detail of joists projecting
through the fašade of the Isaac and Margaret Sharp house.
The only original joist in this photograph is the square joist
almost centered over the window. The other joists were
filled in later.
Evidence of the original floor plan suggests that the Isaac
and Margaret Sharp house was of one of two schemes. As first
conceived, the building may have been only one room in plan.
However, evidence existed in 1996 to indicate that either
initially, or during the very early history of the building, a
board partition was added to divide the first floor of the
dwelling into two rooms arranged side-to-side in a single pile
(see figure 14). The smaller of these two rooms, known during the
period as a parlor, lodging room, or possibly inward room,20 was unheated and
originally only accessible from the larger room. The larger room,
known as a common room or hall,21
was directly accessible from both the exterior front and rear of
the house. It incorporated an immense stone fireplace that was
used for cooking and may have included a bake oven. To the rear
side of this fireplace, a portion of the larger room was
partitioned off to be used as a pantry.
The second floor of the Isaac and Margaret Sharp house may
have been either one or two rooms in plan. If a board partition
did divide the space into two rooms, that partition was probably
located directly over the one downstairs. Whether one or two
rooms, the entire second floor was heated by one small fireplace,
which was situated above the larger fireplace downstairs (figure
Figure 21. Fireplace on the second floor
of the Isaac and Margaret Sharp house. This fireplace may
date to 1782, when the house was originally constructed.
By the time of the first Isaac Sharp's death in 1825,
significant changes had already been made to the Isaac and
Margaret Sharp house. Primarily, cooking functions appear to have
been relocated outside the main core of the building. Surviving
physical evidence suggested that the pantry had been removed from
the larger of the two first-floor rooms. Furthermore, Isaac
Sharp's probate inventory carefully divided cooking implements
from other household items. While the inventory began with
objects such as 13 chairs and one table, then moved
"upstairs" where eight pair of sheets and four pair of
pillowcases were counted, items that would have been used in a
kitchen, such as kettles and pitchers, were relegated to the end
of the list. The fact that "And irons[,] fire shovel &
tongs" were included at the beginning of the inventory, on
the same line as "Cupboard & Contents" and
"Table," and that "two flat irons...[and an] Old
Stove" were listed with the cooking implements, suggests
that two separate first-floor flues, one for a formal fireplace
and one for a cooking stove, existed by 1825.22
According to Chester County Triennial tax records, which begin
in 1799, the first significant increase in the value of Isaac and
Margaret Sharp's "buildings" occurred between the years
1820 and 1823. This increase probably marked the construction of
a one-story kitchen, which would have been attached to one of the
gable ends of a hall-and-parlor house like the Sharps'. In the
Sharps' case, this kitchen probably adjoined the unheated parlor.
This kitchen was eventually superseded by a larger addition on
that end of the building.
The next noticeable increase in the value of the Sharps'
buildings came between 1835 and 1838. The improvements made in
the late 1830s were the reason that, in 1841, the 59 year-old
house could be advertised as "nearly new." The most
marked change was the construction of a two-story, two-bay,
braced-frame addition that succeeded the earlier kitchen (figures
22 and 23). Although this structure may have begun as a
single-pile addition with a kitchen space on the first floor and
one other room on the second, it was later expanded to the rear
to include two first-floor and two second-floor rooms.23 As a double-pile
structure, the addition more than doubled the size of the house.
Figure 22. Isaac and Margaret Sharp house
with frame addition built during the ownership of Isaac Sharp,
son of the first Isaac Sharp. Concrete and stone room (to
the right) is a still later addition.
Figure 23. Detail of area where the
nineteenth-century frame addition was added to the original Isaac
and Margaret Sharp house. Note braced-frame construction.
At the time the addition was built, other changes were made to
update the original log house. The small windows to the front and
rear of the house were replaced by larger windows. The gable-end
pantry window, which was no longer needed, was closed off. The
rear door was removed, and a second door was added to the fašade
of the original house. As a result of the new door arrangement,
the old common room, the old parlor, and the new addition were
all directly accessible from the front of the building.
On the inside of the log portion of the dwelling, the older
random-width board partition that separated the parlor from the
common room was removed. A new paneled partition was installed as
a replacement (figure 24). It was relocated so that the two rooms
were more equal in size. In the old common room, the large
cooking fireplace was replaced by a smaller, more decorative
fireplace (figure 25).
Figure 24. Nineteenth-century partition
between the two first-floor rooms in the original log portion of
the Isaac and Margaret Sharp house.
Figure 25. Remodeled fireplace on the
first floor of the original log portion of the Isaac and Margaret
In order to unify the facades of the old log house and the new
addition, a porch was added across the front of the entire
structure (figure 26). Furthermore, a layer of stucco was applied
over the front of the building, as well as over the rear and
visible gable end of the log structure24
(figure 27). This stucco not only united the two parts of the
building but also helped to conceal obsolete window openings.
Figure 26. Thomas Eakins photograph of
the Crowell family on their porch, c. 1890. The porch that
is shown in this picture may date as early as the late
1830s. Photo from Eakins at Avondale, p. 1.
Figure 27. Photograph of the Isaac and
Margaret Sharp house with its nineteenth century addition.
A coat of stucco united the log and frame facades. Photo
may date to the early twentieth century. Photo from Eakins
in Avondale, p. 17.
On the new frame portion of the building, the lath that would
hold the stucco could be applied directly over the framing
members. On the older log house, the lath had to be applied over
vertical furring strips (figure 28). In order to install the
furring strips, many of the round logs had to be trimmed.
Figure 28. View of the rear of the Isaac
and Margaret Sharp house. In order to facilitate the
application of stucco, furring strips were applied over the log
portion of the house.
After the Isaac and Margaret Sharp house left the Sharp
family, still more changes were made to the structure. During the
ownership of William J. and Frances (Eakins) Crowell, a studio
was added to the "back of the third floor," or garret
level, of the frame addition25
(figure 29). This studio was intended for Frances's brother,
Thomas Eakins, who was a frequent guest of the Crowells from 1878
until 1897, when he was blamed for the suicide of the Crowells'
Figure 29. View of the rear of the Isaac
and Margaret Sharp house and its subsequent additions. The
room that occupies the third floor (or garret) of the frame
addition was designed to be Thomas Eakins studio.
Members of the Crowell family also constructed a one-story
concrete and stone addition, which adjoined the free gable end of
the frame addition (figure 30). This single-room structure, with
its five large, concrete-mullioned, fixed-pane windows was
probably designed as a "sun room." It included a
fireplace (figure 31), whose flue ran into the larger fireplace
in the adjoining frame addition, and was intended to incorporate
skylights. At some point, the Crowells also replaced the old
porch that ran across the fronts of the log and frame parts of
Figure 30. View of the sun
room that was added to the frame addition of the Isaac and
Margaret Sharp house.
Figure 31. Fireplace in the concrete and
stone sun rooma very late addition to the Isaac
and Margaret Sharp house.
By the time of the Crowells' ownership, the meager Isaac and
Margaret Sharp house had been transformed to a fashionable
country residence for a gentleman farmer. On the first floor of
the building, the Crowells designated a kitchen, a dining room,
and a music room (complete with a grand piano). The upstairs was
divided into three separate bedrooms-one for Mr. and Mrs.
Crowell, one for their male children, and one for their female
children-and a large family or play room.27
The interiors of all of these rooms were finished with smooth
plaster walls and plaster ceilings (figure 32). The music room
and the dining room were heated by stoves. In the kitchen of the
frame addition, although a large fireplace was included in the
original design (figure 33), cooking was done on an iron range
"that burned coal in the winter and wood in the
Figure 32. Plaster walls and ceiling on
the second floor of the original log portion of the Isaac and
Margaret Sharp house. The plaster on the walls and ceiling
was laid over lath, which was applied to the logs and joists that
first formed the visible walls and ceiling.
Figure 33. Fireplace in the first-floor
front room of the nineteenth-century frame addition to the Isaac
and Margaret Sharp house. The masonry that projects into
the back of the fireplace is part of the adjoining fireplace in
the sun room.
This level of finish and comfort was quite different than what
Isaac and Margaret Sharp had experienced when their log house was
first constructed. The interior walls of that house, for example,
were not originally plastered. The logs that formed the walls
were simply white-washed on the interior-bark and all (figure
34). The joints that formed the ceiling were also left exposed
and either painted or white-washed.29
Figure 34. Detail of the interior
gable-end wall in the parlor of the Isaac and Margaret Sharp
house. Shows white-washed logs and bark.
The Sharps were probably cooking and baking in their
first-floor, common-room fireplace. In this one room, with its
two small windows and two opposing doors, the Sharps and their
twelve children did most of their living. Their other first-floor
room, which measured only 10 by 18 feet, served as a bedroom.
Upstairs, the Sharps kept, among other things, several more beds
and numerous spinning wheels.30
By the time of Isaac Sharp's death in 1825, the Sharp house
had already begun to be improved. Cooking functions, for
instance, were removed from the common room and relocated to an
adjoining structure. The pantry was also removed from the common
room, and the interior log walls were covered with plaster.
However, the thin plaster layer that rippled over and around each
log still represented a substandard interior wall finish (figure
35). It was not until the two-story frame addition was added and
the old structure was remodeled in the late 1830s that the Isaac
and Margaret Sharp house was converted into a "genteel"
Figure 35. Rear wall in the common room
of the Isaac and Margaret Sharp house. The undulating
plaster coat that is visible in this photograph represented a
second stage of interior finish.
The question that begs to be answered is why Isaac and
Margaret Sharp's house was originally finished in such a meager
manner. Recent scholarly literature that focuses on log dwellings
divides them into two specific groups-log cabins and log houses.
In making this distinction, cultural geographers Terry Jordan and
Matti Kaups cite Thaddeus M. Harris's observations from 1805,
which they rephrase as follows:
"the temporary buildings of the first settlers in the
wilds are called Cabins," characterized by
"unhewn logs," a roof "covered with a sort of
thin staves...fastened on by heavy poles," and rail
chinking "daubed with mud." By contrast, "if
the logs be hewed, if the interstices be stopped with stone
and neatly plastered, and if the roof [be] composed of
shingles nicely laid on, it is called a log-house."31
The differentiation that Harris made, and Jordan and Kaups
continue to make, is that eighteenth and early nineteenth-century
log structures could be either coarsely or finely finished.
Coarser dwellings tended to belong to early settlers, who
contemporaries typified as "Indian-like" and constantly
on the move. More refined "log houses" were viewed as
"permanent" and associated with a later generation of
Although Harris described what he termed "log
cabins" and "log houses" in the territory
northwest of the Allegheny Mountains, similar observations were
made about houses and settlers in the Delaware Valley. In a
"letter" that appeared in The Colombian Magazine,
Benjamin Rush divided the inhabitants of Pennsylvania into three
groups. An individual who belonged to the first
"species" Rush described was apt to live in "a
small cabin of rough logs" with earthen floors and perhaps
"a small window made of greased paper."32 On the other hand, the
most elevated members of Rush's hierarchy tended to reside in
"large, convenient" houses "generally built of
The Isaac and Margaret Sharp house does not fit conveniently
into either of Rush's two extreme categories. Although the Sharp
house was constructed of round logs and was very coarsely
finished, the house itself was fairly large. Unlike many
"log cabins," it sat on a partial cellar and contained
a full second floor plus a garret. It was actually similar in
plan to the hewn-log houses of Rush's "second species of
settlers." According to Rush, these dwellings were usually
"divided by two floors, on each of which are two
Just as the Sharp house defies easy categorization, its
owners, Isaac and Margaret Sharp, also challenge conventional
classifications. Isaac and Margaret Sharp certainly did not
represent the lawless, wandering settlers that both Harris and
Rush associated with round-log "cabins." Isaac Sharp
and his father were both born in London Grove Township, Chester
County, Pennsylvania. Isaac Sharp's grandfather, Joseph Sharp,
had come to America from Ireland in the very early eighteenth
century. During his lifetime, he acquired over 850 acres of land
in Chester and Lancaster counties and built himself a good-size
stone house, a barn, and a tan yard.35
Isaac Sharp's father, Samuel, seems to have been as prosperous
as his grandfather. Samuel inherited the family's stone house,
barn and tan yard, and he followed his father's calling by
becoming a tanner.36
Samuel even achieved a level of economic success that allowed him
to keep servants. When one, a hatter named Patrick Mullen, ran
away in 1766 and again in 1767, Samuel offered a 30 shilling
reward in The Pennsylvania Gazette for his safe return. 37
With the exception of Isaac, Samuel and Mary Sharp's other
children continued to share in the material prosperity of their
parents. Samuel left his father's stone house to his unmarried
son Joseph and his unmarried daughter Mary. While Joseph
inherited the house in a legal sense, Mary was to have "the
Sole use" of a first-floor bedroom, "the Sole use of
the Room above the s.d Bed Room and the Sole use of the Cellar
under the said Bed Room Together with Liberty to go in and out of
both the Cellar Doors at Pleasure." She also was granted
"the use of the Garret, Kitchen and pump in Common and
Equally" with her brother Joseph.38
When Joseph died in 1847, he gave Mary the use of the estate for
the remainder of her life.39
Samuel and Mary's other daughter, Abigail, had already
received her share of her parent's estate when her father died in
1819. Like Isaac and Margaret, she and her husband, James Jones,
were actually sold a portion of the Sharp's plantation in 1792.40 There they built (or in
some way acquired) a two-story stone house (figure 36). They
occupied the dwelling for only two years before they sold all
their property and relocated to Illinois.41
Figure 36. James and Abigail Jones
House (London Grove Township, Chester County,
Pennsylvania). The datestone on the gable-end of this
Isaac Sharp's log house was a significant contrast to his
brother's and sisters' dwellings. Although it shared many spatial
characteristics, it lacked much of the solidity and refinement
associated with well-finished masonry houses. Yet the difference
between Isaac's house and other Sharp family dwellings does not
seem to correspond to a notion that either Isaac's occupancy or
the building itself was temporary. Although it is nearly
impossible to know what Isaac and Margaret Sharp intended when
they first occupied the house, it is clear that the first Isaac
and then his son, Isaac, resided in the log dwelling for the
duration of their lives. This sense of continuity in ownership
paralleled that of the more substantial Joseph Sharp house, which
was passed from Joseph to his son Samuel to his son Joseph. It
significantly contrasted with that of the James and Abigail
Jones' stone house, which was sold only two years after it was
Where there is a clearer divergence between Isaac and the
remainder of this family is in the realm of ambition. In terms of
occupation for instance, Isaac did not become a tanner as his
grandfather and father had. Nor did he propose to better them.
Unlike James Jones, who turned his house into a tavern and
planned to build a merchant or grist mill using water from the
White Clay Creek,42 Isaac
simply identified himself as a "yeoman" and his
property as his "farm."43
Isaac was not remembered for being "an active member of New
Garden Mo. M't'g" like his brother Joseph. In fact, Isaac
was not even married at a Quaker meeting. He and Margaret Johnson
were wed at Old Swedes' Church in Wilmington, Delaware.44
Isaac Sharp did not become a member of the Pennsylvania
Assembly like his father or his brother Joseph.45
He did not purchase quarrying tools and begin mining feldspar
like Joseph. Nor did he invest in surveying instruments, globes,
and maps or found The Farmers' Library of London Grove as Joseph
did.46 Isaac was much
Isaac Sharp and his wife Margaret lived in a good-size,
two-story log house that was constructed of un-hewn logs. It was
certainly not the worst house in New Garden Township. While Isaac
Sharp's house was assessed at $30 in 1802, other area houses were
assessed as low as $15. However, Isaac and Margaret's house was
not the best either. Houses in New Garden Township could be
valued as high as $65 or $75. In neighboring London Grove
Township, where dwellings tended to be assigned higher values,
Samuel Sharp's house and the house that once belonged to James
and Abigail Jones were both assessed at $90. On a continuum with
one end defined by these large masonry dwellings and the other
small "log cabins," Isaac and Margaret Sharp's sizable
log house was assigned a value that was only slightly below the
The choices that Isaac and Margaret Sharp made in opting for a
"middling" dwelling were echoed throughout their
material world. Isaac and Margaret did not own a barn; they owned
a stable.47 They did not
have an eight day clock or a desk and bookcase in their house,
nor did they inherit the large dining table that had once
belonged to Isaac's grandfather Joseph.48
However, Isaac and Margaret Sharp were not without comforts. At
Isaac's death in 1825, they owned five beds and bedsteads, a
looking glass, and even carpet.49
The small window openings that lit the first-floor of their house
were actually fitted with glazed sash windows, and the interior
walls, which were once only white-washed, had seen their first
coat of plaster. Although Isaac and Margaret's house was not the
"sylvan hideaway" it later was for the Crowells,50 it did serve as the
setting for their unassuming and otherwise easily forgotten
1 James Crossan,
administrator for the late Isaac Sharp, advertised Isaac Sharp's
property in The Village Record on November 9, 1841. The
property was to be sold pursuant to an order of the Orphans'
Court of Chester County on December 24. Newspaper clippings file,
New Garden Township lands, Chester County Historical Society
Library (North High Street, West Chester, Pennsylvania).
2 The history of London
Grove Township is recounted in J. Smith Futhey and Gilbert Cope,
History of Chester County, Pennsylvania, with Genealogical and
Biographical Sketches (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1881),
3 Futhey and Cope, 187;
and Chester County Deed Book E, page 55 (sale from William Penn,
Jr. to Joseph Sharp). Chester County Archives and Records Center
(Westtown Road, West Chester, Pennsylvania).
4 Joseph Sharp's
signature was present on the petition to the Justice of the Peace
of Chester County that requested the formation of London Grove
Township. A photocopy of this document was provided to the author
by Shirley Rosazza, former member of the historic preservation
board for London Grove Township.
5 Futhey and Cope, 183.
6 The date 1737 is based
on a datestone on the still extant Joseph and Mary Sharp House
(see figure 5).
7 Will of Joseph Sharp
(written 1746). Chester County Archives and Records Center,
#1012. Samuel Pyle's name is spelled "Pile" in the
8 The Sharps of
Chester County, Pennsylvania, and Abstracts of Records in Great
Britain (Seymour, CT: W.C. Sharpe, 1903), 16; and
Futhey and Cope, 551.
9 Isaac Sharp and
Margaret Johnson were married in 1781. The Sharps of Chester
10 The 1783
Pennsylvania state tax assessments included a count of how many
people occupied each property in New Garden Township. Chester
County Archives and Records Center.
11 Will of Joseph Sharp
(written in 1746). Chester County Archives and Records Center,
12 Chester County Deed
Book G2, page 340; and Chester County Deed Book M2, page 318.
Chester County Archives and Records Center.
13 Will of Isaac Sharp
(written 1824). Chester County Archives and Records Center,
14 Account in probate
records for Isaac Sharp. Chester County Archives and Records
15 Will of Joseph Sharp
(written 1844). Chester County Archives and Records Center,
16 Chester County Deed
Book R6, page 366. Chester County Archives and Records Center.
17 Chester County Deed
Book S6, page 486; and Chester County Deed Book Y8, p. 313.
Chester County Archives and Records Center.
18 James W. Crowell,
"Recollections of Life on the Crowell Farm," in William
Innes Homer, ed., Eakins at Avondale and Thomas Eakins, a
Personal Collection (Chadds Ford, PA: Brandywine Conservancy,
c. 1980), 15; and William Innes Homer, "Eakins, the
Crowells, and the Avondale Experience," in Eakins at
Avondale, 33, note #9.
19 I wish to thank all
those who aided in the field work for this project: Bernard
Herman, Gabrielle Lanier, Jack Crowley, Leonard Orlando, and
20 Margaret B.
Schiffer, Chester County, Pennsylvania Inventories, 1684-1850 (Exton,
PA: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 1974), 187-188, 209, 210-211.
21 Ibid, 187-188, 201,
22 Inventory for the
Isaac Sharp (taken 1825). Chester County Archives and Records
23 Although any hard
evidence would have been obliterated by later additions and by
the demolition of a large section from the back of the structure
prior to the study, there are still some suggestions that there
was once a one-pile structure with a fireplace that was later
or enlarged: the roof pitch, the fireplace placement, the
foundation, and the framing. It is likely that at least parts of
this kitchen were incorporated into the later addition rather
than being completely removed.
24 Both the original
log house and the frame addition may have been completely coated
with stucco. Once again, because part of the addition has been
demolished, much information about that part of the building has
25 James W. Crowell,
"Recollections of Life on the Crowell Farm," in Eakins
at Avondale, 15.
26 William Innes Homer,
"Eakins, the Crowells, and the Avondale Experience," in
Eakins at Avondale, 12-13.
27 James W. Crowell,
"Recollections of Life on the Crowell Farm," in Eakins
at Avondale, 15.
29 Evidence of
white-wash, Spanish brown, and blue paint can still be seen on
the original joists that support the second floor. It is unclear
in what order the colors were applied or whether they
differentiated certain spaces.
30 Inventory of Isaac
Sharp (taken 1825). Chester County Archives and Records Center,
31 Thaddeus M. Harris, The
Journals of a Tour into the Territory Northwest of the Allegheny
Mountains (Boston: Manning & Loring, 1805), 15 as cited
in Terry Jordan and Matti Kaups, The American Backwoods
Frontier, An Ethnic and Ecological Interpretation (Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins Press, 1989), 175.
32 Benjamin Rush,
"An Account of the Progress of Population, Agriculture,
Manners, and Government in Pennsylvania, in a Letter from a
Citizen of Pennsylvania, to His Friend in England," Columbian
Magazine; or, Monthly Miscellany 1:3 (November 1786), 117.
33 Ibid, 119.
34 Ibid, 118.
35 Acreage listed in
Chester County Deed Book E, page 55; and the will of Joseph Sharp
(written 1746). House and other buildings detailed in the will of
Joseph Sharp. Chester County Archives and Records Center, #1012.
36 Samuel Sharp is
listed as a tanner in Chester County Deed Book G2, page 340.
Chester County Archives and Records Center.
37 Accessible Archives,
The Pennsylvania Gazette, CD-ROM edition, Folio 2 (1766-1783),
(Malvern, PA: Accessible Archives, 195), 7 April 1766, 16 July
1767, and 30 July 1767.
38 Will of Samuel Sharp
(filed 1819). Chester County Archives and Records Center, #6713.
39 Will of Joseph Sharp
(written 1844). Chester County Archives and Records Center,
40 Chester County Deed
Book M2, page 318. Chester County Archives and Records Center.
41 The Sharps of
Chester County, 16.
42 James Jones was
given specific rights to water from the White Clay Creek in the
1792 deed from Samuel and Mary Sharp to Isaac Sharp. These water
rights hinged on the fact that Jones intended to build a merchant
or grist mill and needed to create a dam and race to power the
mill. See Chester County Deed Book G2, page 340.
43 Isaac is identified
as a "yeoman" in Chester County Deed Book G2, page 340.
He refers to his property as a "farm" in his will
(written 1824). Chester County Archives and Records Center,
44 The Sharps of
Chester County, 17.
45 Futhey and Cope,
380. Samuel Sharp was elected to the Assembly in 1792. Joseph
Sharp was elected in 1815, 1816, 1817, and 1818.
tools," "Surveying Instruments," a
"Globe," and a "Map of the United States"
were included in the inventory of Joseph Sharp (taken 1847).
Chester County Archives and Records Center, #11207. The quarrying
of feldspar of the Sharps' property is documented in James W.
Sharp, "Recollections of Life on the Crowell Farm" in Eakins
in Avondale, 16. Joseph Sharp's involvement with the Farmers'
Library of London Grove is documented in Futhey and Cope, 310.
47 Chester County
Triennial Taxes show the Sharps with a log stable (and no barn)
in 1802, 1805, 1811, and 1814.
48 Samuel and Joseph's
inventories (dated 1819 and 1847) both included an eight day
clock and a desk and bookcase. In Samuel's will, he specifically
bequeathed "the large Dining Table that was his Grand
Fathers" to his son Joseph. Chester County Archives and
Records Center, (Samuel) #6713 and (Joseph) #11207.
49 Inventory of Isaac
Sharp (taken 1825). Chester County Archives and Records Center,
50 James W. Crowell,
"Recollections of Life on the Crowell Farm," in Eakins
at Avondale, 15.
The surviving Isaac and Margaret Sharp house and the nearby
Joseph and Mary Sharp house provided much of the information
needed to complete this paper. Other important documents, such as
deeds, tavern petitions, and probate, tax and court records, are
part of the public record and are housed at the Chester County
Archives and Records Center, Chester County Government Services
Center, Westtown Road, West Chester, Pennsylvania. Information
obtained from the later group of records is specifically cited in
the text or in endnotes.
Accessible Archives. The Pennsylvania Gazette, CD-ROM
edition. Folio 2 (1751-1765) and Folio 3 (1766-1783). Malvern,
PA: Accessible Archives, 1993, 1995.
Atlas of Chester County, Pennsylvania. From Actual Survey
by H.F. Bridgents, A.R. Witmer and Others. Safe Harbor, PA:
A.R. Witmer, 1874.
Breou's Official Series of Farm Maps, Chester County,
Pennsylvania, Compiled, Drawn, and Published from Personal
Examinations and Surveys. Philadelphia: W.H. Kirk & Co.,
Futhey, J. Smith and Cope, Gilbert. History of Chester
County, Pennsylvania, with Genealogical and Biographical Sketches.
Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1881.
Glassie, Henry. "Eighteenth-Century Cultural Process in
Delaware Valley Fold Building." Winterthur Portfolio
7 (1972): 29-57.
Herman, Bernard L. "The Model Farmer and the Organization
of the Countryside." In Catherine E. Hutchins, ed. Everyday
Life in the Early Republic. Winterthur, DE: Henry Francis du
Pont Winterthur Museum, 1994.
Homer, William Innes, ed. Eakins at Avondale and Thomas
Eakins: A Personal Collection. Chadds Ford, PA: Brandywine
Jordan, Terry G. American Log Buildings, an Old World
Heritage. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina
Jordan, Terry G. and Kaups, Matti. The American Backwoods
Frontier, an Ethnic and Ecological Interpretation. Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.
Kniffen, Fred B. and Glassie, Henry. "Building in Wood in
the Eastern United States: A Time-Place Perspective." In
Dell Upton and John Michael Vlach, eds. Common Places:
Readings in American Vernacular Architecture. Athens, GA:
University of Georgia Press, 1986.
Lemon, James T. The Best Poor Man's Country, A Geographical
Study of Early Southeastern, Pennsylvania. Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins Press, 1972.
Michel, Jack. "'In a Manner and Fashion Suitable to Their
Degree': A Preliminary Investigation of the Material Culture of
Early Rural Pennsylvania." Working Papers from the
Regional Economic History Research Center 5, no. 1 (1981).
Roberts, Warren E. "The Tools Used in Building Log Houses
in Indiana." In Dell Upton and John Michael Vlach, eds. Common
Places: Readings in American Vernacular Architecture.
Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1986.
Rush, Benjamin. "An Account of the Progress of
Population, Agriculture, Manners, and Government in Pennsylvania,
in a Letter from a Citizen of Pennsylvania, to His Friend in
England." Columbian Magazine; or, Monthly Miscellany
1:3 (November 1786): 117-122.
Schiffer, Margaret B. Chester County, Pennsylvania,
Inventories, 1684-1850. Exton, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd.,
-------. Survey of Chester County, Pennsylvania,
Architecture: 17th, 18th
and 19th Centuries. Exton, PA:
Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1976.
The Sharps of Chester County, Pennsylvania, and Abstracts
of Records in Great Britain. Seymour, CT: W.C. Sharpe, 1903.
The Village Record (newspaper). Advertisement of the
Property of the late Isaac Sharp, November 9, 1841. Clipping in
Chester County Historical Society Library Newspaper Clippings
File, New Garden Township-Lands.