The Oldest Building in Erie County . . . is Moving?
Sometime this September, a 200-year-old log cabin will be picked up and transported four miles to a “new” historic site.
According to an article by John Conlin in the Winter 2003 issue of Western New York Heritage, the oldest surviving building in Erie County is the Gipple Log Cabin built by a frontier settler named Asa Woodward in Lancaster c. 1803. The Hull Family Home and Farmstead plans to place it on its property for interpretive use. Rev. Walter Kern took this photo of the cabin in 1974:
This structure represents the very earliest history of organized settlement in Western New York. Asa (or Amos, depending on the source) and James Woodward bought this plot of land directly from the Holland Land Company in November 1803 (Lot 6. Section 12 of Town 11 in Range 6 to be precise). A year would pass before Warren Hull bought the property where the cabin will soon move.
Some refer to the Gipple Log Cabin as the Bowman-Gipple Cabin. Benjamin Bowman was another early settler and a mill operator; the hamlet of Bowmansville in Lancaster is named after him as well. Like many frontier settlers such a cabin would be a “starter home” that could be assembled quickly before the first winter set in. Subsequent years of land-clearing would allow families to add additions or build more permanent homes. The Gipple family, while not the original landowners and who probably did not use the cabin as a residence, probably lived on this land the longest. A cursory look at census records shows Clement Gipple owning the farm as early as 1910. Clement’s mother Ella was a Bowman. His son Russell remained on the land as an adult; both men passed away in the 1970s.
A couple years ago I went out with a camera to get a better look. The Gipple Cabin can be found at the southwest corner of the intersection of Harris Hill Road and Wehrle Drive in Lancaster. It now exists at the very corner of an expanding office development whose parking lot ends only a few yards from the front door. What is left of the building has been threatened with demolition several times in the past few years. According to locals, previous efforts to manage or restore the former home–even to visit it–were prevented by owners.
Long story short, the cabin is in horrible shape. It is held up by force of habit and could hardly be considered a building anymore. I highly recommend checking out this 360-degree view of the interior where sunlight can be seen from every side. Here is my photo of the home taken thirty-five years after Rev. Kern:
Of course there are serious questions about the ability to move such a compromised structure, harming the building’s historicity through relocation, and even why the land should be given up for suburban sprawl. Considering its ragged state, however, moving the Gipple Cabin to a place where it can be safely appreciated by the general public is a whole lot better than the inevitable alternative. Perhaps it will be moved and kept at its current state; perhaps it will be restored and become a visitor draw like the c.1820 Goodrich-Landow Log Cabin at the Clarence Historical Society. To keep up to date with developments, please visit the Hull Family Home’s Facebook page.
Below are some other photos I posted on the former Buffalo Tours blog in 2009. You can see the cabin predates Bowman’s 1808 saw mill by the axe-cut logs. The no-nails construction is original but the many alterations–some haphazard–to repair walls and supports extend over the centuries. Window and stovepipe holes can be found, temporary roof patches dangle from the ceiling, and vegetation hides the rest.
UPDATE: I received a note on 8/30/13 from Hull House Foundation President Gary Costello about their progress: “We have cleared the vegetation over-growth, documented the structure and ‘tagged’ the logs; will visit it with several knowledgeable architects to further ‘diagnose’ it; then dissemble and move to the Hull House site; seek funding to rebuild and develop a plan for its placement on the HH site and for its interpretation. A great addition to the Hull Family Home & Farmstead!”