The Lawrenceville Logs of 1823

At the bottom, click on the link to the Winter 2014 Table Magazine article about the table constructed with these logs. First, here's the back story.

Posted on December 2, 2014

In the year 1823 during the presidency of James Monroe and just nine years after Lawrenceville was founded, a man named Henry McBride built a log house for his family about a block toward the Allegheny River from the present Butler Street. Over the nearly two centuries since, many occupants followed, until in 2011 it stood uninhabited, encrusted with asphalt shingles and plywood. A story in the Post-Gazette lamented its sorry state and guessed that it was the last early log cabin remaining on its original site in Pittsburgh.

Hoping to check it out, I rushed over, but was unable to find any sign of it under the accumulated layers and put it out of my mind. Months later, headed to nearby Piccolo Forno for dinner, my wife Ada and I rounded the corner for a glance at the old cabin. Too late, the lot was empty and the cabin gone! Searching for any vestiges of the vanished building, I turned up nothing until I parted some tall grass in the far corner of the lot to uncover a lone log somehow left behind. I feared that the rest of the logs had been dumped or sawn into planks, but ever hopeful, collared a lawn mowing neighbor to ask the lot owner’s name. I paced while he rummaged through his house before he emerged with a smile and the card of real estate agent Sarah Madia.

When I phoned to plead my case for the logs, if indeed they had survived, Sarah informed me that she planned to use a few of them in the new house she would soon build for herself on the site, but was holding the rest for some use that would respect their Pittsburgh heritage. The next day, after she had looked over website photos of my log-based furniture designs, she called with the news that, of the several suitors for her logs, I was the chosen. Soon after, I had them trucked up from a field down near the Meadows racetrack to warehouse space close to our Southside apartment.

After her splendid new house had risen where the log house long stood, built -- beautifully I might add, by Sarah’s father, Frank Madia the contractor, Sarah gave Ada and me a tour. It’s layout is very well thought out including decks on three levels, the third with outstanding views of the hillsides across the Allegheny River and of downtown Pittsburgh. The living room features a wall with log faces arranged vertically and separated by about 4" spaces, an appealing riff on the original log house’s horizontal logs and chinking.

Sarah had been so generous in giving me the logs, I wanted to reciprocate. So, whenSarah mentioned that she planned to replace her dining table, a piece that didn’t quite fit thespace, I said I’d like to design her one that would. Sarah said go!

After my cabinet maker, Donald Dickens, finished it, we arranged to meet at Sarah’s house for the installation. Donald, who is far less than husky, had a heftier friend with him and they had no trouble carrying the log base of the table up, wrestling it around the turn and over the railing at the landing and up the second flight to its place in the dining room. The top, one-and-three-quarter inch thick walnut and over eight feet long by three and a half wide, was another thing. But we lucked out. Sarah’s folks were on hand and Frank, despite an iffy back, pitched in. I confess to turning my eyes away at the critical moment, but they made it and Donald bolted top to base.

Sarah is pleased with her new/old table and hopefully will enjoy festive meals on it formany years to come. I couldn’t be happier about the way it turned out; and just maybe, if he’s looking this way, Mr. McBride is smiling too.

Click on the photo below to or click here read the article "Lawrenceville Cabin Lost and Found New Life" from the Winter 2014 Issue of Table Magazine. (

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