Thursday Doors – Doorsumptions

Log cabin front door
Log cabin front door

Remember Sesame Street? “♫One of these things is not like the others.” Well, that’s how my doors research went this week. Two buildings that I have long thought belonged together, are completely different things. Different, but interesting.

Once again, I am returning to the giant quadrangle of my graduate school alma mater. Next to the Cathedral of Learning, on the University of Pittsburgh campus, is another gothic stone building. It looks like an appendage of the Cathedral, but it’s totally separate. It is part of the university, it was built to resemble the cathedral and it was built at the same time, but it’s a separate building, with a unique purpose.

The building is the Stephen Collins Foster Memorial. It is a performing arts center and a museum. We will visit it and its doors on another Thursday.

Next to, well, across a small parking lot from the Stephen Foster Memorial is a log cabin. I always assumed it was there to represent “My Old Kentucky Home.” What did I know? It’s not like the log cabin is actually marked as to what it represents. It’s just sort of sitting there, and it’s closer to Stephen Foster’s place than anything else. Still, according to a university website:

The log cabin near the Cathedral of Learning symbolizes Pitt’s origins as a frontier academy of higher learning. Estimated to date from the 1820s or 1830s, the cabin was reconstructed on campus for the University’s bicentennial in 1987.

I grew up in the city, attended the school and have toured the campus numerous times, and I did not know about this cabin. The stories that I found contain more explanation as to why there is no explanation, than actual history. Here’s what I’ve been able to determine:

It is generally accepted that what is today the University of Pittsburgh began in the 1780s as the Pittsburgh Academy. The limited evidence that remains suggests that the academy began in a log cabin.

That makes sense. In the 1780’s most of Pittsburgh’s businesses, offices, homes and buildings were made from wood. Devastating fires in 1845 and 1849, destroyed most of downtown Pittsburgh, including the Pittsburgh Academy and, presumably, its records.

So, this is one of those bits of history that grew out of legend as much as fact. That’s OK. There is enough factual evidence that can be knitted together from a variety of sources to let historians agree that:

It seems in the very least that it can be inferred that Pitt Academy had an early log building in its possession…”

How’s that for certainty?

In an attempt to mollify the naysayers in the larger audience, an article in Wikipedia offers this somewhat apologetic statement:

Even if the history of the school starting in a log cabin is factually unclear, it has been a tradition told within the university for over 100 years and at least represents the era of Pitt’s founding, if not the actual 1st meeting in a log cabin to discuss the institution’s creation.”

Whether or not the school started in a building that kinda-sorta looked like this building is irrelevant for several reasons. First, we can’t prove it one way or another. Second, the school had to start somewhere, and wooden buildings were all the rage at the time. Third, this is an original, albeit refurbished, authentic log cabin that dates from closer to 1780 than 2017. Fourth and perhaps most important, the log cabin has doors.

This post, though merely skirting the boarder of historical accuracy, is most definitely part of Norm Frampton’s fun weekly series: Thursday Doors. If you want to know more about this series, perhaps even participate, Professor Frampton makes it easy. Take the school bus up to the Norm’s place. Look at his doors and then click the blue frog. Easy peasy.

Before showing you the gallery of original (mine) and borrowed photos, I’ll leave you with an update on the current grand purpose of this historic and symbolic building:

For a time after its completion, through at least part of the 1990s, the log cabin served as a visitors’ information center. It is currently used by the Cathedral of Learning grounds maintenance staff to store salt for winter deicing.”

Maybe that explains the lack of signage.


  1. For those who aren’t familiar with American Folk music, Stephen Foster was a songwriter known for “parlor and minstrel” music. Some of the more famous of his over 200 songs, were: “Oh! Susanna”, “Swanee River”, “My Old Kentucky Home”, “Camptown Races”, and “Beautiful Dreamer”. More about Stephen when we look at the memorial.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Dan, I do enjoy the Thursday doors and scarves. The Brontosaurus with the red scarf makes this post about a nearly historical reconstruction almost poignant. If we were nearly having several beers and or ciders this would nearly be the start of good nearly philosophical discussion. And all things considered the inclusion of the Brontosaurus is nearly perfect. Happy Thursday.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s very special that a log cabin has been included as part of this historical campus – regardless of its authenticity. It adds to its noble past, don’t you think?
    And as usual, you made me laugh with your link to Norm’s blog … now I’m going to be humming ‘the wheels on the bus go round and round’ all day :D

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Accck – Joanne – now that song is stuck in my head!

      Seriously, I;m glad you liked this post. I do think having the log cabin on campus is a nice idea. I wish they still used it as a Visitor Center, but they didn’t ask me my opinion.


  4. I’ve come across such beauties tucked away in the woods, on some parklands here in Canada, they are always such a joy when suddenly there’re they are, remembering of another time.. I always wonder what it must have been like to sit on the porch after a long day of work.. listening to the sounds of nature all around you, no internet, no phones.. ahhhhhhh =^_^= thanks

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I haven’t seen one “in the wild” for quite some time. It does bring you back to a simpler time. I can sit on the porch after work, but I still have Internet and phones, so, it’s not the same.


  5. Handsome door and hardware captured there. A nice bridge between the past and the present, and it allows my mind to wander back in time. I always marvel at how they lived through the four seasons with a family of people in those one room homes. They would really have a great chuckle at how we all spread out now with individual rooms for individual tasks. It reminds us how the housing industry has changed over the years. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All in one room, no heat, no lights, no TV, no Internet – they either really enjoyed each others’ company or they slept a lot :)

      It is interesting to see the contrast of the original building along side the buildings that are almost a century old and some in the distance that have been built since 2000.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Every time you get a nice myth going, someone has got to come along and prove or disprove it. Years ago, I was devastated to learn that Paul Bunyan was promoted by an ad man working for Red River Lumber Company. Kinda takes all the fun out of things. :)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. See, I just ignore stuff like that. If we can have “alternate facts” either in the news or in the government, who’s to say Paul and Babe the Ox didn’t walk the land just as described. It’s a better story.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I love a lil cabin.They’re always charming and easy on the eyes. I suppose hanging a sign would distract from the aesthetic, unless an old mercantile-type was crafted… Salt and Deicing (that always makes me think of desiccants and DO NOT EAT.

    Anyway, lovely cabin door :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I guess someone just said “why should I drag this stuff out here all the time, when that cabin is sitting there empty.” I’m guessing they probably have a bottle of wine hidden away in there, too.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Deborah. I’m guessing that they are trying to figure out what to do with it. It’s there as the result of the (then) Chancellor’s idea and a donation by a trustee. It’s a great story, but it doesn’t seem like a lot of thought went into it. I hope they figure it out before the building needs major surgery.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Nice to see the old photos along with the new, Dan. That little cabin is too nice to be used to store salt. My eldest daughter spent three months in Pittsburgh when she was studying graphic design. She did her work experience in the design department of a sports equipment company (they made very good tennis rackets and gave her a present of one) and one day a week she attended the University of Pittsburgh for classes. She loved it there.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Whether the story is true or not, you’ll get me with a quaint log cabin any day Dan and this one is lovely.
    “Doorsumptions” eh? We have “doorscursion” and last week with Joanne I made up “doorlicious” too – it looks like we’re gradually reinventing the English language using “doors” :-D

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve been meaning to ask you something I’ve probably asked you before: You said your name isn’t pronounced like it looks. How is it pronounced?

    A dinosaur, the Cathedral of Learning AND a dinosaur? You spoil me!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Whenever I see log cabins like that, I think of how difficult life must have been for the people that lived there – no indoor plumbing, no central air or heat other than a fireplace, and no electricity. I’m sure they were a hardy bunch, but still…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They must have been made of sterner stuff :) I was recently informed, by the folks at Old Sturbridge Village that the fireplace was only for cooking. They didn’t have enough wood to actually heat the place. I’m guessing I wouldn’t last very long.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I knew I recognized that log cabin but from where…couldn’t place it until I read your backstory. All the times I’ve seen that cabin (lived in the ‘burgh for a bit and visit frequently) I’ve never known just what it’s purpose was. And now I know, or I think I do! Look forward to going back for a closer inspection.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Reminds me of the cabin up in the Gold Country that Mark Twain supposedly spent a few months in while writing Roughing It. However there’s some evidence he was actually in Hawaii. Quite a difference in scenery!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. The height ow the cathedral tower is impressive!That was one of the first questions coming up when we came to college on this continent in the 70ties. Why are people so afraid of fires? Well, you know what the answer is. Now I’m passing on that knowledge to the Europeans coming to visit us.And I can’t wait to show them out wood stove – they’ll freak out:)

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Just imagine that the University actually began in that quaint log cabin. History is fascinating at times and this is one of those times. SO enjoyed the gallery and I also noticed you used some big words. As I saw I grinned and thought to a previous conversation we had about writing and 8th grade. LOL Thank you again for a another wonderful Thursday Door Excursion, Dan. :) <3

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As you and I have agreed, Amy. We will write the way we want to :)

      It is remarkable to think that it all started in a log cabin, almost 250 year ago, with a handful of students. Pitt has just under 35,000 students today.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I love old doors, they are captivatimg! The little log cabin particular intriguing, I must wonder about its history. Thank you so much for this great text and photos.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. The little log cabin is very nicely built and has a lovely setting, Dan. It seems rather out of place! I do appreciate their preserving it over the years. The door is really attractive when the photo was cropped. Focusing on its details helps appreciate this worn gray door!
    I am glad to know more about the adjacent building to the Cathedral of Knowledge: the Stephen C. Foster Memorial. I used to enjoy playing his songs in band and singing “Oh, Susanna” was one of my cheerful music class songs in elementary school. :)

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I always melt for cabins and small cottages. Especially American ones. When tucked on a campus in a city, they are quite cool. I like the feel of an unusual combo old and new. This hits home. Great selection for your weekly Doors.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I live in a log house and all of my closet doors look remarkably similar to your featured image! This is a cute little cabin you found here, Dan, but I must admit that I’ve never liked the look of chinking. My house is Scandinavian scribe, so the logs all fit tightly together, no chinking needed. I might be biased because of my own house, but I like to think I can be objective and simply don’t care for the other look!

    Liked by 1 person

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