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Rescued cabin may reveal details of early Harmony history

By Len Barcousky,
Thursday, January 04, 2007
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Several mysteries swirl around an 18th-century log cabin in Jackson.

Who was “Js. Molinari” and when and why was his name carved into one of the foundation stones?

When exactly was the cabin built?

Why were the ends of its logs hand- trimmed into what carpenters call a “half dovetail” pattern when Harmonist and Mennonite craftsmen, working in the same period in Butler County, more commonly relied on a “steeple” notch joint? What was the purpose of the line of round holes cut into the original side wall of the nearly 200-year-old structure?

Members of Historic Harmony hope to have answers to those and other questions by the time the cabin is reconstructed this year.

Brothers and sisters in the Carothers family recently donated the building to the nonprofit historical society in honor of their parents, Phillip W. and Florence G. Carothers.

Last month, family members helped disassemble the structure on Textor School Road, and it is being stored at Historic Harmony’s Mercer Road property.

“We are very glad to have it,” said John Ruch, president of Historic Harmony, which maintains nine sites in and around Harmony that include 18th-century log houses. “But we are still talking about what we might do with it.”

The small size of the one-story structure limits its use as a display building, he said.

“Our first objective was to save it,” he said. “The next objective is to find out more about the building’s history and then use that knowledge to make a decision on where to put it.”

When Mr. and Mrs. Carothers bought a house on 52 acres above Breakneck Creek in 1951, the original cabin had disappeared behind several 19th-century and 20th-century additions to the home.

Winnifred Carothers Sharrar was born in the house in 1952. She has fond memories of growing up in rural Jackson with her six brothers and sisters.

“Our dad never owned a car,” she recalled. “He worked in a sawmill in Evans City, and he walked to work every day.” The one-way distance is about three miles.

The children were expected to do their share of chores, she said. “We had a big garden, and we had to help with it.”

Growing up in the country had its compensations, as well. The children had horses to ride — and to care for.

Over the years, her parents sold or gave away almost all of the original tract, often to family members. When the cabin was taken down Dec. 17, it was on a one-acre lot in the 100 block of Textor School Road.

For the past 23 years, Mrs. Sharrar and her husband, Frank, have lived in a modern log house they built about 200 yards from the spot where she was born. Several relatives still live within shouting distance.

Her brother, Philip W. II, lives nearby in Jackson. Other siblings, John and Ann, live in Harmony; Albert lives in Evans City; and James lives in Greenville, Mercer County. The oldest sibling, David, died in 2000. The immediate family also includes 17 grandchildren, with many still in the area.

In recent years, Mr. Sharrar had been using part of the house as a workshop. “We couldn’t afford to keep it heated and maintain it,” his wife said. “The roof was leaking and it needed to be torn down.”

Family members and friends, including Paul Guber, the fiance of Mrs. Sharrar’s daughter, Nicole, already had demolished the later additions. That left the outer walls of the cabin exposed for the first time in decades.

The job of taking the cabin apart went quickly, with work starting at 7:30 a.m. and finishing by 1 p.m. The Carothers homestead was part of the original 7,000 acres that Father George Rapp, founder of the communalist Harmony Society, acquired in Lancaster and Jackson, starting in 1805. Seeking to move west to Indiana, the Harmonists sold all of their Pennsylvania holdings, including the village of Harmony, in 1814 to a Mennonite businessman named Abraham Ziegler.

Mrs. Sharrar and her sister, Ann Carothers, have done some research on the family property. The earliest written reference to a house on the tract dates to the 1830s, Mrs. Sharrar said, but it is likely to have been built earlier.

Its location was about one-half mile from where the Harmonists had built a mill and some small houses, Mr. Ruch said. While it resembles Harmonist-era buildings, the Carothers home contains unusual features, like the half dovetail corner joints.

The Carothers family is pleased to know that the home where they grew up will be preserved.

“The only thing we want is Mom’s and Dad’s names on a plaque somewhere,” Mrs. Sharrar said.

(Len Barcousky can be reached at or 724-772-0184. )
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This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. © Pittsburgh Post Gazette

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