Peculiar Pittsburgh

What happened to the long-lost Forsythe Log House, an East Liberty landmark

Can you help solve this mystery?

A postcard of the Forsythe Log House

A postcard of the Forsythe Log House

Courtesy of East Liberty Valley Historical Society
MJ Slaby

About 12 years ago, Lyle Matey of Millvale was reading a book about the history of Wilkinsburg when he learned about a 1800s log house that moved from there to East Liberty.

Matey, a history buff, realized that the house — known as the Forsythe Log House — was later a museum that stood just blocks from where he grew up in East Liberty. But it was moved again after that, so he started asking what happened to it. “No one could tell me about it.”

That question started him on a more-than-a-decade-long search through historical documents and attempts to find boy scouts from the 1940s. Then, Matey brought his search to Peculiar Pittsburgh, where readers ask questions and The Incline staff investigates. (Ask us here.)

What happened to the Forsythe Log House when it was moved from East Liberty to the Wildwood Golf Club?

Searching for the answer, we talked to historians including Matey about the lore and mystery of the Forsythe Log House.

It’s one of several log houses in the Pittsburgh area that have bizarre stories, said Matthew W.C. Falcone, president of Preservation Pittsburgh. But the story of this house might be “the most unique and bizarre, out of all of them,” he said.

The first move

Despite being known as an East Liberty landmark, the Forsythe Log House was built a few miles away for Hugh and Mary Forsythe on what was then Philadelphia Pike in the village of Wilkinsburg.

Records vary as to the exact year it was built — they range from as early as the late 1700s to the mid-1800s — but it was most likely built around 1825, the year Hugh and Mary Forsythe got married, said George Clark, vice president of the East Liberty Valley Historical Society. For the society’s speaker series in November 2017, he presented on the house.

While some accounts say the house was built by Mary Forsythe’s father, Revolutionary War veteran Peter Parchment, Clark said it’s more likely that Parchment helped build the house given his age and his war injuries. But Parchment’s connection to the house added to its fame.

Around 1840, the Forsythes, who had eight children, moved the log house to a lot in the 5700 block of Penn Avenue between Euclid Avenue and Saint Clair Street in Peebles Township, now East Liberty. Several magazine and newspaper articles from the 1910s say Mary Forsythe was “tired of living in a quiet village” but was attached to the house, so she had it moved to the bustling city.

Clark doesn’t buy that. “It’s likely they had to move,” he said, noting the Forsythes were not a wealthy family. According to property records, he said, the Forsythe family didn’t own the land that their house was on, so they were probably told to leave when the owner wanted to develop it.

Moving buildings was more common then and as recently as 50 to 100 years ago, Falcone said. Log homes, compared to other buildings, were easier to take apart and move.

The Forsythe family continued to live in the house, and one daughter, Margaret, lived there her entire life, caring for her aging parents and staying there after their deaths in 1868 and 1883. Margaret Forsythe was known for her charitable work with the East Liberty Presbyterian Church, the YWCA and other organizations. A September 1896 article from the Pittsburgh Press described her as “quiet and unpretentious in her manner. She is an exceptionally gifted conversationalist and loves to talk to interested persons about her work.”

As the neighborhood grew, other log homes were covered with weatherboards to look like frame houses, and Penn Avenue became a business district, Clark said. The Forsythe Log House stood out surrounded by shops.

It’s likely that Margaret Forsythe didn’t have the money to change the house, he said. When she died in 1916, there were unpaid mortgage payments on the house and years of unpaid taxes. To pay the debt, her family put the house up for sale.

Forsythe Log House

Forsythe Log House

Courtesy of the Detre Library & Archives at Heinz History Center

A second move and dismantling

East Liberty Presbyterian Church, where Margaret Forsythe was a member, was also the church that the famous Mellon family attended, said Clark, who has a family connection to the house. His great-grandfather and Margaret Forsythe were first cousins.

Thomas Mellon, grandson of Judge Thomas Mellon, knew Margaret Forsythe and wanted to save the house after her death. A history buff, he decided to buy the house, and in 1917, he moved it roughly two blocks to 5540 Penn Ave. near Negley Avenue and turned it into a museum, Clark said.

The museum was “a pet project” for Mellon who, like Margaret Forsythe, never married, Clark said. Mellon paid for all the expenses including the salary of a caretaker and for an annex to be added with a kitchenette, newspaper articles noted.

Multiple organizations met there, including those focused on veterans, and it was open as a museum. In 1923, the Pittsburgh chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a large bronze plaque on the house that was dedicated to Parchment and funded by Mellon, according to the chapter’s minutes.

When Mellon died in 1946, more than 15,000 people had visited the museum. In his will, he left the house to the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution and left funds for its maintenance.

But the chapter leadership decided to not accept the house, prompting it to go up for sale again, this time by the Mellon family.

Local businessman Art Pivirotto bought the house because he wanted the land for a parking lot. Per a 1948 Pittsburgh Press article, Pivirotto wanted to save the house from a wrecking crew but searched and searched for someone to take it. The city, a local banker and the DAR all said no.

But then, the Boy Scouts agreed to take it for the Hubbard Boy Scout Reservation in Allison Park. Per the article, scouts were set to dismantle the house in April 1948.

Five months later, a photo of boy scouts laying the foundation for the log house during the annual Allegheny Council of Boy Scouts of America jamboree ran in the Post-Gazette. A scoutmaster from Belgium was due to join the scouts and gift them rocks from around Europe to keep in the house, per the Pittsburgh Press.

That’s where records stop.

‘It’s gone forever’

Newspapers never published a photo of the reconstructed log house. Articles don’t mention it either.

Anne Elise Morris, president of the Wilkinsburg Historical Society, told The Incline that she believes the house was reconstructed but said it’s really rare that no one seems to remember it, especially with the attention the house received in East Liberty.

The scouts left the reservation in 1955, relocating to Butler County and selling the land to the University of Pittsburgh. The university sold it five years later, and it became the Wildwood Golf Club, which did not respond to repeated requests for comment. No articles about those sales mention the log house.

Matey’s best guess goes like this: During his research, he talked to a former caretaker for the scout property. The elderly man remembered a log building on the property that burned, but he didn’t want to talk about it, Matey said.

Local historians agree that it’s likely that the log house burned at some point. No one knows if it was intentional or not, and the DAR plaque on the house is still missing.

“I know it’s gone forever,” Morris said, but she said she’d love to see a photo of it from the period it was used by the scouts. Maybe someone has a photo of their dad or grandpa as a scout in front of the log house and doesn’t realize what it is, she said.

Matey’s still searching.

“I wish I could find somebody that was at the house,” he said. “It’s amazing that there’s not one photo.”

What are you curious about?