Historical Markers
Lower Swedish Cabin Historical Marker
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Lower Swedish Cabin

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
At site on Creek Road, Clifton Heights

Dedication Date:
October 21, 1989

Behind the Marker

The log cabin, commonly considered a uniquely American form of housing, is actually Scandinavian in design and origin. The Lower Swedish Cabin, shown here, was built by Swedish colonists around 1640 and is still standing today.
Swedish Log House, Drexel Hill, PA, circa 1938.
The American log cabin is one of the most enduring symbols of our nation's history and folklore. We revere it as a uniquely American form of housing: the rugged and sturdy home of the American pioneers; the birthplace of Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln; the quintessential symbol of the American frontier. In truth, however, the log cabin is an import from Scandinavia which first appeared in the New World in the Delaware Valley.

Between 1638 and 1655, present-day Delaware, southern New Jersey, and eastern Pennsylvania were part of Sweden's New World Empire. When the first settlers in New Sweden arrived, one of the first things they did was build the sturdy, easy to construct shelters similar to the ones from their homeland. To build a log cabin, all they needed to do was fell some trees with axes, chop notches in the ends, stack them horizontally and cover them with a roof. Fitting the logs together without the use of nails or wooden pegs, they made them air tight by filling the spaces between them with clay.
Interior, stone fireplace in living room.
Lower Swedish Log Cabin

In the early days of the colony, glass had to be imported from Europe, so the Swedes and Finns covered cabin windows with boards. Bricks, too, were rare for a time, so the corner fireplaces in these Finnish-Swedish cabins were often made of stone or, if there were no stones, clay and twigs.

View from northwest.
Lower Swedish Cabin
Sometime in the winter of 1679-80, Dutch traveler Jaspar Dankers spent a cold night in a cabin "made according to the Swedish mode" in New Jersey, and although it "rained hard during the night and snowed and froze," he recorded in his journal that he slept well because the house was "quite tight and warm."

Practically all the buildings in New Sweden were constructed of logs: barns, churches, forts, homes, mills, sheds, stables, trading posts - even royal governor Johan Printz's two-story home, Printzhoff. So when William Penn and the English, Irish and Welsh Quakers arrived in the river valley, in 1682, they found numerous log buildings throughout the region.

Penn's desire to locate his planned "greene country town" at present-day Chester was thwarted by Finns and Swedes who already had located their cabins and farms on the best land available. So the proprietor had to move upstream where he bought the property between the Delaware and the Schuylkill rivers from two Swedish families, the Cocks and the Swanssons.

Unaccustomed to log cabins, the settlers from the British Isles considered them crude and unpleasant structures. In urgent need for shelter, however, some of the newcomers were quick to adopt the Scandinavian log house design. Others bought property from Finns and Swedes and lived in their log homes.

In the centuries that followed, the log cabin spread out from the Delaware Valley when German, Scots-Irish, and other Pennsylvania colonists moved to the west. Back in Pennsylvania, some of the old Swedish cabins were covered in clapboards and used as dwellings. Others were converted to barns, sheds, or even garages. Still others were simply torn down. Most, however, were abandoned and swallowed up by the woods. Very few examples of New Sweden's homes remain today. The Lower Swedish Log Cabin on Darby Creek in Drexel Hill is one of them and is open to the public on weekends.
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