Monday, May 6, 2019


This column first appeared in the May 2019 issue of GreeneSPEAK!

The first Greene County Courthouse, built of logs in 1796.  Centennial souvenir medal of 1896 illustrated in "Westward of ye Laurall Hills," Helen Vagt, 1976.

The U. S. Direct Tax of 1798 provides interesting clues to the early inhabitants of Waynesburg and their dwellings. Popularly known as “the Window Tax”, it assessed size, building material and panes of glass. This was the first federal tax on citizens, but according to the newly adopted Constitution it had to be apportioned, not per capita, but by state.

Pursuant to this, each Pennsylvania township created an alphabetical census of its inhabitants and the real property they owned on October 1, 1798. Newly surveyed, Waynesburg was a part of Franklin Township with two lists: (1) dwellings valued over $100 and (2) all real property including dwellings valued at $100 or less.  These were simply “Land,” with no information about windows or building material.

When what later officially became Waynesburg Borough in 1816 was laid out in a grid of uniform streets and alleys in 1796, 201 town lots were created, each 10,800 square feet. Although quickly sold, many were purchased by land speculators who did not construct houses.

According to the Direct Tax Survey of 1798, there were 19 occupied dwellings in “Waynesburgh”, as it was described, with another eight under construction. The dwellings ranged from a tiny cabin of 160 square feet to a large tavern of 2,400 square feet, and values ranged from $24 to $600.

One-Room House near Higbee, Aleppo Township, Greene County, photographed in 1973, similar to Waynesburg's earliest  log cabins and houses. Courtesy Prof. Henry Glassie of Indiana University.

The data in these surveys remind us that houses were much smaller in 1798 with the fireplace and hearth taking a disproportionate amount of space. Dark and cramped, these dwellings afforded little or no privacy.

Plan of One-Room House near Higbee, drawn for study of early log structures in Greene County, PA. 1973.

The first series of columns on the Direct Tax ($100 and under), lists three “cabins” and three “houses” with both occupant and owner named. The smallest “cabin” was owned and lived in by tanner Andrew Dodd. Located at the NW corner of Franklin and Findley Alley, it was valued at $30 including a tan yard and stable. The other five dwellings were rented.

Two cabins of 240 square feet were listed as “occupied”. One, a rustic cabin owned by David Owens, sheltered Richard Phelan, the town’s mason, who constructed some of the massive sandstone foundations that support Waynesburg’s historic buildings today. 

Christian Tarr of Fayette County, an early pottery entrepreneur, built a cabin on the SE corner of High and Whiskey Alley where potter Nicholas Hager lived and worked, selling to Hager in 1803. Meanwhile, Jacob Hager, brother of Nicholas, opened a second pottery shop across the alley. Early potters made bricks as well as housewares so it is likely that the Hagers contributed to some of Waynesburg’s first brick buildings.

Survey shows Nathaniel Jennings renting from Patrick Martin.

Among the three occupied “houses” valued at $100 or less, one was owned by Patrick Martin, a Revolutionary War hero who had served under Col. Anthony Wayne. It was occupied by Nathaniel Jennings, a carpenter, who with his brother Benjamin, also a carpenter, is credited with building many of the first buildings in Waynesburg including the Eclipse Theatre that I wrote about last month.

Ananias Conkling (Conklin) occupied a house owned by Jacob Airhart while David Crawford was the tenant of William Inghram, Esq. The survey does not specify building material nor number of stories for these houses but they were similar in size to the cabins.

Next month I’ll write about the larger log and frame houses valued over $100.