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Reprinted from The Phi Gamma Delta, Volume 53, Number 1, October 1930, p. 21-26

Old Log Cabin Will Be Moved

Ancient Structure, Foundation of Jefferson College, Will be Placed on New Site and Protected

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Steps to insure the preservations of the log cabin in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, which was the foundation of what is now Washington and Jefferson College, the home of the Alpha Chapter of Phi Gamma Delta, are being taken by the Fraternity.

President Brightman [bio], Treasurer Brewer[bio]and Secretary Snyder recently went to the ancient seat of learning and in a conference with the board of education of the old Pennsylvania town made arrangements for moving the shrine from its present obscure location in the rear of the high school campus to a conspicuous place in front of another old Jefferson College building which is now used as a grade school.

A canopy of steel and concrete will be erected over the cabin to form a weather-resisting case and the logs of the antiquated structure will be treated to withstand the ravages of the elements. The work will be done at the expense of the fraternity, provided the next Ekklesia authorizes an appropriation for the purpose. Such authorization is anticipated by the Archons. [Archivist note: while the cabin was relocated on Founders' Day, May 1 and placed on a new foundation, the canopy was never built. The prospective canopy designs are in the Fraternity Archives.]


ChamberlinFrom the old log cabin may be traced the foundation, not only of Jefferson College (subsequently merged with Washington College and moved to Washington, Pennsylvania), but of the Western Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh and Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.

For eleven years the structure was a classical and a theological school, according to Historian William F. Chamberlin (Denison 1893), pictured left, in Tomos Alpha of The History of Phi Gamma Delta. Within the walls of log and mortar, with greased paper for the panes of its two small windows, and with rough boards for benches, more than 200 students were educated for the Christian ministry.

During the life of old Jefferson College, the cabin was always an object of veneration and the distance between the Canonsburg site of Jefferson College and the hillside where the cabin stood was one of the popular constitutionals for the students.

McMillanThe story that the plans of Phi Gamma Delta were first promulgated by the Immortal Six in the McMillan cabin (so-called because of the fact that John McMillan, D.D., pictured left, was the founder of the first "Latin school" west of the Alleghenies in the cabin) is traditional, but cannot be verified by any early records.  That the old cabin was, however, without question frequented by our founders is testified to by the fact that there are to be found on the door the names of McCarty and Fletcher.

The cabin stood on the McMillan farm until 1895, when the late William F. Brown, D.D., obtained possession of it and moved it to the campus of Jefferson.  The occasion of its removal was made a time of great celebration, the governor of Pennsylvania being among those present.  The cabin at that time was not placed on a foundation, but was left in an obscure place back of the old buildings.


At the 58th Ekklesia (Old Point Comfort, Virginia, 1906) a resolution was introduced instructing the Archons to report to the 59th Ekklesia the cost of a suitable memorial to the founders of Phi Gamma Delta, to be erected at Canonsburg. The entire matter of investigation was put into the hands of then Archon Chamberlin. At the Chicago Ekklesia in 1907 Billy suggested the preservation of the McMillan log cabin and the placing thereon of an appropriate bronze tablet. The plan was adopted, and a tablet was designed by and cast under the direction of Donald S. Brown (Purdue 1904). The tablet bears the coat-of-arms of the fraternity, a star under the name of each founder, and the endless cord around the border.

It so happened that Samuel Blaine Ewing (Washington and Jefferson 1889) was then burgess of the town of Canonsburg — "Gun Town," the students in the old days playfully called it. Brother Ewing was very helpful in conducting the negotiations with the trustees of Jefferson Academy in carrying out the plan of the fraternity.

On February 7, 1908, exercises were held in the Central Presbyterian Church of Canonsburg, under the direction of the national officers of Phi Gamma Delta. The president of the board of trustees of the academy gave an address in commemoration of Dr. McMillan's pioneer educational work. Then, in behalf of the trustees, he turned over to Phi Gamma Delta the log structure to have and preserve for all time. Thomas L. Pogue (Washington and Jefferson 1891, Virginia 1892), then National Secretary, accepted the charge on behalf of the fraternity, promising that it should be sacredly kept.


When the Diamond Jubilee Ekklesia was held in Pittsburgh in September, 1923, several hundred Fijis made a pilgrimage to Canonsburg to visit the shrine. Exercises were held in the assembly room of the high
school and among the speakers were the venerable Dr. Brown, Dr. Samuel Black McCormick (Washington and Jefferson 1880), then chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh; and Dr. Maurice Wilson, a son of Founder Samuel Beatty Wilson. Among those present were three daughters and a grand-daughter of Israel C. Pershing (Jefferson 1850), the twenty-third initiate of the fraternity. After the ceremony the Fijis visited the site of "Fort" Armstrong, where the fraternity was founded; the "Seceder" Church, Tillie Hutchinson's spring-house, where many secret conclaves were held; Franklin Literary Society hall and other sacred spots where the founders had trod.

Since the 75th Ekklesia the cabin had been showing the ravages of time and the matter was brought forcibly to the attention of the Fraternity at the Swampscott Ekklesia (1929) through the Committee on Miscellaneous Affairs, of which George B. Logan (Washington and Jefferson 1930) was chairman. The visit of the Archons to Canonsburg was a result of the mandate placed upon them by the Ekklesia.

Under the plan now proposed the ancient landmark will be preserved for future generations-- a relic of the sentiment that surrounds old Jefferson College, where Phi Gamma Delta was born in 1848 and where Phi Kappa Psi had its genesis in 1852.

More about the Log Cabin:

  • Fraternity Historic Sites in Canonsburg

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